Caramelized Napoleon with Sage and Cranberry

Caramelized Napoleon with Sage and Cranberry

A deceptive dessert, this adaptation of a classic napoleon crisp plays with our taste buds and senses. Subtly infused with sage throughout, crisp apples bound together with an intriguing sage mousseline replace the traditional phyllo layers and thick pastry cream. A frozen cranberry sage parfait sits atop a bed of crispy caramelized phyllo crumbs to mimic the missing napoleon layers, and a sweet compote of apples and cranberry meld the two together. Caramel undertones are also present throughout, as their flavor marries well with both the apples and sage. Although this dessert is much more complex than our usual fare (the Pastry Princess was really inspired here!), the components serve to teach you many foundational techniques, so it’s a mini pastry curriculum for you avid students of the kitchen. It is well worth the effort to make this dessert either as a whole or in parts, so play and experiment!

[Note: As this recipe has a lot of pieces we’ve listed each set of ingredients right above their respective instructions rather than listing all ingredients first.]

6 servings


Candy thermometer
Fine mesh sieve or chinois
Individual molds or a loaf pan
Mandoline slicer or a very sharp knife
1½-inch metal ring molds or dowel rods
Nonstick mat or parchment paper
Sheet pan or baking sheet
Small paint brush
Small squeeze bottle
Stand mixer
Wire whisk

For the apple chips:
2 apples (such as Braeburn, Macoun or Fuji)
1½ cups water
1 cup sugar
pinch of cream of tartar

Turn your oven to the lowest possible temperature. Wash and dry the apples, but do not peel or core them. Cut a ½-inch thick slice off one end of the apple so you can begin slicing with a flat surface. Using either a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice paper thin slices; you will need 24 slices to prepare 6 desserts, but we recommend having more on hand in case any break. Save any larger scraps for the compote.

[Chef’s Note: Keep the slices together so the interior flesh of the apple is not exposed to the air, which will quickly turn the apples brown.]

Combine the sugar, water and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and immediately place several apple slices at a time into the boiling syrup. Cook for about 3 minutes until the apples become translucent and the syrup comes back up to a boil. Remove the apples with a slotted spoon and transfer to a wire rack to drain. Once you have finished poaching all of the slices, lay the drained apples flat onto baking pans lined with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats, making sure they do not touch or overlap. Leave in the preheated oven overnight until dry and crispy.

[Chef’s Note: After submerging the apples in the sugar syrup, you will be left with a wonderfully fragrant apple-flavored simple syrup. We highly recommend that, rather than discard it, you strain this syrup to use it in teas, other desserts or apple-flavored cocktails. Remember, a true chef would never waste anything, but rather be inventive and resourceful in finding uses for any “scraps.”

An even easier method of preparing apple chips is to sprinkle the slices with a mixture of sugar with just enough salt to taste it, then bake in the same manner. Both produce crispy and delicious chips, but we find the ones prepared with the simple syrup to be slightly tastier.]

For the sage mousseline:
2 cups milk
1/8 cup loosely packed sage leaves
½ vanilla bean (reserve the other half for the apple compote)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 egg yolks
pinch salt
4 tablespoons butter, soft
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to medium stiff peaks for folding

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk, sage and vanilla been until small bubbles begin to form around the sides. Cover and steep for 10 minutes to allow flavors to infuse.

In a separate large bowl, combine the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Carefully temper the hot milk into the yolk mixture, and then whisk the tempered yolks back into the saucepan of milk. Return the pan to medium heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to boil. Continue to boil, constantly whisking, for another 2-3 minutes. Pass the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl and whisk in the butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream, pressing out any air bubbles, and refrigerate for 3 hours until it has completely chilled.

Once it has cooled completely, fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.

[Chef’s Note: Even though the pastry cream appears to be finished once it first becomes thick, it is important to continue cooking and stirring, otherwise you will be left with a cream which has an aftertaste of cornstarch. The stabilizing effect of cornstarch exempts pastry cream from the rule of not heating custards over 185F.

Pastry cream mousseline is a simply pastry cream lightened with whipped cream. For a slightly sturdier, but still light cream, you may add a little gelatin (.25 ounces) softened in cold water to the hot pastry cream immediately after you remove it from heat and before straining. This cream would then be called a crème diplomate.]

For the sage water:
2 cups water
1/8 cup loosely packed sage leaves


Bring water to a simmer, add sage leaves. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and discard sage leaves. Set aside.

For the sage caramel sauce:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1½ cups sage water, warmed

In a small saucepot, combine the water, sugar, corn syrup and lemon juice; the mixture should be the texture of wet sand. Make sure the side of the pot is clean and that are no sugar crystals remain on the sides. Cook until golden amber in color over medium-low heat, approximately 7 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly (and carefully) whisk in the hot water, bring back to a boil, and cook to 230° F. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Reserve ½ cup of the sage caramel for use in making the compote.

[Chef’s Note: When making caramel, an acid such as lemon juice or cream of tartar and corn syrup are often added to reduce the chances of crystallization.]

For the apple compote:
2 apples (such as Braeburn, Macoun or Fuji)
½ cup cranberries, halved
½ cup sage caramel sauce
½ cup warm water
½ vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Peel the apples and dice into small, uniformly sized squares, discarding the core. If using the caramel sauce after it has cooled, rewarm over medium heat in a large pot. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the warm water and then bring back up to a simmer over low heat. Add the vanilla bean, lemon zest, apples and cranberries and cook at a slow simmer until the apples are tender but still hold their shape, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

[Chef’s Note: You can serve the compote immediately or store in the refrigerator overnight to pick up even more of the sage caramel flavor from the liquid.]

For the cranberry sauce:
2 cups cranberries
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Whisk the sugar, water and lemon juice in a medium saucepan to combine. Add the cranberries and lemon zest and cook over medium-low heat until the cranberries pop and are tender, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat to cool, and then purée until smooth. Pass through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.

For the frozen cranberry sage parfait:
2½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup sage leaves
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
4 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch salt

At least 2 hours ahead, combine the heavy cream, sage leaves, vanilla bean and seeds and the salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer; remove from heat and steep for 10-15 minutes to infuse the flavors. Strain and chill in the refrigerator until cool enough to whip. Whip to medium stiff peaks and set aside in the refrigerator until use.

Place the egg yolks in the large bowl of an electric mixer, and whisk, using the whisk attachment, on medium high speed until pale yellow and very thick. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the temperature on a candy thermometer reads 240 F. Immediately remove from the heat and slowly pour into the whipping yolks. Continue to whip yolk and sugar mixture on high speed until cooled, thick and doubled in volume, about 5-7 minutes. Fold in the whipped cream once cooled completely.

This mixture can be prepared in individual molds of any shape (we used a rectangle flexipan mold in this plating) or a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap or acetate. For easier pouring, transfer to a pitcher and divide among the prepared molds, filling only halfway. Freeze the half-filled parfaits until firm, about 1 hour, then spread a thin layer of the cranberry sauce on top, and fill to the top with the remaining parfait mixture. Using a large off-set spatula, smooth the top of the molds to get rid of any excess mixture. Freeze until completely firm, about 4 hours.

[Chef’s Note: While the term parfait often connotes a layered ice cream dessert, the original parfait is a mixture lightened with whipped cream, frozen in a mold. A parfait mixture, while prepared in a variety of ways, consists of three elements: a thick egg yolk foam, whipped cream and flavoring. In this recipe we’ve used the “pâte à bombe” method, where a hot sugar syrup is poured over egg yolks and then cooled, and whipped cream is folded in, but other methods that can be used are crème anglaise/ice cream, mousse or bombe. We first attempted creating this parfait using the crème anglaise procedure, but because of the amount of milk used to infuse the sage flavor, found the parfait too soft when frozen (we tried adding gelatin but did not care for the end product). The sugar syrup in the pâte à bombe method provides stability and strength without the addition of gelatin.

This recipe makes more parfait mixture than called for in the dessert. We tried scaling the recipe down to fit this dessert, but the proportions were too small for good results. We recommend that you freeze the remainder as you did above or in popsicle molds for a surprise “leftover” treat.]

For the phyllo roll:
4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Carefully lay one sheet of phyllo dough onto a flat surface. Brush with melted butter and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Place a second layer on top of the first, and then butter and sugar the second layer. Repeat with the remaining two layers. Trim the edges of the stacked phyllo using a ruler and sharp knife. Use the ruler to cut 1½-inch wide strips of dough. Continue cutting strips until you have six total. Spray a 1½-inch wide metal tube or wooden dowel with non-stick cooking spray. Placing the tube at the edge of the dough closest to you, start rolling the entire strip of dough around the tube, making sure the edges are aligned as you roll. Continue with the other tubes and strips of dough. Place the tubes standing upright on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Allow to partially cool and carefully slide the phyllo off of the tubes.

For the caramelized phyllo crumbs:
4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup powdered sugar

Thaw the frozen phyllo layers in the refrigerator the night before you plan to make the crumbs. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Carefully unroll 4 phyllo sheets onto a smooth, dry surface, and cover completely with plastic wrap, then a damp towel. Melt the butter in the microwave. Remove one layer of phyllo from the towel and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush the layer with butter and dust with powdered sugar. Cover with a second phyllo layer, brush with butter and dust with powdered sugar. Repeat with the remaining two sheets. Bake in the preheated oven until crispy and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Once cooled, crushed the sheets into crumbs using your hands or a rolling pin, or grind in a food processor. Set aside.

For the candied sage leaves:
10 unblemished sage leaves
1 egg white
Pinch of salt
¼ cup superfine sugar

Prepare a sheet pan with a wire rack. Add the salt to the egg white and froth lightly with a fork. Using a small paint brush, brush the egg white onto both sides of one leaf, then lightly dip in the sugar, turning to fully coat both sides. Repeat with remaining leaves and lay on the rack to dry completely.

To plate this dessert, use a medium paint brush to paint a thick line of caramel diagonally on the plate. Assemble the napoleon using 4 apple chips by placing one on top of the caramel in the bottom left side of the plate. Pipe some of the mousseline on top of the chip, and then lightly place another chip on top of the mousseline. Repeat with the remaining chips, but leaving the outside of the top chip unadorned with mousseline. Place a candied sage leaf on the top of the napoleon.

Using the caramel sauce as glue, place the phyllo tube diagonally across the plate from the napoleon; just make sure to leave room for the parfait. Strain the fruit compote from its juices and place a few spoonfuls into the tube. Sprinkle some of the phyllo crumbs in between the napoleon and the phyllo tube. Unmold the parfait and place on top of the crumbs. Enjoy!

[Chef’s Note: The presentation featured in this recipe is only one interpretation – feel free to adapt and experiment with plating design, using as many or all of the components you desire. While this recipe may seem daunting, each component can be served individually, so use this to master technique, adapt with your own spice and entremets, or, if you are feeling adventurous, attempt the entire composition.]

Omit the sage and substitute other herbs and spices, adjusting amount to taste, or double the vanilla bean for a vanilla dessert. Rather than prepare the entire dessert, feel free to serve only one or two components together such as the parfait along with the compote.

Recipe and photo by Monica Glass