The weather in Paris these days is incredibly mercurial. In the fifties one day, the thirties the next. Rain, flurries, sunshine. The only solution when Mother Nature is this temperamental is layers...a term that in this city of incredible patisserie applies as easily to pastry as clothing.
The word mille-feuille means "a thousand leaves," doubtless referring to the many layers of pastry interspersed with crème pâtissière (custard) that compose this delicious dessert. The mille-feuille is also called a "Napoleon" -- not, it is believed, for the incomparable emperor, but as a derivation of the word "Napolitain," and the pastries originating from Naples, Italy, where layering was always in fashion (remember the ice cream?).
True confession: Napoleon is my least favorite Emperor (I prefer Constantine, with Peter the Great running a close second) and mille-feuilles are usually my least favorite dessert. I was first disappointed by the whole concept at the now-shuttered C.P. One, the restaurant that used to sit on the west side of the Plaza complex. I still remember how the whole structure crumpled when I stabbed its gummy pastry with my fork. Still, I find myself on this chilly, intermittently drizzly Sunday drawn into Le Moulin de la Vierge on Rue St. Dominique and the immediately attracted to its mille-feuille. Hubby is thrilled as Napoleons are his favorite.
Confession number two: I was so wrong! That, or Le Moulin has managed to accomplish something entirely unique in the Napoleon category. I have a feeling the former is closer to the truth. As you can see, the pastry is incredibly flaky. When I cut into it the layers hold up beautifully. The pastry is light, with a toasty, buttery flavor. The pastry cream is rich, just a bit sweet. Napoleons are often layered or served with fruit but this specimen proves that if the pastry and cream are as exquisite as they should be, no accessorization is necessary.
Most emperors, as history has shown, fall. This one stands tall, proud, delicious - and has officially conquered my heart once and for all.