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What is Mille-Feuille?

By Mandi Rogier
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mille-feuille is a distinct type of sweet French pastry that consists of many layers separated with filling. The term “mille-feuille” may also be written as two separate words, as “mille feuille” or as a single phrase, as “millefeuille.” This dessert goes by many other names as well, and has also been referred to as a custard slice, cream slice, or vanilla slice. It is commonly known in the United States as a Napoleon.

The term “Napoleon” as it refers to this dish may have come from a variety of sources. It does not, however, refer to the Emperor Napoleon I, as is often presumed. It is more likely a derivative of the French term “Napolitain” which refers to the Italian region of Naples, where elaborate layered desserts were customary. Napolitain is also the name of a French dessert which is a specific type of mille-feuille.

The French phrase “mille-feuille” is translated as “a thousand leaves.” This refers to the numerous layers used to compose the treat. Most cakes of this sort have between two and seven layers of pastry. These layers are themselves made by folding a puff pastry numerous times to create the finished product.

The traditional mille-feuille has three layers of pastry and two layers of cream filling. The top is covered with a white icing. Stripes of chocolate icing are then layered on top and combed into the distinctive design commonly associated with this treat.

This cake can be made in a rectangular or oval shape. Many variations exist that incorporate a wide range of flavors. Among the fillings commonly used for this type of dessert are jam, whipped cream, custard, nut paste, preserves, and pureed fruit. The top of the treat can be covered in combed icing, jam, or powdered sugar.

Different versions of this dessert can be found worldwide. In England, a popular type of mille-feuille is known as a Bavarian slice and features a raspberry jam filling. The Napoleonbakelse of Finland and Sweden is topped with currant jelly. The Napoleon of France is filled with almond paste.

In many countries, including the United States and Italy, mille-feuilles aren’t restricted to the dessert menu. Some variations have been developed as appetizers as well. These feature a filling made from cheese or spinach. The top may be covered with a cheese topping as well. This version of the pastry is served warm, as opposed to the dessert which is typically eaten at room temperature.

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Discussion Comments

By turquoise — On Aug 23, 2011

I love mille-feuille. It's a dessert I can always have, even after a full meal. I think it's very light but full of flavor. It beats cake any day.

The only complaint I have is that it is not made very well in the U.S. I think the best mille-feuille is in made France. A few restaurants I've been to in the U.S. had okay mille-feuille but usually, it is made too dry and with too little filling.

My favorite mille-feuille is filled with a vanilla custard topped with fresh fruits. I love lots of filling and I have to make it at home so that it's just as I like it.

By bluespirit — On Aug 23, 2011

@tolleranza - I have heard of almond paste being used in mille feuille, but I doubt you would taste any saltiness, even if it contained it - it turns out that often this type of mille feuille comes with a rather sweet topping such as whipped cream!

By tolleranza — On Aug 22, 2011

@runner101 - I am with you; traveling to France to engorge on bread, pastries, and wine seems sinfully wonderful. But all of this talk is also making me hungry!

But I do have to way in on the idea of which might be the best or favorite mille feuille. For me the idea of the mille feuille with nut paste intrigued me. What nut paste is being used? Is it salty to go against the sweet pastry?

And I am not opposed to traveling to France to find out, but I do not think my budget would be appreciative.

By runner101 — On Aug 21, 2011

This just furthers my feeling that I need to travel to France. My feeling began when I saw or read something about that book about how French people or French women don't get fat.

While I was not necessarily enamored with the idea behind the book being about not becoming fat as opposed to being healthy, I was enamored with the idea that they have wine with most meals at eat lots of cheese and bread; oh and do not forget pastries!

So the milles feuille has just added to the list of things I can eat while traveling to this place of carbs and wine.

Any suggestions on people's favorite type of mille feuille; I like @burcidi's idea to put spinach or feta cheese in it, but it does not sound as exotic as traveling to France and having my mille feuille cake with preserves in a little French bakery!

By burcidi — On Aug 21, 2011

When I was in Europe, I used to purchase frozen mille-feuille pastry that was not sweet. I made pastries with this all the time with spinach or feta cheese fillings. It's basically the same as puff pastry that is sold in the frozen food isles in the US.

The best part about these pastries is how quickly they cook. If I get a call from a friend or relative who wants to drop by, I can prepare these in about 10-15 minutes tops. It's extremely easy to make but very delicious to eat. It's my favorite appetizer by far.

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