Best Napoleon Cake Recipe – How To Make Napoleon Cake

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PICTURED: ERIK BERNSTEIN; FOOD STYLING: TAYLOR ANN SPENCER

Sometimes the craving for dessert hits us out of nowhere, and we’re looking for a quick and easy treat to whip up in an hour: snickerdoodles, cereal cookies, maybe even a chocolate covered strawberry. But sometimes we’re in the mood to whip up something fancier: a dessert that might take a little more planning, but is a real hit. At times like these, we turn to this Napoleon cake.

Layers and layers of puff pastry and homemade vanilla custard, topped with more custard and puff pastry crumbs and decorated with fresh fruit. Elegant in its simplicity, this fresh and creamy dessert is summer at its best. It may take a little longer and think ahead (we recommend refrigerating overnight for the best cooking experience!), but it’s definitely worth it.

Read on for more tips on making this gorgeous dessert. And if you’re looking for more desserts, check out some of our favorite layer cakes.

What is the Napoleon cake? Is it the same as a Napoleon dessert?

Originating in Russia, the Napoleon cake is made up of several layers of puff pastry with a filling of whipped pastry cream and encrusted with more crumbs of dough. After assembly, the cake is chilled overnight to allow the layers of batter to soften and absorb some of the cream, similar to classic American ice cream cake. Napoleon cake is inspired by the French mille-feuille or Napoleon dessert, which is also traditionally made with layers of puff pastry and pastry cream, but it is not the same dessert. While a Napoleon dessert only has a few thicker layers of dough and cream, the Napoleon cake traditionally has at least 8 very thin layers of dough spread with cream, and sometimes up to 12! It looks more like a pancake than a traditional Napoleon dessert.

What is the Napoleon cake filling?

Traditionally, Napoleon cake is filled with crème patissière: a cornstarch-thickened custard that is cooked on the stovetop until it becomes thick and looks like pudding. We’ve stuck pretty close to the classic in this recipe, with the addition of whipped cream, which we fold into the chilled pastry cream to lighten it up. The result is a light, creamy and succulent filling perfect for sandwiching between those layers of puff pastry.

What is the best way to separate eggs?

There are tons of ways to separate eggs. Some crack the egg in their hands and spread their fingers just enough to let the yolk through, while others carefully transfer the yolk between the shells until the egg white slides into a waiting bowl. These methods seem to us a little perilous; it’s easy to pierce the yolk on a jagged edge of an eggshell, and using one hand to crack an egg into the other sounds like a sure recipe for disaster. We suggest separating the whites by cracking the eggs directly into a colander. Alternatively, you can break whole eggs into a bowl and scoop out the yolks with a spoon. These are the easiest and cleanest ways to ensure a successful separation!

What should I do with the extra egg whites?

That’s always the million dollar question! Luckily, there are tons of egg white recipes out there, so you can put your leftovers to good use. Make these flourless fudge cookies or try a pavlova…you can never have too much dessert, can you?

What temperature should my puff pastry be?

When rolling out puff pastry, it’s important to keep it cold…but not too cold. It’s an act of temperature balancing: you don’t want the fat in the dough to melt, spoiling those nice flaky layers, but you also don’t want the fat to be so cold that you can’t spread. Our suggestion? Let your puff pastry sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes before rolling it out, and once you start rolling, work quickly so you handle it as little as possible. And once your dough is rolled out and you’ve cut out your rectangles, put them in the fridge unless you plan to bake immediately. You’ll get better results if they stay cool until they reach the heat of the oven.

How long should I bake my puff pastry?

It’s always important to bake the pastry until it’s golden brown (color equals flavor!), but in this recipe, that’s especially important. If the deeper layers of the puff pastry are not completely dry, they will become gummy when sandwiched with the custard filling instead of just gently softening. You’ll end up with a dessert that’s hard to cut, hard to eat, and not as flavorful as it could be.

Do it ? Let us know how it went in the comments below.

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napoleon cake

PICTURED: ERIK BERNSTEIN; FOOD STYLING: TAYLOR ANN SPENCER

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