Millefeuille literally translated means a thousand leaves, but in cooking it’s traditionally made up of three layers of pastry and used in sweet desserts, alternating the two layers with crème pâtissière. My dish is a bit of a fun twist, using a similar technique but applying it to a savoury dish.
This recipe might seem a bit more of a challenge, but when you break it down and follow the steps carefully, with patience and a steady hand, it’s simple, yet it will really wow your dinner guests. There are just three key elements you need to get right – the asparagus, the pastry and the cheese.
When it comes to asparagus, the thing to remember is that it has to be as fresh as possible. The secret of good pastry is the butter. We use a superb product called Lescure from France, which is trusted by a lot of top pastry chefs there.
The other key to getting this recipe right is the cheese. This lovely Paddy’s Milestone cheese is perfect thanks to its great creamy texture and remarkable flavour. It comes from Dunlop Farm in East Ayrshire.
To make the pastry
Ensure the butter is at room temperature. It needs to be soft enough for a knife to cut through in a second, otherwise you’ll find it won’t incorporate into the flour as quickly as it needs to and it will be much harder to work with.
Sieve the flour and then mix with the softened butter, and add the salt. The trick here is to use your fingertips and be as light and gentle as you can.
Once mixed, you can add the water and olive oil. You’ll find that when it all comes together the mixture is very wet, but that’s normal so don’t worry. Once all of the ingredients are incorporated, wrap the mixture in cling film and place it in the fridge until it is hard – usually around half an hour should firm it up. When you’re wrapping it in cling film, try to get it quite flat. That way it will be much easier to roll and work with. Also put a tray or chopping board in the fridge too, as it’s much easier to work the pastry on a cold surface. You’ll need a bit more flour and a rolling pin, as well as your chilled tray or board, to start working the pastry.
Roll it out with the rolling pin over your tray or board, until it’s a very thin sheet. The key to getting it thin without tearing is to make sure you use lots of flour to dust the surface and the rolling pin. You can also roll the mix out a bit and place it back in the fridge and repeat until you get the correct thickness.
Finally, put the rolled pastry back in the fridge for half an hour.
Then remove it and cut into eight perfect squares of 7.5cm by 7.5cm. You can keep the trimmings and save them for another date.
To prepare the asparagus
Trim off the tips and the skin of the asparagus, but keep everything aside to use in the purée. The only bit to discard is the woody bit at the very end.
Cut the spears into 2cm batons, keeping the heads aside, again to use later in the recipe.
Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for approximately 5 minutes, checking every minute to see if it’s ready – you will be able to pierce it with a knife and it will show no resistance.
Remove the asparagus and refresh in iced water – this stops it cooking further and keeps it bright and perfect.
To make the asparagus purée
Take the trimmings from the 10 asparagus spears. Keep two heads of the asparagus per portion aside. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add a splash of olive oil.
Sweat the chopped onion, then add a touch of cream before adding the trimmings.
Sweat it all off and cook it out over a rapid heat for approximately 5 minutes.
Add a small handful of spinach. Remove from the pan and place into a blender when it’s still hot. As soon as it is blended, place in a bowl over ice to cool it as soon as you can – this will keep it green and fresh. Season to taste and transfer the purée into a piping bag.
To prepare the cheese purée
The cheese has a white, bloomy rind. You need to peel this off. Take the rind, and blend it with a little cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place the mix into a piping bag.
To prepare the balsamic dressing
You can make your own balsamic or buy a good quality balsamic glaze. Take 100ml of aged balsamic and gently reduce until it becomes thick. Place into a small squeeze bottle.
To cook the pastry
Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. The secret here is in the way you cook the pastry between two trays.
Take your baking tray. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, followed by a chilled pastry square, then another layer of parchment, then the pastry and repeat. Once you’ve created eight layers of pastry, place another baking tray over the top that fits exactly with the bottom one. Then you can pop some cutlery or baking beans, if you have them, on the top tray. This keeps pressure on the pastry and makes sure it stays perfectly flat.
Cook for 8-10 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven.
To assemble the dish
Pipe a little of your cheese purée on to the middle of the plates to stop the pastry from sliding. Place one layer of pastry on to each plate.
Place alternate dots of the cheese purée, asparagus purée and balsamic on the plate, around the outer edges of the pastry. You can do this in any way you like.
Take your asparagus batons, and place them around the inner outline of the pastry. In the middle of the asparagus batons, pipe some asparagus purée and crumble in the Paddy’s Milestone cheese.
Meanwhile, decorate the top layer of pastry with the cheese purée, asparagus purée and balsamic. This is the chance to have fun and try to create your own work of art!
Place the second layer of pastry on top of the asparagus batons.
Garnish with the heads of asparagus cut in half.
Serve soon after it’s prepared or it will dry out.