Who’s watching Versailles on Friday night? It’s a fascinating drama (filled with lots of murder and sex – Oh la la!) about the court of Louis XIV. The Palace of Versailles is stunning and I must tell you that I was there a few years ago for a summer wedding at The Orangery. I was part of the catering team which made Baked Alaska for 300 guests and a huge (1.5 metre high!) Fraisier wedding cake composed of layers of génoise sponge cake, strawberries, crème mousseline and marzipan coating. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...
I bet Louis would have liked it. He was, after all, a gourmand with a huge appetite (rumour has it that he died with a stomach twice the size of an average adult). At his evening meal – Le Grand Couvert – Louis would get through around 20-30 dishes. His stunned sister-in-law, Princess Palatine, wrote in 1718: ‘He could eat four plates of soup, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a large plate of salad, two slices of ham, mutton au jus with garlic, a plate of pastry...’ He also nibbled on boiled egg and candied fruit – or ‘dry jam’ as it was known – as he retired to bed.
It’s good that Louis was such a foodie because thanks to his tastes there was a big change in what French people ate. In fact, it’s fair to say that during his reign in the 17th century he helped spearhead a culinary revolution. Louis adored his garden at Versailles so fruit and vegetables became more important in French cooking. Heavy spices were replaced by herbs that complemented flavour rather than disguised it. And sugar stopped appearing in savoury dishes and was confined to desserts and cakes. Aha – now we are in my territory!
LE GÂTEAU DE MILLE FEUILLES
One of the cakes Louis would have had in his day is gâteau de mille feuilles – translated as ‘cake of a thousand leaves’ and pronounced meel-foy. It’s now a staple of pâtisseries in Paris but here at Délices I only make them on a Saturday because these delicious creations take a LOT of time and work (four hours just to make the puff pastry – and that doesn’t include the resting time!!).
I usually make traditional millefeuille – vanilla crême patissière and white icing and dark chocolate topping. Sometimes, though, on a whim I like to make it a bit different. Maybe a lemon crème légère or chocolate crème princesse one. Or perhaps a vanilla ganache montée with strawberry or raspberry compote. I wait to see how the mood takes me!
Instead of using traditional puff pastry, I make my millefeuille with ‘inverted puff pastry’, which has more butter, more flakiness. (Is your mouth watering now?) And I caramelise it for extra flavour and texture.
Putting everything together is a tricky process. I have to get the right temperature and texture so the butter doesn’t tear – otherwise there would be no layers! And I have to assemble my cakes at the last possible minute to keep the crispness of the puff pastry. Phew! Now perhaps you understand why I can only make these millefeuilles once a week!
Do you think you’d like to make your own millefeuille at home? It’s a serious challenge so let me give you some tips. Use good-quality butter, be patient and respect the resting times between each of the steps and, finally, make sure your puff pastry is cold when you bake it. You can also use a pastry sheeter – like I do – to make the rolling out even. Of course I have lots of cooking tricks to get the maximum layers and flakiness – but a cheffe pâtissière can’t give away ALL her secrets!
* Visit Délices on a Saturday to see me, Diana, and let me tempt you to try one of my millefeuilles.