Looking at this cake makes me tired. I’m tired just typing up this recipe. This cake was WORK.
If you need a showstopper (don’t we all?) and love baking (again, don’t we all?) then I really encourage you to go for this Russian Napoleon cake.
There’s 8 flaky layers of handmade puff pastry floating between sweet luscious custard.
I learned the only thing that makes this Russian (rather than a French Millefeuille) is that there are more than 3 layers and you let it get soft in the fridge.
The biggest thing I learned while making this cake is that you need to fit as much custard in between the layers as possible. This is tricky but the layers will soak up all that custard and create a soft and delicate cake. I lots of extra custard and wound up drizzling the remainder of each slice of cake.
No crying here, just learning. Custard is custard – it’s all going in the face so who cares how it gets there?
If you’re looking for a fun way to bake the day away, I highly suggest you try this cake. It’s impressive and delicious.
A showstopper indeed.
Original recipe found on Let the Baking Begin.
Russian Napoleon Cake
(Start making 16 hours before you want Russian Napoleon Cake)
* A note on measurements. I prefer to use weight measurements when making complicated pastries because they tend to be more accurate. This recipe is funny in that it jumps between the weights and cups. It worked out for me, so I didn’t change a thing. Google is my go-to resource when I need to convert something!
There are four steps to this recipe.
Step 1: Start by making your puff pastry. Whisk together the eggs, salt, cold water, vinegar and vodka.
In a food processor, add your flour and cold, cubed butter. Pulse the butter and flour until the crumbs are pea sized. A food processor makes this step easier, but it is not necessary if you don’t have one. All that is required is that you have very cold butter. You’ll cut this into small pieces and with a fork (or your fingers) mash the butter into the flour. You’ll still end up with pea sized crumbs.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in the food processor (or your bowl) and process until the mixture starts sticking to itself. Dump everything onto a well floured surface and gather the dough together to form a ball. Careful not to work this too much because the warmth of your hands will melt the butter.
Divide in four pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
Step 2: Start working on your custard.
Combine egg yolks, sugar and 1/2 cup milk to a large bowl and whisk them together. Add your sifted flour and 1/2 cup milk and whisk again, creating a lump-free batter.
Heat the remaining milk in a pot until boiling – stir constantly to make sure you aren’t scorching the milk on the bottom of the pan.
You’ll tamper the mixture (slowly heating up the eggs so they don’t scramble) by mixing in a cup of the hot milk to the egg mixture very quickly. Add another cup and continue to whisk very quickly. Then, you’ll pour the rest of the milk in, whisking quickly. Then, return everything back to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes (stir constantly! so much fun!). Add vanilla and butter, allowing it to melt to form a smooth custard.
My custard had some clumps in it (yuck) so I ran it through a fine sieve. Resulted in an incredibly smooth and delicious custard!
Allow this to cool on your countertop while you bake the layers. Make sure you cover the custard in plastic wrap – the plastic wrap should touch the custard so you don’t get that weird gross skin on it. I cooled this in a 13×9 pan since the more shallow the dish, the faster it will cool.
Step 3: Bake your layers.
Heat your oven to 400F with the rack in the middle.
On a baking sheet, roll out 1/2 of 1 dough ball, about 12.5 inches in size. Feel free to flour as needed to prevent sticking. Prick with a fork all over to prevent uneven rising – seriously – more than you think you need!
The original recipe states these need 7 minutes in the oven, mine needed closer to 11. You’ll keep a close eye on these and once they turn a pretty light golden brown, they’re done. Repeat until you’ve gone through all your layers.
Take the bottom of an 11 inch springform pan (or plate) and cut around the layers so they are all even. Save the scraps and crumble them in bowl. This is your decoration.
Cool your layers completely before assembling.
Step 4: assemble!
Get a plate or decorative stand for your cake. Add a big spoonful of custard to the bottom so your bottom puff pastry layer will stick.
It helps to have a springform ring around your cake as you work but this is not necessary.
In between your layers add as much custard as you can. You will make a mess. I promise the layers will soak in the custard over time. I made the mistake of not adding enough and had lots of leftover custard. This is okay – you can drizzle it over the top or straight spoon it into your face.
Once you’ve got custard and layers, let this hang out in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. Then take it back out and custard the outside of the cake. You want that crumbled up puff pastry to completely cover the cake. This will keep the custard from forming that weird layer and will keep all the moisture in the cake.
Let this hang out in the fridge for 12 hours (overnight). I will be transparent and say I did not do this. I’m a terrible influence. I waited about 6 hours and dove in.