Learning about food, photography, and writing. Sharing what I find.


Monday, March 8, 2010

An Adventure in Phyllo Dough (Lemon Mousse Napoleons)

I made that.

Seriously, if you had told me a year ago that I would have the patience—never mind the skill—to put together a dessert like the one you see above, I would have laughed right at you. It's unbelievable what a few random ingredients can inspire inside a person.

This whole thing started with a leftover pint of heavy whipping cream. I sought advice on things to make, and I heard a resounding, "Moooooooousse!"

Now, when I think of mousse, I go right to chocolate. But, having sacrificed my chocolate consumption for Lent this year, I had to get creative. I immediately thought of a nutty mousse (almond, pistachio, even peanut), so I started "epicuriousing" (akin to "googling"). I stumbled across this fine selection, which combines my newly-acquired skills in Lemon Curd-making with an altogether untouched ingredient to date: PHYLLO DOUGH.

This scary substance is just as treacherous as it looks and even more frustrating than I ever imagined, BUT it is unparalleled in its texture and flavor, especially when encasing finely chopped nuts of the highest order: Pistachios.

With only a slight singe to the forearm and no less than 8 expletives, I finally arrived at a batch of Lemon Mousse Napoleons fit for a king . . . or an emperor.

(This recipe is a modified version of the dessert of the same name found on, my favorite, Epicurious.)

  • 1/2 cup shelled natural pistachios
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground or whole coriander (it all gets pulverized, so I used whole)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 3 sheets phyllo dough (roughly 17 inches x 12 inches each)
  • 4 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1 cup lemon curd (see my previous post for this recipe)
Preheat the oven to 325º.
Finely grind 1/3 cup of the Pistachios, the Sugar, the Coriander, and the Cardamom together in a food processor.

Chop the remaining pistachios into small bits and reserve.

Unfurl your Phyllo sheets.

If you bought them in a large stack, remove three sheets onto the counter and cover their surface completely with plastic wrap and then a slightly damp kitchen towel. If your counter top needs protecting, place a large cutting board on your surface and gather your utensils and elements for the assembly of the Pistachio Crisps (brush, filling, butter, a steady hand). Uncover and place your first sheet of dough onto the safe cutting surface and re-cover the other two sheets. Brush the entire thing with the Melted Butter.


Sprinkle the entire sheet with half the ground pistachio and sugar filling.

Place the second phyllo sheet over the now-sprinkled first sheet and gently press down to pack. Brush the top of the second sheet with butter. Sprinkle remaining filling on the second phyllo sheet and cover with final phyllo sheet, pressing again to pack. Brush top with remaining butter. Cut off roughly one centimeter from all edges for a clean trim and chill for about 10 minutes. Using a sharp knife, carefully and fully cut the large rectangle into roughly 20 equal squares.

Now cut each square into two triangles and lift them with a spatula onto a non-stick baking sheet or a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Cover the entire set of triangles with another piece of parchment if you have it and weigh down the pieces by placing a second baking sheet on top (sandwiching them between the two sheets and parchment). VERY IMPORTANT: Bake them in the lower third of the oven for 10-13 minutes until they reach a light golden hue. I beg you, keep your eye on these. They will be ready suddenly and will overcook quickly. You want a buttery aroma, but don't let it go past buttery to scorched, as I did on my first batch. Thank you. :)
Remove the finished crisps from the baking sheet (you will have to lift the top baking sheet carefully and most likely reassemble a couple crisps). Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes.

In the mean time, whip the Heavy Cream into soft peaks and then gently fold in the Lemon Curd until entirely incorporated.

To assemble the dish:
  • Place one crisp on the plate.
  • Top with one heaping tablespoon of mousse.
  • Place another crisp on the top of the mousse, in a contrasting position to the first crisp.
  • Place a second heaping tablespoon of mousse atop the second crisp.
  • Place a final crisp in a pleasing position and angle on the very top.
  • Sprinkle the entire dish with the chopped pistachios and a dusting of sugar (granulated or powdered).
  • Make sure to get bits of the pistachio to stick to the bright white mousse, it'll look divine!


  1. I need to come down for photography lessons. Yours are SOOO utterly fabulous that they hurt!!

  2. If a picture is worth a thousand words then living in a house where you get to EAT the real thing is worth a thousand times a thousand... don' need to hear it... don' need to see it... just get in ma belly!

    Although, it IS nice going back and savoring the memories of the little 'babies' ...kind of like having a family album

    Here's a thought:
    Saute the decorative pistachios in butter, brown sugar and Amaretto until explosively crunchy. Sort of like the way sugared pecans are done

  3. I'm not even going to talk about how ridiculously delicious these look.

    I am going to tell you that the picture of the Phyllo sheets is amazing. Amazing!

    And when I have a house and a kitchen someday, I'm going to decorate the walls with your food photos. And you're going to live down the street (or you can have our basement, if you want...) so that we can finally taste, and not just look.

  4. Ummm, yes, I say "ditto" to Bethany's comment! Showed this off to the girls @ rehearsal yesterday, and many comments were made about the Phyllo pic! Nice goin', lil' sis!

  5. I could not believe what I was seeing in my own kitchen, nor what I was tasting in my own mouth. Masterful, Grace.

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  7. Hey Grace,

    I've been reading your blog via your Facebook updates and so I just wanted to stop in real quick to tell you that I am SOO impressed by your creations...and your photography! The food looks absolutely beautiful. I love reading your recipes and looking at your pictures. :) Hope all is well!