Napoleon cake is made with up to 16 layers of crispy pastry filled with creamy custard. It resembles French mille-feuille but with more layers of alternating custard and pastry.
It's a bit time-consuming to make, but the rewards of a soul-satisfying dessert are so worth it. It's an impressive cake that is sure to impress your guests. You will be left with several egg whites, but don't toss them out. Make an egg white omelet or two and a delicious meringue for pie.
It's clear that the pastry gets its name from the French emperor Napoleon, but exactly how and why that happened isn't known. There is three more theories purporting to explain how the napoleon got its name: 1) The traditional zig-zag pattern of white and chocolate icing created atop the pastry looks like a series of N's. 2) The pastry was invented by a Danish chef and was first served on the occasion of a state visit by the French emperor. 3) The pastry was first created by an Italian chef in Naples who named it "napoletano" after his city, and the name was later corrupted to "napoleon" in English.
No matter what, this delicate little pastry is worth trying. Here is one recipe you can try.
For the Pastry Layers:
2 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 large egg whites, at room temperature, stiffly beaten
1 tablespoon vodka
1 pinch kosher salt
2 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
For the Custard Filling:
5 cups whole milk
10 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Steps to Make It
Make the Pastry Layers
1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar together until creamy.
2. Fold in the sour cream, stiffly beaten egg whites, vodka, and salt.
3. Gently fold in the flour, a spoonful at a time, until the dough is soft and pliable. You might not need all of it.
4. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 to 2 hours to make it easier to roll out.
5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F and butter a baking sheet and dust with flour.
6. Divide the pastry dough into 10 pieces. Roll out each portion of dough, one at a time, directly on the prepared baking sheet into a very thin 8-inch circle.
7. Bake each circle of pastry until golden brown, about 6 to 10 minutes. If dough bubbles as it cooks, pierce with a fork.
8. As each layer is cooked, remove from the sheet pan and set aside to cool on a wire rack. Repeat until all dough pieces have been baked.
Make the Custard Filling
1. Gather the ingredients.
2. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and heat, but do not boil.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, egg white, and sugar until creamy.
4. Add 6 tablespoons flour and mix well.
5. Pour this mixture into the warm (but not scalding hot) saucepan of milk, stirring initially with a whisk until smooth and then with a wooden spoon, constantly over low heat until thick and creamy.
6. Add the butter and vanilla and stir until smooth.
7. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Stir frequently as the mixture cools.
Assemble the Torte
1. Place one layer of the cooked dough in the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan and cover evenly with a layer of cooled custard filling.
2. Continue to build up the cake in this way, layering the custard on top of the pastry, finishing with the 9th pastry layer.
3. Crumble the 10th and final pastry and layer over the top of the torte. Refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours.
4. When ready to serve, run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, remove the springform ring, and, using a cake lifter or two spatulas, carefully transfer to a serving platter.
5. Use an electric knife to get nice, clean cuts and serve.