Flaky pastry, crème légère, and a beautifully decorated icing on top, these Heavenly Gluten Free Napoleon are just what we remember, but better!
Oh, baby!! When I first made these napoleon, which I’ve been trying to make gluten free on and off for over a couple of years now, I was BLOWN AWAY. Not only were they just like what I remember, they were also better than what I remember, if that makes any sense. On the one hand, they brought back so many memories of napoleons past. But on the other hand, they had a much better taste to them, I think because my gluten free puff pastry uses straight up quality butter.
what is a napoleon?
If you’ve ever been to a bakery, chances are you’ve seen napoleon in one of the cases. It’s a very common and well known French pastry, but you may not have ever known its name. Napoleon is made with layers of flaky puff pastry filled with lightened pastry cream and topped with a feathered white and chocolate icing. It was always one of my favorite pastries ever before I had to go gluten free and I’ve been trying for years to get it right. And I’ve finally done just that!
Another name that some might call napoleon is mille-feuille, which translates to thousand leaf, which is just referring to the amount of layers in the puff pastry. I don’t like to call it that because I’ve seen mille- feuille made so many different ways with so many different flavors and textures. A classic napoleon, at least in my experience, has a white powdered sugar glaze on top that’s been drizzled with chocolate glaze and “feathered” through. And the classic filling for these pastries has always been a lightened vanilla pastry cream (crème légère). So that’s what we’re making today!
what you’ll need to make gluten free napoleon
- Gluten Free Puff Pastry — for the absolute BEST napoleon you can make, I’d urge you to make a batch of my gluten free puff pastry, which is much easier than you think. It’s leaps and bounds superior to any store bought gf puff pastry you’ll find. BUT, if you just don’t feel like it, you can use a store bought version with less than buttery results (the second ingredient in Schar Puff Pastry, after water, is margarine).
- Pastry cream — pastry cream is super easy and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, and is like an elevated pudding. I could literally eat it with a spoon (and have!).
- Whipped cream — freshly whipped cream for lightening the pastry cream.
- Glaze — the glaze is made with the usual glaze ingredients (powdered sugar, water, corn syrup) and cocoa powder is added for the chocolate version.
how to make gluten free napoleon
While there a few steps to making gluten free napoleon, they’re all pretty simple and I’ll walk you through each and every one of them.
bake the puff pastry
I won’t go into detail here about how to make the puff pastry because you’ll find everything you need in my post and video on gluten free puff pastry. Once you’ve made the puff pastry, take out half of it (either from the fridge or freezer), roll it out into approximately a 12 by 16 inch rectangle, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once it chills in the freezer for a good 10-15 minutes, bake it at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and flaky. Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely on the baking sheet.
make the pastry cream
- Whisk egg yolks with sugar and cornstarch in medium bowl until pale and smooth.
- Slowly add hot cream/milk mixture into egg yolk mixture to temper egg yolks.
- Pour everything back into the saucepan and place it over medium heat.
- Whisking constantly, cook pastry cream until it begins to boil. Boil for one minute while whisking vigorously.
- Remove from the heat and pour into a sieve set over a medium bowl. Add butter to pastry cream and whisk.
- Cover with plastic wrap, directly touching surface of pastry cream to avoid a skin from forming.
- Chill for at least two hours and up to two days.
make the icing
- Whisk together all icing ingredients, except the cocoa, until smooth.
- Remove about one half cup of icing and place it into a small bowl. Whisk the cocoa into the small amount of icing until smooth (add more water if needed).
- Cover until ready to assemble napoleon
putting it all together
- Carefully cut the puff pastry into 3 even strips. Set one on a serving platter.
- Place another on parchment paper. Spoon white icing over top and carefully spread to edges.
- Pipe lines of chocolate icing lengthwise onto white icing, about 1/2 inch apart. Take a skewer or toothpick and run it widthwise through the still wet icing to create a “feathering” effect. Let the icing set until hardened.
- Whip heavy cream with powdered sugar to stiff peaks and fold into pastry cream. Fill a piping bag with lightened pastry cream.
- Pipe pastry cream into strips along length of puff pastry. Add second layer of puff pastry and repeat with pastry cream.
- Carefully cut iced puff pastry into portion-sized pieces (I opt for about 2 inches wide). This will make it easier to cut each serving. Place pieces on top of second layer of pastry cream. Serve immediately or refrigerate for no more than 2 days.
If you’ve been missing a true French pastry, you’ve got to make my Heavenly Gluten Free Napoleon. No one will know it’s gluten free and they may say it’s the best napoleon they’ve ever had!
Heavenly Gluten Free Napoleon
- ½ recipe Gluten Free Rough Puff Pastry
Crème Légère (Lightened Pastry Cream)
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
- ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract or seeds from one vanilla bean
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream, cold
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 lb (454 g) powdered sugar
- ¼ cup (60 ml) hot water, or more as necessary for proper consistency
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Bake Puff Pastry
- Roll out puff pastry a little larger than a 12 by 16-inch rectangle. Trim all edges with a sharp knife or pastry cutter. Carefully place pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375° F.
- Bake puff pastry sheet for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and flaky. Remove from oven and let pastry cool completely on baking sheet.
Make Pastry Cream
- In a medium saucepan, heat cream, milk, and vanilla bean (seeds and bean) over medium heat until it begins to simmer.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks until smooth. Slowly pour hot liquids into egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour entire mixture back into medium saucepan.
- Over medium-high heat, whisk constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and boil. Boil and whisk for one minute and remove from heat.
- Pour pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Add vanilla extract, if desired.
- Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream (to avoid a skin from forming) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Make the Icing
- Whisk together all icing ingredients, except cocoa powder, in a medium bowl until smooth. Add more hot water as necessary to achieve a thick, but somewhat pourable consistency. Remove about ½ cup (120 g) of the icing and place it into a small bowl. Add the cocoa powder to this bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (Wilton #4 is what I used) with the chocolate icing and set aside.
- With a serrated knife, carefully cut puff pastry into three even long strips. Set one on a serving platter.
- Set another strip on a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Using a spoon, dollop white icing all over the top of the puff pastry and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Some will drip over sides, which is normal and to be expected.
- While the white icing is still soft, carefully pipe lines of chocolate icing lengthwise, about ½ inch apart. You should end up with 5-6 lines total.
- Take a skewer or toothpick and run it through the lines widthwise, from side to side (left to right). Then switch and go right to left. Keep switching back and forth until you've "feathered" the icing all the way across the entire pastry. Allow this to set and crust over while assembling the rest of the pastry.
- In a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or with a handheld mixer), whip the cream to soft peaks. Slowly add the powdered sugar and continue whipping to stiff peaks.
- Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and whisk it vigorously to loosen it up. Gently fold whipped cream into pastry cream.
- Fit a piping bag with a #1A tip (large round) and fill it with the lightened pastry cream. Pipe pastry cream widthwise along the first sheet of puff pastry (the one that you placed on a serving platter). Add the second sheet of puff pastry and repeat this process.
- When the icing has hardened on the third sheet of puff pastry, carefully cut it into 2-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Place these on top of the second row of piped pastry cream. Cutting the top first will make it easier to cut serving sizes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.