Friday, December 23, 2011

Chocolate Phyllo Napoleons with Pear and Raspberries

As we busy ourselves preparing for upcoming holiday meals and festive parties in celebration with friends and family, perhaps among your platters there will be small morsels of phyllo dough hors d’oeuvres. And if you happen to have a few spare sheets of phyllo, Chocolate Napoleons are an easy and super delicious way to enjoy the remainder.

This is a riff on a dessert from Gale Gand featured in the grand Baking with Julia collection. It’s a crispy crunchy lighter-than-air dream of a pastry that has guests devouring every morsel faster than you can say, would you like some dessert? It’s one of my favorites because it’s a perfect combination of textures and flavors that combine seamlessly, one into another. The cocoa is not overwhelming, the pears and raspberries freshen the palate and the cream makes it feel like the purest of luxuries. It's nearly weightless and there is no feeling of over consumption once you’ve enjoyed every last bite.

To prepare the pastry, cocoa powder is added to melted butter to make a thin paste, which is then slathered on sheets of phyllo. Each sheet is sprinkled copiously with sugar that I’ve combined with cardamom. The phyllo is baked flat and then broken randomly into crisp, crunchy shards of pastry. Using phyllo instead of the usual puff pastry creates thinner, crispier, lighter layers that snap into tastes of only slightly sweet chocolate.

It took me much longer to think about composing this than it actually takes to make it. Once you have the phyllo baked off, the dessert is assembled in just a few seconds. Poached pears are layered with billows of whipped cream scented with almond extract and the whole dish is garnished with a few slightly sauced tart raspberries. And in no time at all, it will be blissfully enjoyed by all.

I send everyone my very best wishes for a really wonderful holiday. May your days be merry and bright. Cheers!!

Bench notes:
- A few tips for working with phyllo: 1) Phyllo is usually found in the frozen food section of your market. Let it thaw at least 24 hours in your refrigerator without opening the package. (Trying to hurry the thawing process @ room temperature will result in phyllo that has too much moisture. Also, if you try to work with it when it’s too cold, it will crack.) Thawed phyllo in the package will keep in your refrigerator a few days. 2) Always have all your ingredients ready before you remove the phyllo from the packaging. Set up your work station so your phyllo and butter are in close proximity. 3) Remove the phyllo from the packaging and unfold it on a clean dry towel. Cover it immediately with another clean dry towel so that the entire surface is covered. (Although some suggest a moist towel, I find that only tends to render the phyllo sort of gummy.) The sheets are very thin and they will dry out and become brittle very, very quickly if they make contact with air for just a couple of minutes. So cover them completely after you remove each sheet. Keep your hands dry. 3) Don’t worry if a sheet tears. Just patch it with the piece that broke off. It doesn’t matter much because the sheets get layered. 4) Unused phyllo should be rewrapped tightly in the same protective packaging ASAP and refrigerated immediately. It will keep for a couple of days. Some people say it can be tightly packaged and re-frozen but I haven’t tried it.
- Gale Gand’s version of this dessert looks delicious and includes layers of chocolate ganache and simmered cranberries instead of raspberries. I omitted the ganache because I wanted the dessert to be lighter and I thought it would overpower the fruit. I couldn’t find fresh cranberries so I used raspberries. I think they make a perfect substitution. I also cut the butter in half. (She doesn’t appear to use it all in the making of her version.) For a step-by-step demonstration of how Gale Gand prepares her dessert, watch the video. Her original recipe is also included there.
- If you have a standard 13" x 18" half-sheet baking pan, you can simply make one large 3 layer pastry rather than cutting the phyllo in half and making two separate 3 layer pastries. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on each layer.
- Once the chocolate phyllo is baked let it cool completely before handling. It will darken and firm up once it’s cool. Carefully peel off the parchment and handle it very gently.
- In general, I never suggest canned fruit but if you’re crunched for time or if you don’t have access to fresh and you can find a good can of pears go ahead and substitute that for the fresh. Be sure to drain the pears on paper towels before assembling the dessert.

Chocolate Phyllo Napoleons with Pear and Raspberries

based on a recipe by Gale Gand in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Serves 4

2 small firm but ripe pears
2 1/2 C water
1 C sugar
1 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeded

2 oz (4 T) butter
2 T cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 C sugar
1/2 t cardamom
3 sheets of phyllo, 13” x 17”

1 6 oz packet of fresh raspberries
2 t sugar
1 C whipping cream
1 T sugar
1/4 t almond extract, to taste

confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

To poach the pears, bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean to a low simmer. Peel the pears. Slice in half and core them. Place in the poaching liquid as you go. Cut out a piece of parchment to fit the surface of the poaching liquid and place it on top to seal in the steam. Simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pear halves from the poaching liquid and place on paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. Take a paring knife, slice into quarters and cut 1/4” vertical slices into each piece from blossom to stem end, stopping about 1/2 inch from the top so that the slices remain connected. Set aside.

Melt the butter and whisk in the cocoa to make a thin paste. Set aside. Combine sugar and cardamom together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place two more sheets of parchment and another baking sheet nearby.

Open the phyllo package and place the sheets on a clean dry towel. Cover the entire surface of the phyllo immediately with another clean dry towel. Remove 3 sheets of phyllo and cut in half crosswise to create six 8 1/2” x 13” rectangles. Return them back under the dry towel and keep them covered.

Place one of the half pieces of phyllo on the parchment-lined baking sheet, brush it with cocoa butter mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the cardamom sugar mixture. Cover with another sheet of phyllo, brush with cocoa-butter, and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Repeat with one more phyllo sheet and sprinkle the last phyllo sheet with 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Cover the stack with a piece of parchment paper and repeat this process - stacking, brushing, and sprinkling with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo and sugar. Cover with parchment paper and top with a baking sheet to weight the phyllo and keep it from puffing.

Bake the phyllo for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sheets are golden and crispy. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack, remove top baking sheet and cool completely. Once cooled, carefully remove the parchment and separate the two consolidated stacks of pastry. Gently break each sheet into 6 pieces for a total of 12 pieces to allow 3 phyllo shards for each napoleon.

Place half the raspberries in a small bowl and sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Macerate for about 20 minutes, then press through a strainer to remove the seeds. Toss this sauce with the remaining fresh whole raspberries. Set aside.

Whip the cream, sugar and almond extract just to a very soft peak.

To assemble the napoleons, place a small dab of whipped cream in the center of each of four dessert plates. Rest a shard of cocoa phyllo on the cream and press it down gently to anchor it. Top with a spoonful of whipped cream. Fan the slices of pear and place them on top of the cream. Add another small dollop of cream. Repeat with phyllo, cream, pear and more cream, topping with a third piece of phyllo. Dust each top piece of phyllo with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish with raspberries. Serve immediately.


Jo said...

This sounds really interesting. I really want to try it, and the raspberries looks amazing!

beti said...

I never thought about making chocolate phyllo pastry, the whole combination is great and the napoleons look delicious