When you say “yes” to hosting a shower or even just bringing dessert to a party, Party Day always seems so blissfully far away. Weeks. Months! All the time in the world to master macarons or practice piping those frosting bluebirds so it doesn’t look like our cupcakes are covered in piles of Smurf barf. The problem is, we have other things to do. People to see. Laundry to launder. And we really, really need to catch up on “Game of Thrones.”
Besides, how hard could it be to squeeze frosting into recognizable a bird shape?
Take it from your Aunt Julie, it’s crazy-hard, y’all.
So, boom! The Day of Reckoning arrives, and, since we forgot to master macarons, we do the drive of shame to the nearest grocery, grabbing random boxes of frozen appetizers, a plastic-covered cheese plate and whatever looks OK in the bakery section, silently promising to do better next time and praying that the frozen mini quiches don’t come out tasting like day-old grass clumps.
Here’s a simple-but-pretty party idea for you: Mini Strawberry Napoleons. They’re double-decker dessert sandwiches, made with layers of flaky puff pastry, pillowy vanilla filling (a combination of whipped cream and instant vanilla pudding), and as many sliced ripe strawberries as you can pack on without toppling each pastry over. Dust them with confectioners’ sugar, add a few mint leaves (if you’re feeling fancy), and you’ve got a dessert worthy of a special occasion. Something that says “Happy birthday!” or ”Congratulations!” or “Happy Mother’s Day!” instead of “Ooh, sorry about that.”
You could make your own puff pastry for the recipe, but I recommend taking the shortcut and grabbing a box of Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry. It’s quick, it’s dependable, and it comes folded in thirds, so you don’t even have to whip out a tape measure to divide it into the 12 rectangles you need. High-five!
Using the puff pastry as a foundation, you can get as creative as you want with this dessert. Try experimenting with different fruits and fillings. Blueberries with lemon pudding or lemon curd. Raspberries with chocolate pudding. Bananas with coconut cream pudding. Keep the strawberries and trade the vanilla pudding for lemon, cheesecake or white chocolate. Skip the fruit, mix together some peanut butter and marshmallow cream, and create the World’s Fanciest Fluffernutter. Drizzle your pastries with melted chocolate, or plate each one on a pool of hot fudge sauce.
Or, just roll with the original recipe. It’s delicious and pretty in a way that makes people smile. And making people smile is really what dessert is all about.
Let someone else go cake-pop psychotic. Slackers, unite!
Mini Strawberry Napoleons:
Note from Julie: Feel free to play around with this recipe and substitute different fruits and pudding flavors – blueberries with lemon pudding, raspberries with chocolate pudding, bananas with banana or coconut cream pudding, strawberries with cheesecake or white chocolate pudding, etc.
Makes 8 pastries
1/2 OF A 17.3-OUNCE PACKAGE PEPPERIDGE FARM® PUFF PASTRY SHEETS (1 SHEET), THAWED
1 PACKAGE (ABOUT 3 OUNCES) VANILLA INSTANT PUDDING AND PIE FILLING MIX
1 CUP MILK
1 1/2 CUPS SWEETENED WHIPPED CREAM (SEE BELOW) OR THAWED FROZEN WHIPPED TOPPING
1 1/4 CUPS SLICED STRAWBERRIES
Heat the oven to 400°F.
Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks.
Cut each strip into 4 rectangles. Place the pastries onto the baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.
Let the pastries cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Split each pastry into 2 layers, making 24 in all.
Prepare the pudding mix according to the package directions except use 1 cup milk. Fold in the whipped cream.
Reserve 8 top pastry layers.
Choose 8 bottom pastry layers, and spread 2 tablespoons pudding mixture on each. Top each with 1 tablespoon strawberries and another pastry layer. (Note from Julie: I spread a little of the pudding mixture on the bottom of each second pastry layer to help “glue” it to the strawberries.)
Top each of the second pastry layers with the remaining pudding, strawberries and the reserved top pastry layers. (Again, spread a little pudding under those pastry layers so they’ll stay put.)
Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Serve immediately or store for up to 4 hours, covered and refrigerated.
To Make Sweetened Whipped Cream:
Beat 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form.