With its snowy surface giving way to layers of crisp flaky pastry and rich custard, this is a winter wonderland of a cake
OFM’s 20 best Christmas baking recipes in full
Alissa Timoshkina’s Napoleon cake.
Alissa Timoshkina’s Napoleon cake. Photograph: Patricia Niven/The Observer
The Napoleon cake was invented in 1912 to celebrate the centenary of Russia’s victory over the invading Napoleonic army. Characterised by numerous layers of buttery pastry and rich vanilla creme patissiere, the cake was simplified during the Soviet era and became a real icon of any celebration, be it New Year’s Eve or a birthday party. In my family, naturally great-grandma Rosalia (born the same year as the cake) made the best Napoleon. And for me, her memory is alive whenever I taste that buttery vanilla custard and flaky pastry combo. This is her signature recipe.
For the pastry
plain flour 750g, plus extra for dusting
very cold unsalted butter 250g
white wine vinegar 1 tsp
salt small pinch
very cold water about 150ml
Jav Uncensored For the creme patissiere
egg yolks 4
caster sugar 400g
plain flour 2 tsp
cornflour 2 tsp
unsalted butter 500g, softened
vanilla extract 2 tsp
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To make the pastry, pulse the flour and butter together in a food processor until you have a uniform crumb with no lumps of butter within the flour. Transfer the crumbed mixture to a bowl. Beat the egg, vinegar and salt together, then stir into the crumbed mixture, incorporating it quickly and thoroughly. Add enough of the measured cold water for the mixture to come together and form a ball, then knead together until you have a workable dough.
Divide the pastry dough into 8 equal parts, wrap each in clingfilm and refrigerate for a few hours until firm. Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.
Roll out each portion of pastry on a lightly floured work surface into an even circle, about 24cm in diameter and as thin as a French crepe. Transfer to a baking sheet and prick with a fork in a few places to prevent bubbles from forming. Bake for about 10 minutes until the pastry starts to brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
To make the custard, mix together the egg yolks, sugar, milk, flour and cornflour in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Take off the heat and let cool slightly. Beat in the softened butter a few tablespoons at a time to avoid lumps forming, along with the vanilla extract. You may need to return the pan to a low heat if you notice that the custard is cooling down too much.
To assemble, generously smother each layer of pastry with the custard and stack them up. Set one pastry layer aside and, once all the other layers are in place, crumble the reserved layer on top of the cake to resemble the snow that sealed the fate of Napoleon and his army back in 1812. Let the cake rest in the refrigerator overnight and enjoy as many slices as you physically can!