The Napoleon Cake also is known as mille-feuille, a sort of custard slice cake, and has been one of the most popular cakes in Russia for two centuries. As Wikipedia says, “the exact origin of the mille-feuille is unknown”, however, one of the versions suggest a connection between the name of the cake and the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. Presumably, the triangular shape of a cake portion in a dish resembles the famous Napoleon’s hat.
This recipe is from my family heritage. My great-grandmother wrote it about 50 years ago. My mom still keeps this piece of paper with her handwriting.
The ingredients are very basic, nothing fancy, but the cooking technique is quite complicated and requires advanced skills. When I was baking this cake I realized how much easier our life has become and how much more skillful our grandmothers had to be in order to cook so many different dishes out of plain, basic food. This is by no means a last-minute recipe – it takes about 3-4 hours to cook it and it has to stand overnight to let the pastry absorb the cream. So, if you have plenty of time and want to impress your family and friends with an old-charm classy cake for Christmas dinner, challenge your cooking skills and try it!
For the pastry:
1 1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of butter
2 tsp of baking soda (mmm, I think, it’s too much, but…)
1 cup of milk
3 1/2 – 4 cups of flour, enough to make a smooth and soft dough.
For the cream:
3 egg yolks
2 1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of butter
4 1/2 tbsp of flour
4 1/4 cups of milk
Stir all dry ingredients for the pastry. Dice a cup of butter and fold it into the dry mix. Stir well (I used a mixer). Add milk. Stir again. If the dough is thin, add more flour until the dough is not too sticky and can be rolled into very thin slices.
Form 12-16 balls. Take a rolling pin, dust your work surface with a flour and make very thin, almost paper-like slices (not more than 2 mm) out of the balls. Heat oven to 180C (350F) and bake each slice for 12-15 minutes or until slightly golden-brown.
Meanwhile, start making the cream. Separate the egg yolks and stir them very well with sugar and a pinch of salt – until the mix turns a very light yellow. Add flour, mix well. Add 1 cup of cold milk, mix very well. Avoid lumps. When the rest of the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat immediately.Pour the cream mixture into the boiling milk very slowly, using a whisk to stir the cream. Stir vigorously, otherwise, you’ll get flakes of cooked yolks. Bring the cream to the boil again, and cook it for another 3-5 minutes. Don’t stop stirring. Let it get thicker and set it aside.
To arrange: make layers by piling the slices on top of one another and putting a lot of cream on top of each slice. Be generous – you have more than enough of cream. Don’t forget to add the cream to the sides – the more cream the better. Crumble the brownest and well-done slice and use it as a topping. Add cherries, chocolate or other toppings, if desired. Let the cake stand for at least 8 hours in a cool place. Enjoy it.