Lemon mille-feuille is an amazing French dessert with that will be sure to impress anyone who tastes it! If you love lemon desserts and crispy pastries, then this dessert is for you. It’s the perfect combination of sweet, pucker, buttery, smooth, and crisp. I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love this dessert! Read on below for my recipe and tips.
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Years ago, my mom and I went to New York City for the first time. While we were there, we ate at Balthazar, which was one of those life changing food experiences for me. Everything was memorable, and I have never had anything like some of their dishes.
One of our favorite desserts was the lemon mille-feuille with frozen lemon parfait and granita. It was a lemon lover’s dream! I loved it so much that I bought their cookbook just so I would know how to make it at home. This recipe has been inspired by the Balthazar cookbook, and it is nothing short of memorable!
What is Lemon Mille-Feuille?
Lemon mille-feuille is similar to a napoleon. While a traditional napoleon uses puff pastry, this dessert calls for crispy layers of filo dough with lemon curd sandwiched between the filo layers. In all, there are 5 layers with 3 filo crisps and two layers of lemon curd.
For more a more in depth look at lemon curd, read this post that is dedicated to this classic filling.
Mille-feuille, by definition, is thousand leaf, and it represents the pastry part of this dessert. To make the mille-feuille, we layer 7 paper thin sheets of filo dough and clarified butter. We then cut the dough into rectangles, bake, and then the crisp pastries are ready for assembly.
5 Tips for Making the Ultimate Lemon Mille-Feuille
- First, use a double boiler for the lemon curd. A double boiler allows you to cook the lemon curd without curdling or over cooking it. If you put the curd directly in a pot, it is far more likely to burn.
- Second, refrigerate the lemon curd so that it gets nice and cold before assembling the desserts. Warm curd will not hold its shape as well, and it can turn into a runny mess instead of a beautiful layer.
- Third, keep the filo dough covered with damp paper towels or a lightly damp kitchen towel while preparing the pastries. Filo dough dries out super fast because it is paper thin. If you don’t keep it moist, then it will dry up and crumble. Every time you need a sheet of filo dough, lift the damp towel, gently take a sheet of filo (as it is very fragile), and then cover the dough again until you need another sheet.
- Fourth, use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the pastry rectangles. Press down with a knife to cut and avoid using a sawing motion, as this can tear the fragile dough. If you use a pizza cutter, use some pressure to cut through the dough quickly so that it cuts cleanly.
- Lastly, mille-feuille tries puff up slightly while baking, which is a problem when we want flat, crispy layers. To make perfectly flat layers, place a half sheet pan on top of the filo rectangles so that they are sandwiched between two pans. By putting a pan on the top, they cannot rise, but instead they bake up flat, sweet, and crisp!
Can You Use Store-Bought Filo Dough?
Yes! In fact, I am not teaching you how to make filo in this recipe because I want to keep this as easy as possible. Store-bought filo is delicious and easy to use, so unless you just really want to make your own, buy a good brand of filo at the store and don’t worry about making it from scratch.
Never create more work for yourself, especially when you can buy good quality pastry dough that is ready to use. That is my philosophy anyways! I love baking with a strong passion, but there are some elements, such as puff pastry and filo, that I rarely make from scratch because what you can get at the store is almost always just as good.
What is Clarified Butter?
This lemon mille-feuille recipe calls for clarified butter, which sounds a bit mysterious until you know what it is!
Clarified butter is pure golden butter that leaves the milk solids and water content behind. To make clarified butter, melt the butter on medium low in a small pot on the stove, and skim away the white milk solids as they come to the surface.
Once the milk solids have been skimmed off the top, carefully ladle the golden butter out of the pot into a clean bowl, leaving the white water solids on the bottom of the pot. It is then ready to use.
So in all, there are three layers of butter in the pot. You only use the yellow liquid butter and omit both the top and bottom layers that are white and foggy.
As a side note, you can clarify the butter ahead of time and refrigerate it until you make the pastries. Remelt the butter, and it will be ready to use.
Essential Baking Tools
- Two half sheet pans
- A sharp chef’s knife or long knife for cutting the filo rectangles
- A good balloon whisk for the lemon curd
- Parchment paper
- A #9 or #10 piping tip for piping the curd
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- 4 large whole eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice, strained and pulp removed
- Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 10 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, at room temperature
- 7 sheets of filo dough, thawed
- 2 sticks clarified unsalted butter, melted
- 2 Tbs granulated sugar
- Powdered Sugar (optional)
- Whipped cream (optional)
To Make the Lemon Curd Filling
- Fill a medium pot with 1-2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Turn the stove onto high heat to get the water to a simmer quickly, and then turn the heat down so it stays at a simmer.
- Next, combine the egg yolks, whole eggs, fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and granulated sugar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over the simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t actually touch the water.
- Whisk the lemon curd until it is pale and thick. This takes about 10 minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the cubes of butter one at a time until they are melted and combined with the curd. The mixture should be thick after whisking for several minutes. In general, you will need to whisk for ….to get the right consistency.
- Place a piece of plastic directly on top of the curd so that the plastic is touching it. Cover the bowl with another layer of plastic wrap to make sure it’s sealed well, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The lemon curd can be made up to 5 days ahead.
To Make the Filo Dough Pastries
- First, clarify the butter. To do this, place the two sticks of butter in a small pot over medium heat and melt. Skim the white fat solids off of the butter until no more remains. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.
- Remove filo dough from the fridge, take it out of the packaging, and lay it out on a clean work surface (or on a cutting board). Immediately cover the dough with damp paper towels or a damp kitchen towel so that the dough doesn’t dry out.
- Take one sheet of filo dough and place it on a cutting board(or use a sheet pan). Gently brush the filo with the clarified butter until the sheet is lightly moist. Place another sheet of filo on top so that it lines up on all four corners and brush with clarified butter again. Repeat this process until you have 7 layers of philo dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes so that the dough can rest.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a rimmed half sheet pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle the parchment with 1 tablespoon of sugar.
- Next, remove the dough from the fridge and trim off any rough edges. Cut pastries into 3 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch rectangles.
- Place the rectangles on the baking sheet in a 3 x 6 grid, keeping the filo dough pastries close together so that they are still touching edge to edge.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Next, place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the pastries, then place a half sheet pan on top so that the filo is sandwiched between two trays. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
- Pastries will be golden brown and crisp when done. Store in an airtight container if not using within an hour.
To Assemble the Lemon Mille-Feuille Pastries
- Remove the lemon curd from the fridge and stir. It should still be silky smooth.
- Spoon the filling into a piping bag fitted with a #10 or #12 round tip. Alternately, you can use a spoon to put the curd on the mille feuille layers.
- Lay out the mille feuille pastries in groups of three. Either pipe a layer of lemon curd onto the bottom layer of pastry, or use a spoon to gently spread the lemon curd so that it almost comes to the edges.
- Top the lemon curd with a second mille-feuille, repeat with the lemon, and top with the last pastry.
- Dust with powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream if desired. They are perfectly delightful as they are, so the topping is completely optional.
- It is best to assemble the lemon mille-feuille pastries right before or within an hour of eating them. They will soften significantly if you refrigerate the crisp pastries, so avoid it if you can!
This recipe has been inspired by the Balthazar Cookbook.
Keywords: lemon mille-feuille, filo dough, lemon curd, napoleon