Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Napoleon Conquers Mexico

Erica and I took our baking show on the road this month. As part of a group birthday celebration (hence the candles on our "cake"), we headed down to Baja California for a relaxing vacation in the tiny town of Todos Santos with some of our other law school friends (and regular consumers of our baked treats). Knowing that this vacation was the only time in October we'd have to bake together, we came prepared to tackle the Napoleon.  

 Baking in new locations always has its particular challenges. For instance, though our beautiful vacation rental was well equipped with not one, but three, different coffee makers, it lacked true measuring cups, spoons, and a rolling pin. An improvised half-cup measure was all we had to work with. 

Fortunately, the ingrediants for this recipe were mostly simple enough to find (though more on that qualification to come). We brought cornstarch (see the plastic baggie in the photo above, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to illicit drugs) and vanilla, and picked up most of the other essentials at the local market. 

The Napoleon, like other puff-pastry deserts, involves a shocking amount of butter. Lucky for us, the butter we found in Mexico was delicious, with a creamy, yellow consistency and a divine smell. We left it to soften on the counter, while lounging by the pool you can barely make out in the background. Tough life.

Perhaps it was our wacky measuring equipment, but we had a bit of a challenge with the puff pastry dough. First, I wasn't sure why we added butter to the flour dough, and flour to the beurrage (the large pat of butter you fold in to make the layers) - I've never seen that done before, and it seemed unnecessarily difficult. Our flour dough was also extremely wet. We ended up adding in about an extra cup of flour before achieving the right consistency.  

At this point in our baking careers, I will say it is immensely satisfying to know by instinct when something just isn't coming together right, and the ways in which to fix it - usually, the answer is either (a) add more flour or (b) to hell with it, just keep going. 

 The next day we set out to assemble the layers. You can see our improvised wrapping techniques below - the flour dough ended up in a kitchen towel, while the beurrage ended up in a trash bag (a clean one, but not exactly right for the job).

Given the warm temperatures, we ended up needing to refrigerate the dough far more frequently between folds, to prevent the delicious butter from oozing out the sides. Eventually it all came together though - you can see our fancy rolling pin in the pic below. 

After some assistance with a tricky pilot light and broken oven door hinge, we got the puff pastry baked. We did not go through the extra step of weighing down our dough, but I think it turned out quite well - even, puffy layers with just enough loft. And that butter baking smell - there's nothing quite like it. 

Of course, a baking adventure in a foreign land would not be complete without a story of near disaster and redemption. The original recipe called for an uncooked, egg-white-based icing. Given that we weren't sure of the egg pasteurization requirements in Mexico, we decided to swap out that icing for whipped cream. So with four spanish-speakers in the car, I (who knows only French) was somehow selected to run into the market. I knew the word for cream was the obvious "crema" and that "vaca" meant cow. So when I saw a container labeled "crema de vaca acidificata," and no other crema in sight, I ignored that last pesky word and made my purchase. But of course - acidificata means sour. I had mistakenly purchased a container of sour cream. 

While I thought that we would just dump a bunch of chocolate on top and call it a day, Erica sent out to remedy this dilemma by mixing the sour cream with confectioners sugar. And what a brilliant strategy this turned out to be! We ended up with a delightful tangy glaze, vaguely reminiscent of cream cheese frosting. If your ever in a pinch (or even if you're not), I highly recommend trying this out!

A final shot of our completed Napoleon. Not bad for improvisation!

 Good-bye Todos Santos! We hope to visit again soon.

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!


Ruth Ellis said...

Baking on holiday always adds and extra level of challenge!!! It turned out fantastic and the sour cream glaze sounds like a delicious discovery.

Aldrich Mendal said...

I really love this, sweet Katie. You have such a way with words. It just amazes me. I love reading every single post you put up! So blessed to "know" you :)
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Suz said...

Mm, I do love the sound of that sour cream glaze. Fantastic job on the mille feuille & fantastic ingenuity too!

Anonymous said...

What a fun post. I'm quite jealous since it has been snowing here in Calgary for over a week! Great improvisation=Grand mille-feuille!!