"It's a pastry. It's flaky and creamy, and it tastes great!" -The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, Daniel Pinkwater.

Daniel Pinkwater has been one of my favorite authors since I was in middle school. His novels, from Alan Mendelson, the Boy from Mars to The Worms of Kukumlima captured my imagination and basically summed up my feelings about being a weird kid. My favorite of his books is The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, which, with its two sentences about Napoleons, got me started on the journey to making puff pastry.

It was only a matter of time after reading about Napoleons before I decided I had to try one for myself. And since I didn't know of anywhere that sold them, I resolved to make my own. So I got out my mom's old Joy of Cooking and looked in the index. Napoleons...see Pate Feuilletee, it said. Somewhere around page 700, the recipe for Pate Feuilletee spanned two pages in small print. It was the most involved recipe I had ever attempted before, but that didn't deter me.

I made a mess on the kitchen counter while attempting to add water to a pile of flour with a well in the middle. I made a mental note to just use a bowl next time. I struggled to mold a stick of butter into a thin pad of butter that could be folded into the dough, and the too-cold butter tore through the dough while I tried to roll it out. Next time, I would allow the butter to soften slightly. In the end, despite setbacks, I managed to produce a fairly flaky, puffy pastry. I layered it with pastry cream and fed it to my parents.

This time around, things went more smoothly. I didn't even bother trying to mix things on the countertop, and I got the butter to a good consistency before working it into the dough. The result was a delicious stack of pastry, whipped cream, and raspberries that made me wish I'd doubled the recipe.

Of course, you can use storebought puff pastry to make this, as I often do when I don't have a free day on my hands. I'm just including my puff pastry recipe for anyone who wants a fun baking challenge. The proportions of butter and flour are the same as my pie dough recipe, all that changes is the method.

*makes 3-4 servings
1 cup of all-purpose flour
5-7 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup of butter
whipped cream and raspberries to assemble napoleons

In a medium bowl, add water gradually to the flour just until you can work the dough into a ball with your hands. Wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge. Put the butter between two sheets of waxed paper. Hit it with a heavy rolling pin to flatten it out and make a square about 1/4 inch thick and about 3 inches wide. Put the butter in the fridge for half an hour.

Remove the dough and butter from the fridge. Place the dough ball on a floured board, and press flour onto all sides of the dough. Roll the dough out from the center to create a cross with four thin arms and a thicker center. Each arm should be long enough to cover the center of the cross. Put the butter in the middle of the cross and pull the arms over it to create an envelope with the butter in the middle. Hit the dough with the rolling pin a few times to flatten it out more, then roll it out into a long, thin rectangle, about 5 inches wide and a foot long. Fold the dough in thirds to make a smaller rectangle. Turn the dough 90 degrees to the right, roll the pastry out again, and fold it as you did before. Now wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour. For helpful pictures of this process, take a look at this site.

Repeat the rolling and turning four more times, allowing the dough to rest in the fridge after every two turns. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board. If the butter begins to break through, press flour into it and return the dough to the fridge before continuing. Always fold and turn the dough in the same direction. Once you have done 6 turns total, chill the dough for 30 minutes to overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, then roll out the dough into a rectangle about 6 inches wide and 14 inches long. With a sharp knife, trim off the edges of the dough to make the rectangle neater and remove the folds, which prevent the dough from rising. These edges can be used to make small palmiers or pastry fans.  Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and poke a few holes in it with a fork in different places to make it rise more evenly.

Bake the pastry at 450 degrees F for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake until the pastry is golden, about 5 more minutes. Remove the pastry from the oven and allow it to cool fully. Cut it into three equal rectangles. Place the first rectangle on a plate, then add a layer of whipped cream and a layer of berries on top. Put a second rectangle of pastry on top of the berries and add another layer of whipped cream and berries. Top with the last sheet of pastry, more whipped cream, and more berries. Cut into portions and serve.