For several dinner parties this summer, I have prepared variations of the same dessert. I've been making Napoleons with store-bought puff pastry and filling them with assorted berries, fruits and flavored whipped cream. For example, I combined red and black raspberries along with blueberries for one version, then tried peaches and blackberries for another.
For a meal with company later this week, I am planning to pair peaches with red raspberries. For the whipped-cream garnish, I can choose dark rum, brandy or bourbon, any of which would complement the taste of summer fruit.
What has made these Napoleons more unusual than traditional ones is the way in which the puff pastry is baked. Normally, I would cut rectangles from a sheet of puff pastry, bake them in a hot oven until they have risen several inches, and then split and fill them.
But, in France this summer, I learned of a new method for baking puff pastry. Instead of cutting rectangles from the dough, I baked an entire sheet, covering it with a second baking pan so that it was weighted down and could not rise. The result was a thin, rich layer of flaky pastry crust that I then cut into triangles for my Napoleons. This technique yielded a more crispy and interesting pastry than those made the usual way.
These pastries can be made early in the day and stored in an airtight container, and the cream whipped and chilled ahead. At serving time, all that is necessary is to assemble these scrumptious confections.
Peach and Raspberry Napoleons Serves 4
FOR PUFF PASTRY:
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry (half of a 17 1/4 ounce package. See note), defrosted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
FOR FRUIT AND GARNISH:
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon dark rum, brandy or bourbon
3 ripe large peaches
1 pint raspberries
4 mint sprigs
Arrange rack at center position. Use 2 baking sheets without rims of similar size. Generously butter 1 sheet, then butter bottom of other sheet.
Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Using rolling pin, roll over dough several times just to press sugar in. Place dough, sugared side up, on buttered baking sheet, then top with second baking sheet so buttered bottom side touches dough.
Bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes; then open oven and, using pot holders, press down on top baking sheet to compress dough, which will have begun to rise. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes or until dough is rich golden-brown on both top and bottom. Check every 5 minutes to make certain pastry is not getting too brown. Remove from oven and, using long-bladed knife or metal icing spatula, loosen pastry gently from top and bottom baking sheets. Remove top baking sheet, slide pastry onto cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Cut dough into 4 equal squares, then cut each square into triangles. (Pastries can be prepared 6 hours ahead; store in airtight container until needed.)
With electric mixer on medium speed, whip cream until soft peaks form, then gradually beat in 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar and rum, brandy or bourbon. Continue to beat until firm. (Cream can be whipped 6 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate until needed.)
To serve, peel peaches and cut in thin wedges. Combine with berries. Place 1 pastry triangle on dessert plate, top with 1/4 fruit and generous dollops of whipped cream. Arrange another triangle, slightly askew, on top, dust with confectioners' sugar and garnish with mint sprig. Repeat to make 3 more servings. Pass extra cream separately.
(Note: Pepperidge Farm makes good puff pastry dough, which can be found in the freezer section in most groceries.)