Mille-Feuille: Discovering The Origins Of The Iconic Pastry
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Every culture has a special dessert. It's apple pie for Americans. It's a tie between cannoli and tiramisu in Italy. And there's the lovely mille-feuille in France. This delicacy, which is made with pastry, cream, vanilla frosting, almond fondant, and a tiny bit of cocoa, goes very well with a hot cup of espresso. Numerous patisseries in Paris, along with bakeries and restaurants, sell mille-feuille.

The French word mille-feuille, which means "a thousand leaves," alludes to the buttery, flaky layers of puff pastry that hold the cream in place. Then, fondant icing or powdered sugar is placed on top of these layers. Newer mille-feuille recipes could call for additional components like fruit or chocolate. But how did this iconic dessert come into existence? Keep reading to learn about the origins of mille-feuille.

Despite its enormous appeal, very little is known about the history of the mille-feuille, and its precise origins remain a mystery. The mille-feuille was first mentioned in a cookbook in the 1600s in France, according to gourmet historian François Pierre de la Varenne.

But a century later, the legendary French haute cuisine pioneer and chef to the nobility, Marie-Antoine Carême, mysteriously referred to it as an “ancient recipe.”

Famous pastry chef Adolphe Seugnot of the 19th century suggested mille-feuille as his own speciality in 1867. The invention of mille-feuille is commonly attributed to Seugnot, even though the main source of evidence dates back to the 17th century.

The other name, Napoleon, alludes to ambiguous ties to the Italian city of Naples rather than the 19th-century French emperor (though it would be fitting for him to expand his own personal propaganda tactics to pastries). It's debatable, though, whether the dessert was originally French or Italian. There is also a theory that the Szegedinertorte, a caramelised delicacy from Hungary, is the source of the millefeuille's tiered pattern but not its components.

But one thing is certain: visiting a renowned mille-feuille maker like Ladurée or Angelina when in France, particularly in Paris, is a must. The French capital is home to innumerable eateries, tearooms, and boulangeries that provide delicious pastries. The more conventional eateries will continue to serve the usual combination of pastry cream and puff pastry layered on top and finished with a sprinkling of chocolate or vanilla icing. This is the type of mille-feuille you should try first if you've never had one before.

Modern mille-feuille producers are starting to play around with other iterations of the traditional recipe, though. A few pastry chefs intertwine fresh berries with cream layers. Some people are adding chocolate shavings. Some use caramel undertones in their work.