Crumbly, buttery, and flaky cake combined with delicious and rich condensed milk frosting, this Napoleon Cake is an elegant and sumptuous dessert.
Hello, folks. I hope you are doing fine. I am so excited to present this Napoleon Cake to you today. That’s certainly the most complicated and time-consuming cake I have made so far. However, every minute of your time (and each calorie out of thousands of calories) are so worth making it.
There’s a thing. If you didn’t grow up in one of the former Soviet countries, you probably never heard this name. Instead, you are likely familiar with the French name mille-feuille. That’s correct. There are many similar desserts, but the names can vary such as a Mille Foglie in Italy, a Vanilla (or custard) Slice in Great Britain, or a Napoleon Slice in Canada. This pastry is quite popular in many European countries such as Poland (Napoleonka), Finland and Sweden (Napoleon Pastry), and many others.
A Napoleon cake is something that absolutely reminds me of my childhood. For many (if not most) Soviet families experiencing a tremendous deficiency of food (and importantly lack of any variety), a Napoleon cake was the staple of any celebration. As butter was quite difficult to get (and it was limited in the amount you could buy at once), I believe most of the people would use margarine instead.
The origins of a Napoleon cake are not well-known, but it is believed the cake to have bee mentioned first time in around the middle of the 19th century. It’s very likely was created after the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. In the beginning of the 20th century, it was often made in triangular-shape which resembled a bicorn (a form of the hat).
Although Napoleon cake is very similar to on a mille-feuille (As it must have been inspired by the French dessert), they are not the same. The biggest difference is that a mille-feuille traditionally has only three layers of pastry while a Napoleon cake has more(up to 16).
There are few things I would like to mention before we enjoy this cake.
- Thin layers are the way to success. Try rolling out the dough as thinly as possible. Ideally, it should be almost translucent. I won’t lie – the dough is not very easy to handle. Use flour for dusting as this will help to achieve it. I’ve read people roll out the layers directly on a piece of parchment paper and then transfer it (with paper) on a baking sheet. While you’re rolling out one piece of dough, keep the remaining refrigerated.
- There are two ways to make layers. You can roll out one piece of dough (larger than the size of your future cake), bake, and then immediately, when still hot, using a knife, cut out the needed shape (put a baking form or plate on a baked layer to have nice circles)
- Alternatively, you can roll out and cut the circles before placing them in the oven. Keep in mind that when baking, the layers might slightly shrink, so you won’t have perfectly matching layers. That’s fine though as we use crumbles to cover the cake and camouflage its imperfections. Personally, I tried both ways, and I did like the second one more.
- If you bake then cut out a circle, then collect and put aside the leftovers from each sheet. If you cut out a circle prior to baking, accumulate the raw pieces and bake them separately. We are going to use them for the decoration.
- Custard cream is a traditional filling. However, Andrey’s favorite cream from his childhood was frosting made with condensed milk and butter (which was probably the most popular cake frosting in Soviet Russia), so I decided to please him. Normally you need to whip using an electric mixer sweetened condensed milk with softened butter. As far as I recalled, you would get really think kind of frosting which I didn’t want to. I wanted a custard-y kind of cream, so I decided to experiment. The thing is that when you use a lot of butter, it’s hard to dissolve it, and as the result, you can feel it which is not the best parts at all. I decided to kind of melt it, and the result was fantastic – easy to whip and not too thick. Sometimes I am a smart boy :)
- When assembling the cake, I recommend doing it slowly because the layers are very fragile. When you spread some of the cream over the first layer, let it stand for 2-3 minutes. The cream will start to absorb, and you will diminish the possibility of cracking the layer.
- Once you’ve assembled the cake, let it stand at room temperature for at least 1-2 hours and them place in the refrigerated. This helps to soften the cake. If you immediately refrigerate the cake, the frosting will harden, and the layers won’t absorb it well.
- Once you’ve assembled the cake, there are two ways to handle it. You can do nothing or put a press on top (f.x a cutting board or pan with something heave such as flour or cans). The first way will result in more airy and fluffy yet dry layers. Putting a press will result in having more dense, soft, and moist texture which I love.
- If you have leftovers of some of the cream and pastry, don’t worry. Just put them in glass or bowl and you will have a delicious dessert – no need to wait overnight!
- If you really want to try this cake, but you don’t like the idea of making pastry from scratch, grab some frozen at the store. Although I’ve never tried this simplified version, I’ve heard it’s delicious, too!
Well, I hope I didn’t get you bored with this long description. I wanted to be as meticulous as possible. On the other hand, there’s no need to be petrified with this cake. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but the results will pay off. But please make this Napoleon Cake without thinking of all those calories and fats you are going to consume – forget end enjoy (and then have a few intense gym sessions). :)
Going to share another Russian cake staple soon too.
Stay tuned. Cheers.
- about 4 cups (500 gr) of pastry flour + more for dusting
- 350 gr butter (very cold!)
- 2 eggs
- 180 ml (about 12 tablespoons) of very cold water
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 cans (300 ml each) sweetened condensed milk
- 350 gr butter
- good pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- The butter and water should be very cold. You can place it in the fridge for 15 minutes/
- Sift 4 cups of flour with salt in a large bowl.
- Grate the butter combining it with the flour - as quickly as possible (no longer than one minute) as we don't want the butter to start melting. You will get the crumbly texture.
- In a separate bowl combine the cold water with vinegar and eggs and whisk.
- Pour the egg mixture into the crumbly mixture.
- Mix 15-20 seconds until the ingredients combined. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit (up to 1/3 cup) of flour more. Do not add more than this - you will use flour for dusting.
- Using your hands, very quickly mix the dough until it gets shape, one minute.
- Roughly divide the dough into 12-16 pieces. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
- Dust well the surface and a rolling pin with the flour.
- Take one piece (choose the largest) of the dough and roll it out as thin as possible dusting when necessary. See if this piece of the dough is enough. If not, you should one or two of the prepared balls for taking small pieces from them and adding to other balls.
- Using a knife and a plate (baking dish), cut out the circle putting the dough trimmings aside.
- Pierce the layer with a fork all over the surface.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 4-6 minutes depending on your oven and thickness. The layers should not be too brown.
- While one layer is being baked, roll out the next piece of the dough.
- Alternatively, you can roll out a large piece of dough (larger than the shape of the cake would be), bake, and when it’s still hot, using a dish and knife, cut out the circle.
- Repeat with the remaning layers. Handle the baked layers carefully as they are fragile.
- Depending on the diameter and thickness, you should get around 12-16 circles + the trimmings.
- Place all baked trimmings in a bowl and set aside. If you cut the circles out of the raw dough, collect the trimmings and bake them separately.
- To make the cream, place the condensed milk in a large pot and place over medium heat for few minutes - just to warm it through. Remove from heat.
- Add the butter and let it stand a minute - we don't need it to fully melt but soften well.
- Using a mixer, start whipping the cream first on low speed (about 5 minutes) then gradually increasing to maximum. Depending on the quality of your mixer, it takes between 10-15 minutes. The cream shouldn't be too thick - the perfect texture would be like not too thick honey.
- Add the salt and vanilla and whip a bit more.
- To assemble the cake, place the first layer and spread some (3-4 tbsp) of the cream. Let it stand 2-3 minutes then place the second layer gently pressing it with your hands, and spread the cream. Repeat all layers letting the cake stand few minutes between placing the layers.
- Spread some of the cream over the edges as well.
- When the cake is assembled, using a food processor, process the reserved trimmings until crumbles.
- Generously cover the cake with the crumbles gently pressing them into the cake. Reserve the unused crumbles and cream.
- Let the cake stand 1-2 hours at room temperature then refrigerate.
- You can put press on put on top of the cake (like a plate with something heavy - see more in the blog post, "bullet" section). I used the press.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least for overnight.
- The next day you can apply more of the reserved cream (it will absorb) and the crumbs from the outside to make it look more symmetric and neat.
- If you have any of trimmings and cream left, combine them in glass or a bowl - that would be a bonus dessert!
- Enjoy the cake with milk, tea, coffee, or even wine.