Despite the French name of this cake, every Ukrainian will swear to their exclusive ownership of this recipe. One of the signatures of the local dessert cuisine, Napoleon is light, moist, and creamy. Its tender vanilla custard combined with thin, flaky pastry make Napoleon truly exquisite. Hardly anyone who tastes this cake will fail to love it. And there are quite a few who have tried but failed to make it. But with the detailed recipe below, you will never fail: guaranteed.
These step-by-step instructions will give you to the best result and make Napoleon your go-to puff pastry cake for every occasion.
Disclaimer: Many stores now sell pre-made puff pastry, but I strongly recommend that you make it from scratch for a truly authentic touch.
For the Pastry:
- ⅔ cups cold water
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 3 tbsp horilka (Ukrainian vodka)/cognac (omit if not using alcohol)
- 2 eggs
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 ½ sticks cold or frozen butter
For the Custard:
- 7 egg yolks
- 1½ – 2¼ cup granulated sugar
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups boiling hot milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter
- 2-3 cups berries (blueberries, raspberries / optional)
How to Make the Puff Pastry:
- Mix the cold water, vinegar, and horilka/vodka/cognac (replace with water if not using alcohol) in a cup.
- In a separate cup, whisk the and salt.
- Combine the mixtures of two cups the cups of flour and butter.
- Process until the crumbs are pea-size. Alternatively, put the flour onto a cutting board, add the cold cubes of butter, and cut and mix together with a sharp knife
- Add the liquid ingredients and continue mixing until the dough starts sticking to itself a bit, but is not formed yet
- Pour the contents of the food processor bowl onto a work surface and start gathering and pressing the dough together with your hands, working it as little as possible.
- Form a ball and knead it for a couple of seconds to form a dough
- Shape the dough into a log and cut it into 12 equal pieces.
- Roll each piece into a ball, cover, and refrigerate for about an hour to allow the liquid to hydrate the flour
How to Make the Custard:
- In a 6 qt pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
- Add ¼ cup of the milk to make it easier to mix into a smooth mixture
- Add the flour and whisk again, forming a uniform, clump-free batter
- Add another ¼ cup of milk
- Heat the remaining milk in a saucepan or microwave. Stir continously to prevent scorching
- Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly pouring the hot milk in, while mixing
- Set over a medium heat and cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking to prevent scorching.
- Add 1 tbsp of vanilla extract and stir
- Add 1 ¾ sticks of butter. Allow to melt and stir the custard into a smooth mixture.
- Alternatively, beat the butter into the cooled to room temperature custard
- Allow the custard to cool by pouring it into a jelly roll baking sheet, covering it with plastic wrap so it touches the custard to prevent a film forming
- Bring to room temperature
How to Bake the Puff Layers:
- Preheat oven to 400 °F. Set the rack in the middle
- Place a damp kitchen cloth on the table.
- Put an upside-down jelly roll baking pan on top. The kitchen towel will help prevent the baking sheet from moving
- Roll out 1 dough ball into a 11-12 inch circle, dusting the top with flour as needed. Pierce with a fork about every inch. This will prevent large bubbles from forming as it bakes.
- Alternatively, lightly wet your rolling surface, place a piece of foil larger than 12 inches, and smooth it out to adhere to the table
- Roll the dough. Pre-roll all the cake layers while the others are baking
- Bake each puff pastry cake layer for 5-7 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven and place a 10-inch plate or lid on top.
- Cut around it with a sharp knife, collecting all the scraps. Allow to cool. Repeat with the rest of the dough
- Crumble all the cake scraps
How to Assemble the Cake:
- Place a dab of frosting on a serving platter, top with the first cake layer and press to adhere.
- Refrigerate about 1 cup of custard for covering the sides
- Spread about 4 large spoonfuls of Napoleon custard into an even layer. Repeat with the rest of the custard and cake, topping with custard
- Sprinkle the top with crumbled cake scraps to keep the custard from drying out.
- Leave the cake at room temperature for 12 hours. Then refrigerate for another 12 hours
- Take the reserved custard and smooth over the sides of the cake. Set the cake on a cake stand, over a baking sheet.
- Take a handful of cake scraps and press them against the sides of the cake, allowing the rest to fall into the baking sheet
- Continue going around the cake sides. Sprinkle the leftover puff pastry cake crumbs over the top. Decorate with berries and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired
- Serve chilled