The Ultimate Dinner Party Dessert: Nutella Napoleon

published Sep 18, 2021
christmas
Nutella Napoleon Recipe

This is the easiest fancy dessert you'll ever make.

Serves8 to 10

Prep25 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 45 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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nutella napoleon on platter, sliced
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

The French pastry known as a Napoleon is one of my very favorite desserts: flaky layers of puff pastry are pressed and baked until shatteringly crisp, then stacked with rich vanilla pastry cream. Each bite is an irresistible combination of crispy, sweet, and creamy.

Napoleons are also known for being time- and-labor-intensive, but I set out to make a showstopping version with just a handful of ingredients (just five plus granulated and powdered sugar!) and a minimal investment of time. This Nutella Napoleon is the ultimate dinner party dessert — one you can make ahead of time and bring to the table to oohs and ahhs when it’s time to end the meal with something sweet.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

Puff Pastry Perfection

The French name for the Napoleon pastry is mille-feuille, which means “thousand sheets” and refers to the dessert’s seemingly infinite flaky layers. Puff pastry is the building block of a Napoleon, so it’s worth seeking out the best all-butter version you can find, like Dufour or Trader Joe’s. (That said, we’ve used other brands and it still turns out great.) Sprinkle the puff pastry sheet with granulated sugar, then bake it sandwiched between two baking sheets, weighed down by a baking dish. This, plus poking the pastry with lots of holes before baking, means the puff pastry doesn’t rise and stays flat. The puff gets super-crispy, a little caramelized from the sugar, and sturdy enough to cut and assemble.

The Nutella filling is the rich, sweet star of this dessert — and the easiest part of all. You just beat together a box of instant chocolate pudding (yes, instant!), heavy cream, and the chocolate-hazelnut spread in a stand mixer or whisk it by hand. Once it thickens up, let it chill in the fridge and then it’s ready to go. The texture of the filling is dreamy: It’s thick enough to spread easily onto the pastry, but won’t slide around when you’re ready to slice and serve. If you have time, I highly recommend toasting some hazelnuts and adding them to the filling for some added crunch and nutty flavor.

A Few Tips for Assembling a Nutella Napoleon

Once the filling and puff pastry are ready, it’s time to assemble, which is as easy as spreading and stacking. Here are a few tips.

  • Use a ruler. A ruler will help you make nice straight cuts when you’re trimming off the edges of the pastry. Once the pastry is trimmed, use the ruler to figure out where to cut the pastry to divide it into three even pieces.
  • Use a serrated knife. A long knife with teeth, used with a gentle sawing motion, will cut the pastry but leave the flaky layers intact. Use the same knife to slice the finished Napoleon into picture-perfect servings, wiping the blade clean after each cut.
  • Dust the top piece of pastry with powdered sugar before putting it on top. The top piece of pastry gets a pretty dusting of powdered sugar, but make sure to do that on the baking sheet before placing it on top to keep the serving plate clean. Hold the pastry by the edges as you’re moving it around once it’s covered in powdered sugar.

Making the Nutella Napoleon Ahead of Time

This dessert can be assembled up to four hours ahead and refrigerated so that you can relax knowing dessert is ready to go. Don’t let it sit any longer, though, as the pastry will start to soften a bit. That being said, I happily enjoyed leftovers for two days, sneaking bites out of the container and trying not to let my family see it so I wouldn’t have to share.

Nutella Napoleon Recipe

This is the easiest fancy dessert you'll ever make.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 45 minutes

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 (about 1-pound) package

    frozen puff pastry

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/3 cup

    raw hazelnuts (optional)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    cold heavy cream

  • 1 (3.4-ounce) box

    instant chocolate pudding mix (not cook and serve)

  • 1/2 cup

    room-temperature Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread

  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions

  1. Thaw 1 package frozen puff pastry in the refrigerator according to package directions. Unfold the pastry and place on a sheet of parchment paper. If the pastry is in sheets, place the sheets side-by-side so they are touching and pinch them together to make 1 sheet.

  2. Working quickly so the pastry stays cold, roll out into a 10x15-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and spread it around with your fingers into an even layer. Slide, still on the parchment, onto a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF.

  3. Prick the dough all over with a fork, making the pricks about 1/4-inch apart. Place a second sheet of parchment over the dough, then top with a second rimmed baking sheet. Place a 9x13-inch baking dish on top of the second baking sheet to weigh everything down.

  4. Bake until the edges are light golden-brown, 25 to 30 minutes (it will not be cooked through). Meanwhile, make the filling.

  5. Place 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer or mixing by hand with a sturdy whisk). Sprinkle with 1 box instant chocolate pudding mix and add 1/2 cup room-temperature Nutella. Beat with the whisk attachment on the lowest speed until combined and thickened to a frosting-like consistency (tiny lumps are OK), 3 to 4 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

  6. When the pastry is ready, remove the baking dish, top baking sheet, and top sheet of parchment. Bake uncovered until evenly light golden-brown on top, 4 to 8 minutes more. Transfer the pastry onto a wire rack with two flat spatulas and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

  7. Meanwhile, if using hazelnuts, place 1/3 cup hazelnuts on the now-empty baking sheet (careful, hot!). Bake until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Immediately transfer the toasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel, wrap them up, and rub vigorously to remove as much of the skins as possible (don’t worry about any skin that doesn’t easily come off). When cool enough to handle, transfer the nuts to a cutting board and coarsely chop.

  8. Place the pastry on a cutting board. Using a long, serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, trim the edges. Cut crosswise into 3 equal strips, each about 4 inches wide.

  9. To assemble, place one pastry strip on a serving platter. Stir the Nutella filling, then dollop half (about 1 generous cup) onto the pastry strip and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the hazelnuts if using. Repeat layering a second pastry strip, the remaining Nutella filling, and the remaining hazelnuts.

  10. Sift powdered sugar over the remaining pastry strip until completely covered, then place on top of the Napoleon. To serve, use the serrated knife and gently cut crosswise into 8 or 10 slices. To get clean slices, wipe the knife clean between each cut.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The puff pastry can be baked, cooled, and stored cut or uncut tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 1 day. The hazelnuts can be toasted, chopped, and stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 day ahead.

The Napoleon can also be completely assembled and refrigerated up to 4 hours before serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be lightly covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days, but the pastry will soften.