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There are so many ways you can eat pumpkins, but for Rebecca Estelle, it was not a matter of options. She had to eat them all the time during the Depression, so she hated pumpkins.


Turning hatred into love is a natural process that kids go through, when their palate evolves with age or when food associated with something negative takes on positive meanings, as pumpkins eventually do for Rebecca Estelle. When your palate is mature, one way to welcome a new and strange taste is to integrate it into something you already like, in a way that brings out the best. If you don’t like pumpkin in pie, you might add it to the pastry cream of a Napoleon. The result is divine.


Napoleon is such an autumn dessert for me. It is made with pâte feuilletée, which means “leaf-like (or sheet-like) dough.” When it bakes, the pastry puffs up and displays many crunchy golden-brown layers, like the piles of dead leaves I see from my window as I write this. In France, Napoleon goes by the name mille feuilles, which means “1000 leaves.”


To make Napoleon, you need 3 elements: puff pastry, pastry cream, and fondant icing.


Puff pastry: You can make puff pastry a day or two in advance or buy it ready made. Bake the puff pastry at 350ºF for about an hour between two baking sheets (in order to control the puffing volume). Then remove the top baking sheet and sprinkle heavily the visible layer of the pastry with confectioners sugar and put it back in the oven for 10 mns or until the sugar caramelizes, without covering this time.


Pastry cream (here with pumpkin flavor): You need to combine three mixtures:

– 2 cups pastry cream, made with 6 egg yolks, 1/2 vanilla bean, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Whisk the ingredients together for a few minutes before  incorporating 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 2 cups whole milk. Then pour the mixture into a saucepan and stir gently on medium heat. When the mixture starts boiling, whisk for 5 mns until the batter is thick. Strain and whisk again to cool, before adding 2 tbs butter.

– 1 cup warm pumpkin puree with pumpkin pie spices and brown sugar. Add gelatine to the puree while it is still warm (one sheet or one packet previously soaked in cold water).

– 1 cup whipped cream. Whip 1/2 cup whipping cream with 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add 1 tbs confectioners sugar at the end of the whipping process.

Use a whisk to mix the pastry cream and the pumpkin puree until they are combined and cool down. Next gently fold in the whipped cream. Now chill this pumpkin pastry cream in the fridge for a couple hours at least before using.


Fondant icing: In a saucepan, combine 3 cups confectioners sugar, 1 cup water, and 1/4 cup corn syrup. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and place on medium to high heat until it reaches 238°F. Transfer to a mixer with a paddle attachment and wait until the temperature drops to 140°F, then mix on low to medium speed until the transparent sugar mixture becomes opaque, white, and thick like dough. Store in a an airtight plastic container for a minimum of 24 hours before use. I used some fondant icing to make orange balls for decoration, adding food coloring and working it with powdered sugar to prevent sticking.


Once you have your three elements, start building layers. Napoleon is  traditionally made with three even puff pastry layers. The top layer is placed upside down, showing the smoothest side on the top. Between the three puff pastry layers, two layers of pastry cream, thick or thin, are applied with a spatula or a pastry bag.


To top, the fondant icing is gently heated just to be pourable, and then applied immediately with a spatula to cover the surface. Any decorations should also be applied right away, as the icing hardens quickly.


Due to the contrasting textures of the three layers, cutting the Napoleon into servings can be messy. The fondant icing can crack under the knife’s pressure, and the pastry cream tends to squeeze out. One solution: mark lines for slicing on the icing a few minutes after the fondant icing has set, then freeze the whole dessert for about an hour, before cutting along the visible markings on the icing.


Whether you do or don’t like pumpkins in desserts, try this Pumpkin Napoleon and let me know what you think!