The last day of June provided an appropriate occasion to test this recipe from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection.
It was excellent, a view hopefully confirmed by our guests, R + J + M.
The recipe is here. We used a purchased roll of puff pastry to make life easy.
Also, advertisement free, see the annotated version below:
For the caramelised flaky pastry: [we used one roll of bought puff pastry]
4 oz (110 g) flour with a pinch of salt added
2½ oz (60 g) butter, weighed carefully (too much makes too soft a pastry), wrapped in foil and left in the freezer for 1 hour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
2 level tablespoons icing sugar
For the pastry cream filling:
You will also need a baking sheet, greased.
To make the pastry, first sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then take the butter from the freezer and, holding it with foil, dip it into the flour and grate it on the coarsest blade of a grater – dipping it into the flour once or twice more until it is all in the bowl.
Now take a palette knife and flick the flour over the grated butter, cutting and tossing until the flour and butter look evenly blended.
Next, sprinkle in the lemon juice, then, using your hands, gently bring the dough together, adding a few drops of water to make a firm dough that leaves the bowl clean. Wrap it in a polythene bag and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C).
Next, take a rolling pin and a tape measure, and roll the pastry out to a square measuring 12 x 12 inches (30 x 30 cm). [More like 26 x 36 if using bought puff pastry.] Using the rolling pin to roll the pastry round, carefully transfer it to the baking sheet.
Prick the surface of the pastry with a fork thoroughly and brush it all over with beaten egg, then place the baking sheet on a high shelf in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes – but do watch it carefully (no answering the phone etc) because ovens do vary.
What you need is a very brown, crisp finish. Then, to get it extra crisp, pre-heat the grill to its highest setting, sprinkle the pastry with 1 level tablespoon of the icing sugar and then literally flash it under the hot grill – don't take your eyes off it till the sugar caramelises, which it will do in just a few seconds.
Remove the pastry square from the grill and, using a sharp knife, cut it into three equal strips.
Turn them over, sprinkle the rest of the icing sugar over, and flash them under the grill once again. Once the pastry has cooled on a wire rack, it is ready to use and can be stored in a polythene box with each layer separated with a strip of silicone paper (parchment).
The pastry is very delicate, so handle it carefully, but if any strips do happen to break, don't panic – you can use them as bottom or middle layers of the millefeuille. [Using the bought pastry, the strips didn’t break, but a bit more ‘pricking’ was needed half way through the baking process.]
To make the pastry cream, break the egg into a medium-sized mixing bowl, then add the egg yolk and sugar. Next, put the milk on to warm over a gentle heat while you whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes thickened and creamy – about 1 minute with an electric hand whisk on the first speed. Then sift in the flour and whisk that in.
Now turn the heat up to bring the milk to boiling point and then whisk the milk into the egg mixture. After that return the whole lot to the pan and continue to whisk, this time with a balloon whisk, over a medium heat until the mixture becomes very thick – keep the whisk going all the time because the mixture can catch very easily if you don't.
As soon as a bubble on the surface bursts, remove the sauce from the heat and quickly pour it into a bowl, then stir in the vanilla extract.
Cover the pastry cream with cling film to prevent a skin forming, and leave it to get completely cold.
When you come to assemble the millefeuille (which shouldn't be before about an hour before you want to serve it), whip the double cream and caster sugar together till fairly stiff, then fold the pastry cream into it. To assemble, place the bottom layer of pastry on a suitably sized plate or board and spread it with a quarter of the cream.
Top this with half the fruit and a further quarter of the cream.
Now place the next layer of pastry on top, pressing it gently down to fix it in place, and cover this with another layer of cream followed by the rest of the fruit and the rest of the cream.
Finally, arrange the last layer of pastry on top, dust with icing sugar and serve cut into thin slices using your sharpest knife. [Serrated bread knife was ideal.]