Napoleon cake, a Russian version of classical French pastry Mille-feuille, is one of the most popular desserts in Russia and post-soviet countries like Latvia, where I come from. Inspired by my upcoming trip to Paris and using friend’s birthday as an excuse to bake on Friday evening, last week I decided to make this delicious creamy and light pastry.
Actually, until last week I had no idea that both desserts are in any way connected until I came across this Wikipedia page that explains it all:
“In Russian literature, a cake named Наполеон (Napoleon) is first mentioned as early as in the first half of the 19th century. Alexander Bestuzhev explained the emergence of such names by the romantic and historicist spirit of that time. The cake has enjoyed an especially great popularity since the centenary celebration of the Russian victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. During the celebrations in 1912, triangular-shape pastries were sold resembling the bicorne. The many layers of the cake symbolized La Grande Armée. The top is covered by pastry crumbs symbolizing the snow of Russia which helped the Russians defeat Napoleon. Later, the cake became a standard dessert in the Soviet cuisine. Nowadays, the Napoleon remains one of the most popular cakes in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. It typically has more layers than the French archetype, but the same height.”
All the symbolism seems overly dramatic to me, but I’ll stick to it this time. As there is no snow in UK yet, I omitted “pastry crumbs that symbolise the snow of Russia” and went for a classical icing top. Please don’t judge the pattern too harsh. It was not only my first time doing this, but I also had to use supermarket bag because I run out of piping bag. Promise to do better next time!
MILLE-FEUILLE A.K.A. NAPOLEON (Recipe from Garšīgā Latvija)
3 cups flour
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 cups milk
8 tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons flour
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cup icing sugar
3 tablespoons milk
50g dark chocolate + 2 tablespoon of milk
- In a medium bowl using your hands mix together flour and butter until the mixture becomes crumbly.
- Using a knife or a spatula mix in an egg until incorporated.
- Add sour cream, vinegar and continue mixing until all incorporated.
- With hands shape the dough into a ball and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. The dough will be quite tough, but don’t worry – it’ll be easier to handle it after some time in the fridge.
In the meantime start preparing pastry cream:
- In a small saucepan heat up the milk until almost boiling.
- In a separate bowl beat eggs with sugar and flour.
- Very slowly pour hot milk in the egg mixture. Continue beating the whole time until all milk is mixed in.
- Assemble bain-marie by placing a larger saucepan filled with 2 cups of water on a hob and placing smaller saucepan on top of it. Pour egg and milk mixture in the top saucepan.
- Stir it over a medium heat until the mixture thickens and reaches cream consistency.
- Leave aside to cool a little bit.
- In the meantime, beat together butter, lemon peel and 4 tablespoons of sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add cooled cream to the butter mixture one spoon at a time. Mix until all incorporated and creamy.
Back to the pastry:
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Divide dough in 4 parts.
- Cover baking trays with baking paper and roll the dough into approximately 20cmx30cm rectangle. Don’t worry if not all sheets are identical, this can be adjusted later.
- Pierce the dough with a fork and bake until light brown. The time will depend on the oven, but in mine it took about 10 min for each sheet. Once baked, set aside and let them cool.
- Once cool you can use scissors (works better than a knife here) to adjust the edges where necessary.
- Place one sheet of pastry on the tray and cover with one third of the cream. Place next sheet on top and repeat.
- Continue until you’ve used all pastry sheets.
- Prepare the icing by mixing together icing sugar with 3 tablespoons of milk until smooth. Pour over the top layer and distribute evenly.
- Melt the chocolate with 1 tablespoon of milk and using piping bag create desired pattern on top.
Place the cake in the fridge overnight. Serve at room temperature.