What's with Over-Baking Mille Feuille?
I've worked for European chefs who wanted me to bake most things until it was just one shade from burnt and then some chefs have wanted the bake to be very light. I think both of those standards are kind of off-putting to the masses, so whenever I've had the latitude to decide for myself, I've always baked my items to a very pleasing medium golden brown......as Goldilocks would say, "juuuuuuust right"!
What kills me though is the really light bake I see on most people's pate a choux. Especially for croquembouche. I like a darker bake on my choux. To me, too light of a crust is just as unappetizing as one that's too dark. In the case of mille feuille, how dark I bake it depends on what I'm using it for.
This is how we used to make our mille feuilles. This is a pic of ours that we made everyday. You can see the reason behind the "over-browning" of the puff pastry in order to 1) be able to distinguish the layers in order to call the pastry a "mille-feuille" which in translation means '1000 layer', 2) to be able to hold up against the cream layers and still remain crispy for at least a couple of hours. If the layers are touching then the moisture as the pastry cream absorbs into the layers will ruin the ultimate outcome of texture. So by having distinguishable layers that are not touching or laying against each other and have little moisture in them, the texture and taste will not be affected. We only made a few in the morning and sold out of them within 2 hours max. We never held them longer than that and only made more if people wanted them made to order. The flakiness of the pastry with the creaminess of the pastry cream are what makes a great mille feuilles.
Did you freeze your assembled napoleons before cutting? We don't get much call for them here so I haven't made one in years; but I remember a colleague saying it cut cleaner and neater when frozen, so I froze it just enough to be able to cut. The one time I tried it without freezing, it was definitely messy.
I never have put a Napoleon in the freezer. I. When I was coming up, the puff, croiss, all were baked to a dark perfection,
but if it sat out a bit after removing it from oven it even got darker. I never heard of freezing. I think that would resemble just the opposite
of what you're looking for as far as crispy layers.
We used to score the Napoleon top and then use a backer board to get nice cuts.
Nope no freezing. I have a (well, I had as I sold it with my pastry shop) handmade mould made out of wood with slots cut in so I could make proper cuts without the pastry cream oozing everywhere. I assembled in the mould and used a sharp serrated knife with little pressure used. I learned the trick of the mould by one of the shops I worked at in France. Smart idea thats for sure! Looked kind of like a miter box.
We just told the made to order people that we make it fresh and it would take 'x' amount of time before pick up. We encouraged pre-ordering so they did not have to come back for the pick up.
I've always frozen my Napoleons for a couple hours to get the clean cut, since I really had no other way to do it. I baked off the puff (fairly dark), then assembled them, froze for a couple hours, and cut. The crispiness and flakiness of the puff did not seem compromised by freezing for that short a time and I never had a problem. As Fable says, the longer they sit, that's where the problems start. I only made about 6 at a time at most.