Napoleon Cake

This multi-layered pastry cake made with both Vodka and Brandy is a lot of work and time consuming but well worth the effort. While French and Italian versions of this recipe exist, the one that started it all was Russian, and derived it’s name to honor defeating Napoleon. But since Russians are modern day Napoleons who invade countries and terrorize people just because they can, we can’t honor that, so instead offer an even better Ukrainian version instead. Well actually its a Polish-American version created to honor my Ukrainian wife’s 40th birthday.

Napoleon cake consists of two parts; making the pastry and making the cream custard. The cake is assembled in 8 to 12 thin layers of pastry, where every layer is covered with custard. This cakes needs time to soften in the frig so it’s best made the night before serving. This soft pastry cake is similar to the French mille-feuille, only the French version is more crunchy. This cake is always so popular and goes so fast, that I make either one big cake, but the recipe below will make a nice ten layer Napoleon twelve inces in diameter.

Ingredients

  • Pastry
    • 720 g flour, (~5 cups)
    • 113 g butter – softened, (one stick or 8 TBL)
    • 30g sugar, (~2 TBL)
    • 470g sour cream – at room temperature, (~2 cups)
    • 4 large egg whites
    • 24g vodka, ~2 TBL
    • 6.5g salt, ~1 tsp
  • Custard
    • 473ml heavy cream, ~16 oz.
    • 236ml half and half, ~8 oz.
    • 118ml brandy, _4 oz.
    • 315g sugar – divided, ~1.5 cups
    • 8 egg yolks
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 8 egg whites

Process

  1. Mise en Place – measure and prepare you ingredients prior to starting.
  2. Make the Pastry
    1. Using a mixer in a large bowl, whip the butter and sugar together.
    2. Stir the sour cream, vodka, and salt into the mixture.
    3. Slowly add flour until the dough is soft and pliable.
    4. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until stiff.
    5. Gently fold the stiffened egg whites into dough, add more flour is too sticky.
    6. Divide dough into 12 even balls, place on a tray and cover with film to chill in fridge at least two hours (makes rolling out easier).
    7. Between two pieces of film (or a silplat with film on top), roll out each dough ball to a thin layer and trim to the size of your pan.
    8. Put back in fridge to chill.
    9. Preheat oven to 375 F (350 fan), and line trays with paper or silplat.
    10. Bake each pastry until golden brown, about ~6 mins. It’s okay if dough bubbles as it cooks. Cool on wire racks.
    11. Roll out left over dough and bake (will use later).
  3. Make the Custard
    1. Heat cream – Pour heavy cream, half & half, brandy, vanilla, and half the sugar into sauce pan on medium low. A trick to keep the cream from sticking to the pan is to rinse pan with cold water and wipe dry prior to starting. The sugar keeps dairy from scalding.
    1. Bring cream to a soft boil but do so slowly. The dairy is sufficiently scalded when it bubbles around the side of the pan.
    2. Prepare Bain-Marie (hot bath) – while cream is heating, fill a pot that a cream sauce bowl can rest in (but not sink into), part way with water (so bowl does not touch the water) and heat water to just below boiling.
    1. Mix egg yolks with remaining half of sugar – Use a bowl that will fit over the bain-marie. Stir well to work air into mixture but do not whip. Note: don’t mix the egg yolk and sugar too early because the sugar sucks moisture out of the yolks.
    2. Liaison hot cream with egg mixture (also called tempering) – This crucial step must be done slowly. If you mix to fast, you’ll cook the yolks and have to start over.While stirring the yolk mixture, slowly add hot cream (a tablespoon at a time). Repeat 6 times.
    3. Slowly pour the remaining hot cream into the egg mixture while stirring.
    4. Warm cream sauce in Bain-Marie – Place cream sauce bowl over pot of hot water that is not boiling. Using a spatula with constant H motions combined with swirls around edge of bowl, continuously stir. Check the pot occasionally to insure that there is still water in the pot and that it is not boiling.
    5. You will notice the cream start to thicken. You want the consistency of what chefs call Nape – when cream coats the back of a metal spoon without dripping; usually between 150F and 175F.
    6. Prepare an ice bath – in a bowl larger than the one your custard is in, add water and ice.
    7. Remove custard from bain-marie and immerse in ice bath. While stirring, add vanilla.
    8. When custard has cooled, strain through a fine strainer and put sauce in sealed container until ready to assemble cake.
  4. Assemble Cake
    1. Using a deep pan with removable sides (that your pastry was cut to fit), place one pastry on the bottom of pan.
    2. Whip left over egg whites until stiff and fold into custard.
    3. Spread a layer of custard over the pastry and place another pastry on top.
    4. Repeat step 3 until you have used up your custard and covered the top pastry.
    5. Crush remaining pastries into crumbs and sprinkle top with pastry crumbs, will sprinkle sides when cake is removed from pan prior to serving.
    6. Chill cake at least 3 hours.
    7. You can add flair by topping cake with fresh fruit or chocolate lace.