Napoleon filled with vanilla custard and diced mango. Topped with cream and strawberries.

Okay…. and we’re back!
Well after having a week of stomach flu, I’ve returned with two and a half days and three recipes!
My parents are in town and they brought me the dvd I requested: Julie & Julia.
I watched it last night- it gives you those warm, fuzzy feelings: the romance that food brings people together, the joy of cooking and creating and the reality of relationships and jobs and using food as an escape. Although when Julie wrote her blog, she was ahead of the blog trend and now there are hundred thousands of food blogs, this film reminds me of why I should write: for the pleasure of baking for the people nearest and dearest to me and not to gain a faceless fan base. Anyhow, onward to food:

It was my aunt’s birthday (coincidentally her name is also ‘Julie’. We were joking we should do a chinese version of the blog) this past Saturday so a few of us, including my parents, decided to surprise her at home with a cake. However when I was trying to figure out what cake she would like, the only answer I could come up with was: Napoleon.
The Napoleon is a flaky puff pastry base cake sandwiched between layers of custard cream and dusted with powdered sugar sold near the cash register at your local Chinese bakery (I am speaking solely from Hong Kong, I am aware that its roots are not from China)

Lighting the Candles

The problem with puff pastry is that making it from scratch takes literally hours and hours. Butter is rolled into the dough, chilled for three hours, another wedge of butter goes in, is chilled and so forth, until the dough becomes layers upon layers of delicately flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pastry. Its why Parisian croissants are so decadent. It’s why Chinese egg tarts are so sinful. Now, with ‘modernization’ we have pre-made, frozen sheets of puff pastry:

Pre-made puff pastry

And it comes organic too.
However I have to conclude that this project was a semi failure.
First and foremost: there weren’t any instructions. Nil. Nada. It just read ‘perfect puff pastry every time’. Except there weren’t any steps on how to prep it (I read online that you had to prick it with a fork prior to baking) nor was there even a suggested temperature. Bad design.
Organic=healthy. Puff pastry was never meant for the health conscious but since my aunt likes organic, we got it for an additional $20. The problem? Tough, chewy pastry. I felt like I was eating a hybrid of gum and croissant.

One day, one day, I will make my own puff pastry. My grandmother said she used to know how to make it. I am in awe:

A midnight snack whilst baking. Now this is the real deal when it comes to flaky pastry (using pig fat of course- that does not faze me from eating my egg tart)

The initial design

Since this was a surprise party, I had to make the puff pastry layers at my other aunt and uncle’s place in Causeway Bay. My friend brought all the telltale components back with her such as the pastry sheets and the fruit while I brought back very standard fare such as flour, cream and vanilla so that the birthday guest wouldn’t guess what we were up to when she opened her fridge. On the day of her birthday I flew back home after work, met up with my friend’s mom and got the custard and puff pastry back and proceeded to build the cake. The first custard was a failure- I’m not sure why. I guess it’s my unfamiliarity with a new kitchen plus following a recipe I’ve never done before. The second one was fine which I did at home in the comfort of a kitchen I know. The above image shows the initial design of the cake: layers of vanilla custard and dollops of whipped cream with icing sugar dusted over a lace doiley. I didn’t really like the 2d effect so I wiped it all off and opted for more dollops of cream and sliced strawberries.

We surprised her while she was out for dinner with my other two friends at a Shanghainese restaurant. As they returned from the dinner, they called us and we lit the candles and dimmed the lights. I’m happy to say that when she came in to the obnoxious voice of me trying to belt out ‘happy birthday’, she was surprised.

The birthday girl and her gifts of Wedgewood x Vera Wang

My aunt once mentioned that she wanted dessert plates, cups and saucers to enjoy my desserts on. We decided to give her the full experience by purchasing her two cups and saucers, six dessert places and a tea pot from Wedgewood in collaboration with Vera Wang. The best thing about the gift? A two year warranty: smash a cup, bring the pieces in and they’ll give you a new one free of charge. That’s service. Now, to find room to place all these things in the kitchen. I can already foresee some precarious stacking.

Sawing at the layers

I’ve learned my lesson: use the real deal puff pastry. Use a puff pastry that has instructions.
Google ‘napoleon custard’ if you want the recipe for the filling. I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard so I won’t post it here. Expect a new recipe very soon! ^^

A slice of cake looks best on beautiful porcelain

One big mess