Afternoon tea is seen as something of a luxury these days. And in fact, did have its birthplace as a meal, of sorts, in high society. Lunch not being much of a meal, but dinner being served at 8pm meant that something was needed to keep the wolf from the door during the afternoon.
It was Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who introduced actual tea into the game. As ‘tea’ grew from just a snack into a social occasion, afternoon tea became a much more elaborate experience. To celebrate tea and cake, here’s a fantastic afternoon tea recipe for a millefeuille with a bit of a difference. Perfect for autumn afternoons. Enjoy…
Blackberry and pistachio mille-feuille
Mille-feuille translates as ‘a thousand leaves’ and refers to the many layers of flaky puff pastry within one of these French custard slices. It can be unwieldy to eat, or (whisper it), annoyingly inelegant and top-heavy for a pastry which requires a lot of time and precision.
My way around this is using caramelised puff pastry.
Caramelised puff pastry is a neat technique; it improves the texture and flavour of an already brilliant foodstuff, and makes it easier to eat. It ensures thin, crisp, ridiculously flaky pastry, which is sweet and a little caramelised. To make this, you follow the normal method for making puff, but then you dust it with icing sugar, and bake it under a heavy baking tray. This weight prevents the puff from rising like it usually would, keeping the layers tightly close to one another. When it’s baked, it is golden-brown with beautiful distinct layers – it’s like minimalist puff pastry.
Layered up with fruit and cream between those even layers of delicate pastry, it’s a total joy to eat. The slight fruity tartness of the blackberries alongside the buttery, sweet pistachios is a perfect match. And it’s pretty visually satisfying: the glimpse of those little blackberries, sitting up proudly on their bums, blue-black, alongside the bright, exciting jade green pistachio cream.
I’ve used unsweetened pistachio paste here: if yours has sugar or sweeteners in it, hold off adding the icing sugar until you have stirred the paste into the cream, then taste it, and decide whether you want to add further sweetness.
Makes: 6 mille-feuille
Hands-on time: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
6 tablespoons icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
300g puff pastry
250g small fresh blackberries
For the pistachio cream
100g unsweetened pistachio paste
300ml double cream
50g icing sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
- Line an upside-down baking tray with baking paper, and sift 3 tablespoons of the icing sugar evenly across the paper.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a square measuring 35 x 35cm. Lay the pastry on top of the icing-sugared baking paper, and sift the remaining 3 tablespoons of icing sugar across the top of the pastry. Cover with a second sheet of baking paper, and put into the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Remove the tray from the freezer and place another baking tray on top, this time the right way up. If your tray isn’t terribly heavy (mine isn’t), place an ovenproof saucepan on top to weigh it down and keep the pastry from rising. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden-brown and crisp all over.
- Remove the saucepan, if using (careful, the handle will be red hot!), the top tray, and the top sheet of baking paper, and transfer the puff pastry on its bottom sheet of baking paper on to a cooling rack.
- Once the puff pastry is cool, using a bread knife, straighten up the edges: go slowly and use a gentle sawing action, rather than a cutting down motion, and you should be able to get really neat lines. Cut the rectangle into 18 rectangles measuring 5 x 10cm each.
- Make the pistachio cream. Place the pistachio paste, cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk gently to break up the pistachio paste. Whisk with more energy to bring to medium peaks, so that the cream holds its own weight. Transfer into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
- To assemble your mille-feuilles, place one of your pieces of puff pastry on a flat surface. Pipe a blob of pistachio cream in one corner of the pastry, and place a blackberry next to it. Continue alternating pistachio cream and blackberries until you have covered the surface of the pastry. Place another layer of puff pastry on top, and repeat with the pistachio cream and blackberries. Top with a final layer of puff pastry. Dust with icing sugar, and serve.
Butter: A Celebration by Olivia Potts, published by Headline Home is out 15 September2022
Photography credit: Matt Russell
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