WINNIPEG, MB - Having company? Why not try something different for a change? Why not, for example, let your friends create their own dessert? I tried this the other day as a surprise ending to a five-course meal I cooked for some friends. I didn't know how we'd fare, but I have to tell you it was fun.
The dessert I chose was Gateau de mille-feuilles (cake of a thousand sheets). All I did was supply the ingredients. I calculated that while we sat round the table and each created our dessert, we could chat, have a few laughs and hopefully admire each other's creation. Gateau de mille-feuilles is, of course, of French origin, dating back to before Bonaparte's time. A cake of a thousand sheets that all starts with a little puff pastry.
o 1 packet of puff pastry
o 1 cup blueberries
o 2 cups of milk
o ½ cup of water
o 4 heaped spoons of sugar
o 1 carton of whipping cream (500 ml)
o 2 heaped spoons of custard powder
o 2 cups regular cream
o 2 cups of raspberries (chopped)
o 1 cup of strawberries (chopped)
o 18 cooked puff pastry rings
o Icing sugar for dusting
The fun is in putting it all together. Here is what you do:
First, thaw the puff pastry. You can leave it inside its box on a kitchen counter for about two hours until it's pliable. Then lightly dust the counter top with flour and roll out one cube to around 12 inches by 12 inches. Using a cookie cutter cut out nine rings and place on a sheet of parchment paper on an ovenproof tray. Brush some milk over the top to help bring out the colour and pop inside the oven at 350 F.
Once the pastry has risen and turned to a golden colour, remove it from the oven and set aside to cool. Repeat the process with the second pastry cube.
In a small non-stick pot, pour in 1 cup of milk, the sugar and custard powder. Stir and bring to boil; as soon as all this is boiling, remove from the heat. If the custard is too thick, add a little more milk. The consistency should be smooth. Leave this mixture to cool.
For the coulis (purée). Place a cup of fresh chopped strawberries and raspberries in another pot, with one heaped spoon of sugar and one-half cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for a half hour, stirring intermittently throughout the process to help reduce the liquid.
Pour the whipping cream into a mixing bowl and blend until the cream congeals somewhat. Remove 1 cup of freshly whipped cream and add to the now-cooled custard. Fold together, do not whip. Once fully folded you should have a light-coloured creme anglais.
Now the fun begins. Enjoy your multi-course meal together and then set the stage for construction by going ahead with your own creation. Remember, it is how you bring the components together that makes for the fun.
Place all your food parts you have created in serving bowls on the table. Pick up a piece of pastry (be careful, it is fragile) and gently slide a knife through the risen portion of the pastry, making two parts. Place a small amount of cream on your plate, then one piece of pastry on top.
Now, using a teaspoon, place some coulis on the pastry, followed by some creme anglais. Add a small portion of blueberries, then some fresh whipped cream. Repeat the process again. This time finish by putting a full piece of pastry on top. Gently dust some icing sugar over the top and violà.
The fun started when Joe picked up his first puff pastry ring. "Gently," I explained. Too late, the pastry had already crumbled in a heap on his plate. Mmm. "I can do better," Lori stated and began to gently caress the pastry in her skilled hands. The pastry falls in two. "Perfect" we all exclaim.
The layers are coming together and finally everyone is fighting over the icing sugar, "If it's not sweet, it's not dessert," Lori states and covers her masterpiece. And trust me, it was covered. As I have always said, the food you make for your friends is always about having fun and enjoying the special moments of companionship.
Ian Leatt is general manager of Pegasus Publications and a trained chef.