Classic French Napoleon

The French are known for their desserts. One of our all-time favorites is a classic French Napoleon. It features perfectly balanced layers of buttery, flaky puff pastry with a rich, sweet pastry cream. While we have always enjoyed Napoleons, they seemed very intimidating to make at home. However, after a little research—and with the help of puff pastry found in the freezer at most grocery stores—this dessert turns out to be relatively easy to prepare. And it‘s just as good as some of the ones we had in France. We promise: Making a French Napoleon takes minimal effort, but it is sure to impress your guests.

Servings: 6


Frozen puff pastry sheets

Pastry cream (recipe follows)

Powdered sugar and chocolate syrup (for decorating)


1. Thaw the puff pastry according to the package directions.

2. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Carefully unfold the puff pastry sheets and cut them into thirds using the creases in the dough as your guide.

4. Place 6 pieces of puff pastry dough onto the lined baking sheet, making sure to give
1/4 inch or so of space between each piece.

5. Prick holes all over each piece of dough using a fork. Lay another piece of parchment over the dough and then place another baking sheet on top to help prevent the dough from puffing up too much as it bakes.

6. Bake the dough covered for 15 to 17 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and layer of parchment and reduce the heat in the oven to 375 degrees. Continue baking for another 4 to 5 minutes or until golden.

7. Remove the puff pastry from the oven and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before assembling.


1½ cups whole or 2% milk

1 egg

2 egg yolks

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cold butter

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. In a heavy sauce pot, heat the milk over medium heat until it just begins to steam. Turn the heat down to low.

2. Place the egg, yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large mixing bowl.

3. Use an electric mixer to whip this mixture until it becomes light in color and forms a “ribbon” when it runs off the beater.

4. Turn the mixer to low. Carefully and slowly pour in ½ cup of the warmed milk into the egg mixture. Mix until it is well incorporated.

5. Turn off the mixer. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the sauce pot with the remaining warm milk over low heat. Whisk the pastry cream until it starts to thicken. Keep stirring constantly as it heats to make sure it thickens evenly.

6. Once the pastry cream is thick, remove it from the heat and strain into a bowl. Stir in the tablespoon of butter and vanilla until the butter is melted and all is well blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper directly over the surface of the pastry cream and chill it for several hours or overnight.


1. Place 2 of the baked puff pastry sheets side by side on a serving platter.

2. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the pastry cream down the middle of each pastry sheet.

3. Gently place a second piece of puff pastry on top of each. Carefully spoon another 3 to 4 tablespoons of the pastry cream down the middle to create a second layer.

4. Top this layer with the remaining two pieces of puff pastry. For the best results, place the Napoleons into the refrigerator for several hours before serving.

5. Before serving, dust the tops of the Napoleons with powdered sugar and drizzle with chocolate syrup. Use a serrated knife to slice the Napoleons for individual servings.

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of 225 magazine.

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