Russian Napoleon Cake – Puff Pastry Cake
Russian Napoleon Cake is the ultimate Napoleon Cake and a cousin of the traditional Napoleon Recipe, it is made of crispy layers of puff pastry, sandwiched together with creamy and buttery custard.
Check out my collection of other PUFF PASTRY DESSERT RECIPES.
What is Napoleon Cake?
Napoleon Cake is a traditional French dessert (Mille-feuille) that consists of several, flaky and crispy layers of Puff Puff Pastry filled with thick layers of pastry cream, with the top layer being covered in powdered sugar glaze with swirls of chocolate sugar glaze.
Are there different types of Napoleon Cake?
Yes, there are two general types of Napoleons. One is the French Napoleon cake which I described above. The second is the Russian Napoleon Cake.
The Russian Napoleon cake is different in the fact that it typically has a lot more cake layers (could be as much as 15) of puff pastry, that is rolled super thin. The thin layers are then sandwiched with a moderate amount of pastry cream. This allows the puff pastry to soften and become very moist and tender, as shown below.
It might sound like it defeats the purpose of using the puff pastry in the first place because the glory of the puff pastry is being able to see each and individual layer within the puff pastry. Nevertheless, once you try the Russian Napoleon cake version, you might see why we Slavics go crazy for this cake!
Which type is this Napoleon Cake Recipe?
This cake uses the technique of the Russian Napoleon cake (many thin puff pastry layers + moderate amount of pastry cream in between), but I recommend not waiting for 24 to 48 hours until the layers are completely softened.
This will give you the absolute pleasure of experiencing different textures in each bite – crispy, flaky puff pastry and super creamy pastry cream. You can wait until the cake becomes soft and tender, but you don’t have to. Try this recipe and decide for yourself which one you prefer.
Can this Napoleon Cake be made ahead of time?
If you prefer the crispy version, you can bake the layers and make the pastry cream the night before and assemble it within 3 hours of eating for the best results.
If you prefer the soft and tender version, you can make the fully assembled cake as much as 48 hours in advance. Just keep the cake covered so it doesn’t dry out and absorb the fridge odors.
I have done an Instagram Poll recently and have found that 78% of everyone who participated in the poll, prefer this Napoleon Cake while it’s still crispy and flaky.
I decided to update my original Napoleon Cake Recipe with step-by-step pictures and little changes. I was craving this cake for several weeks and just couldn’t get to it. Finally, I made it and I kept telling myself that I couldn’t believe that now I need to wait for 48 hours for the cake to absorb all the custard and mend its flavors. So being very impatient, I cut into the cake 3 hours after making it and to my surprise it was unbelievable! The cake layers were still crispy, with a slight crunch at every bite, but you could go down through the cake with a fork with no problem.
So now my recommendation is that if you make this cake, try serving it around 3 hours after assembly, just so that you know the difference. If you don’t cut it 3-5 hours after making it, at that point, it’s best to wait 48 hours until the cake layers have absorbed the cream and became soft.
When I posted this cake on Instagram several days ago, one of my friends who’s made this cake before left me a comment and I just have to share it with you.
“Love this recipe. It’s even better than the Napoleon cakes I tried in Paris! Seriously.”
I don’t know what Parisian Napoleons’ taste like, but I totally believe her, because a cake can not get better than this!
Best Napoleon Cake Ever!
Scroll to the bottom for a recipe card with precise ingredient amounts and instructions.
Quick Puff Pastry (makes eight 11″ round cake layers)
- Butter, cold
- Water, cold
- All-purpose flour
- Vodka/cognac (omit, if can not use)
- White vinegar
- Pinch of Salt
Egg Yolk Custard
- Egg yolks
- Vanilla extract
- All-purpose flour (sifted)
- Butter (I added 400)
How to make Napoleon Cake:
How to Make Quick Puff Pastry
- In a large cup, whisk together eggs and salt, stir in cold water, 2 tablespoons vinegar & 3 tablespoons vodka
- Add flour to the cup of your food processor. Next, add the cold, cubed butter and pulse or process until the crumbs are pea size
- Now, add the egg mixture into the flour mixture and continue processing until the dough starts sticking to itself a bit, but is not formed yet.
- Pour the content of the food processor bowl onto a work surface and start gathering and sticking the dough together with your hands, trying to work it as little as possible. Form a ball and knead it for a couple of seconds until a dough forms. Do not work with it too much, not to melt the butter with the warmth of your hands.
- Shape the dough into a log and then cut it into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Work on the frosting
- Combine egg yolks & sugar in a bowl and whisk them together, adding 50 milliliters of milk to make it easier.
- Add the flour and whisk again, forming a very uniform, lump-free batter. Add another 50 milliliters of milk to make it easier.
- Heat the remaining milk in a pot until boiling, all the while stirring to keep the bottom from scorching.
- Transfer the egg & flour mixture into a larger pot (about 3 quarts).
- Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly pouring the hot milk in, all the while mixing.
- Pour the mixture back into the pot and bring it to boil over medium heat, continuously (!!) stirring and keeping the bottom of the pot from scorching. Once boiling, cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add vanilla extract & stir. Add butter, allow to melt, and stir to form a smooth custard.
- If your custard had clumps, run it through a fine sieve or pulse it with an immersion blender (handheld) until smooth
- Allow the custard to cool by pouring it into a jelly roll baking sheet and covering it with plastic wrap (plastic wrap should touch the custard, to keep the skin from forming). Do not refrigerate, just bring to room temperature.
Bake the cake layers
- Preheat oven to 400F. Set the rack in the middle.
- On a back of a jelly roll or a 12-inch baking sheet, roll out 1/2 of 1 dough ball, until about 12.5 inches in size, by dusting the surface with flour as needed.
- Prick with a fork all over, to prevent uneven rising. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until lightly golden in color. Repeat with the rest of the dough, to make 8 layers.
- As soon as the cake layer is baked and out of the oven, place an 11-inch plate or lid on top of each cake layer and cut around, collecting the scraps into a separate bowl and being careful to keep the cake layers from cracking.
- Crumble the cake scraps. Set aside.
- Place a dab of frosting on a serving platter. Place first cake layer and press to adhere.
- Surround the cake layer with a cake ring & secure with a ribbon or a cake strip. The rest of the cake will be assembled inside the ring.
- Place about 6 large spoons of frosting and smooth it around. Repeat with the rest of the frosting and cake. (This can be done as you bake the cake, meaning that cake layers can be just slightly cooled when you start assembling the cake. Warm cake layers will speed up absorption). Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of shredded scraps on top of the cake.
- Run a knife between the cake and the ring. Remove the ring. Take some crumbled scraps into the palm of your hand and press them against the sides of the cake, all around. Sprinkle the rest of the cake crumbs on top of the cake. The cake scraps are not only for decoration but also to keep skin from forming on the custard. Serve chilled.
Scroll to the bottom for the recipe card
The King of Napoleons
The ultimate Russian Napoleon cake layers of thin puff pastry sheets and a creamy custard filling.
Quick Puff Pastry
Egg Yolk Custard
Make Quick Puff Pastry
Wet ingredients: In a large cup whisk together 2 eggs, ⅛ tsp salt and stir in ⅔ cups cold water, then add 2 tablespoon vinegar & 3 tablespoons of vodka. Set aside.
Combine flour & butter: Add 6 cups flour and 3 ¾ cups of cold cubed butter to the cup of food processor. Then keep pulsing the mixture until the the mixture is the size of peas.
Add the egg mixture into the flour-butter mixture and continue pulsing until the dough starts sticking to itself, forming a dough, but is not formed yet.
Form a dough: Turn out the contents of the food processor bowl onto work surface and start gathering and sticking the dough together with your hands, trying to work it as little as possible. Knead it several times, but as soon as the dough comes together stop kneading/working it. The butter needs to stay in small chunks within the dough or the puff pastry will not have puffy layers.
Divide & refrigerate: Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, flatten it into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or up to several days if making ahead of time).
This will allow the flour to fully absorb the liquids and the butter to harden again.
Make the Egg Yolk Custard
Egg yolk mixture: In a 6 qt pot whisk together 7 egg yolks and 2 cups of sugar adding a little bit of milk as needed to help with mixing. Next, whisk in the flour until you have a uniform, lump-free batter adding bits of milk as needed to help with mixing.
Hot milk: In a saucepot heat the remaining milk over medium heat whisking continuously to keep the bottom from scorching. Alternatively you can microwave the milk until it is boiling.
Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly pouring the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, all the while mixing.
Thicken the custard: Now bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking continuously (!!) preventing the bottom of the pot from scorching. Once boiling, cook for 2-3 minutes or until the custard is thickened and the taste of flour desipates.
Flavor it: Add 1 tbsp of vanilla extract and 3 ¾ cups of butter and whisk until completely melted.
Make it smooth: If your custard had clumps, run it through a fine sieve to remove clumps.
Allow the custard to cool by pouring it into a rimmed baking sheet and covering it with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap should touch the surface of the custard, to keep a skin from forming.
Tip: If making ahead of time, refrigerate covered for up to 3 days.
Bake the puff pastry cake layers
Prep: Preheat oven to 400°F. Set the rack in the middle.
Prep the baking sheet: Turn a 12" x 16" baking sheet over (or use a flat cookie sheet, right side up) and set it on a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from moving as you'll roll your cake layers on top of it.
Roll the cake layers: Remove 1 dough ball from the fridge at a time and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12 ½" circle on top of the upside down baking sheet dusting the surface with flour as needed. The cake layers will be very thin.
Prick with a fork every 1-2 inches, to prevent uneven rising. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until lightly golden.
TIP: Start a timer every time a cake layer goes in the oven to prevent it from burning. The cake layers bake fast and it is easy to forget and burn them.
Trim: As soon as the cake layer is baked and out of the oven, place an 11-inch stensil (dinner plate, large lid, etc.) on top of the cake layer and use a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut around it. Collect the scraps into a separate bowl and be careful to keep the round cake layers from cracking. Use a flat cookie sheet, a cake transfer
Repeat steps 3 & 4 with the rest of the dough, to achieve 8 layers total.
Crumble the cake scraps into finer crumbs. Set aside. This will be used to cover the outside of the cake.
Divide the frositng into 8 pieces by "cutting" it with spatula or spoon. As the frosting cools it will be thickened like a jelly so it will be easy to divide.
Now put a small dab of frosting on your serving plate and top it with the first cake layer. Press gently to adhere.
Layer the cake: Add 1/8th of custard to the cake layer inside the cake ring and spread it evenly.
Now repeat with the remaining cake layers and custard, finishing with half of the remaining custard on top.
Sprinkle some of the cake crumbs on top of the cake to cover the top surface completely. The remainder of the crumbs will be used for the sides of the cake, later.
The cake crumbs are used to prevent a film from forming on the custard.
Remove the ring: Run a thin knife on the inside of the cake ring to losen the cake from the ring. Remove the ring.
Cover the sides with the remainder of the custard in an even layer. Press the remaining cake crumbs against the sides of the cake, covering the sides completely. If there are any remaining crumbs, sprinkle them on top.
Tap the serving plate with the cake several times allowing any lose crumbs to fall to the sides of the plate. Now clean up the edges of the cake plate and refrigerate the cake until ready to eat.
See notes for serving suggestions.
- Crispy version: The cake can be served right away after assembly, in which case you'll be able to experience the thin, brittle and crispy layers of cake that alternate with creamy custard. The cake will stay crispy for about 1-2 hours after assembly.
- Tender & soft: Otherwise, it can be refrigerated for 24-48 hours and then served. This version will delight you with a soft and tender cake that you can easily slice through with a spoon. Make sure to bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
If you cut into the cake anytime between the time of option 1 or option 2, the cake layers will be a bit gummy and hard to slice through with a fork/spoon. So, either serve it right after assembly or wait until the cake layers have had the time to absorb the cream and become tender.
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