- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

I confess to being a chocoholic. Nearly every day I reward myself with a chocolate treat. It might be a butter-rich chocolate chip cookie, a Hershey’s Kiss (with an almond inside) or a chocolate-coated biscotti. As long as there’s chocolate in it, I’m in heaven.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you, then, to learn that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite days of the year.

I always make something special that has chocolate in the ingredient list. This year, I’m preparing napoleons filled with coffee-scented mascarpone cream and drizzling them with warm bittersweet chocolate sauce. Although we are going out for dinner with friends, I’ve invited our small group back to our home for coffee and dessert afterward. It’s a simple, entertaining strategy for a weeknight.

Most of the preparation of these napoleons can be done in advance. The filling is a combination of sweetened whipped cream and mascarpone scented with coffee liqueur, and it can be made a day ahead, as can the dark chocolate sauce. The puff pastry is best when baked on the same day, but it requires only a minimal amount of work.

In fact, it’s the extra crispy texture of the pastry that makes this dessert so distinctive. Traditionally, it would be made by cutting rectangles from a sheet of purchased puff pastry, baking them until they have risen several inches, then splitting and filling them.

For these napoleons, I use a different technique. I place a single sheet of purchased puff pastry on a buttered baking sheet, sprinkle it with sugar, then top it with a second baking sheet so that it is weighed down and can’t rise. The result is a thin, golden brown layer of flaky pastry that can then be cut into rectangles.

The following recipe yields four traditional-size napoleons, but instead of cutting the pastry sheet into 8 rectangles (2 per dessert), you could cut each rectangle in half (forming 16 squares) and end up with 8 smaller napoleons.

Whether you’ve been with your sweetheart a long time or are in pursuit of a new one, this is a dessert that will definitely captivate.

Napoleons with mascarpone cream and warm chocolate sauce

Butter for greasing baking sheets

1 frozen puff pastry sheet (half of a 171/4-ounce package), defrosted (see note)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

½ teaspoon instant coffee granules, crushed to a fine powder if granules are large

3 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

6 tablespoons mascarpone cheese

4 chocolate-covered coffee beans for garnish

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish

Warm chocolate sauce (recipe follows)

Use 2 unrimmed baking sheets of similar size. Butter one sheet, then butter bottom of other sheet. (It will be used as a weight on top of pastry on bottom sheet.) Place dough on a work surface and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

With a rolling pin, roll over dough once or twice to press sugar in. Place dough, sugared side up, on buttered baking sheet, then top with second baking sheet (with buttered bottom).

Bake on center rack of preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes; then open oven and press down on the top baking sheet with a potholder to compress dough.

Continue to bake until dough is a rich golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Watch carefully.

To check the dough, lift the top corner of the top baking sheet using a long-bladed knife or metal icing spatula.

Remove top baking sheet, loosen pastry from bottom baking sheet with the long bladed knife or icing spatula. Cool to room temperature. (Pastry can be prepared 4 hours in advance. Cover loosely with foil and leave at room temperature.) With a sharp knife, trim and remove uneven edges from sides of the pastry. Cut into 4 equal squares, then cut each square into 2 rectangles.

Place coffee granules in small bowl. Heat Kahlua or other liqueur in a small saucepan over low heat until warm, a minute or less, and pour over granules.

Stir to dissolve granules, then cool. Whip cream until it just starts to thicken, then add mascarpone and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Continue beating until cream is just firm. Reduce speed to low and beat in the Kahlua or liqueur mixture. Cover and refrigerate cream. (Cream can be prepared 1 day ahead.) To assemble napoleons, place one pastry rectangle on a dessert plate. Spread about ½ cup of mascarpone cream mixture over it, then top with another pastry rectangle.

Place a small dollop of the cream in the center of the top sheet and nestle a chocolate coffee bean in it. Repeat to make 3 more.

If desired, drizzle some of the warm sauce, using a spoon or a squeeze bottle, in a zigzag pattern on each plate. Pass remaining sauce separately. Dust napoleons with confectioners’ sugar. Makes 4 servings.

WARM CHOCOLATE SAUCE:

1 cup whipping or heavy cream

4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 teaspoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur

Pour cream into medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate.

Whisk until mixture is smooth and shiny. Then whisk in Kahlua or the liqueur. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium-low heat.)

Note: Pepperidge Farm makes good puff pastry dough, which is available in the freezer section of most groceries.

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