Torte Napoleon – a classic, iconic Russian cake recipe that never gets old! If you’ve never had this buttery, flaky and creamy cake before, you are seriously missing out! It’s made with 12 layers of buttery puff pastry, a creamy vanilla custard and garnished with pastry crumbs, chocolate and strawberries. This French-inspired cake is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee any time of day! Find this Napoleon cake recipe in my newly released cookbook, Beyond Borscht!
My Torte Napoleon Video Tutorial!
Watch my YouTube video recipe for my easy step-by-step instructions and watch me put together this Napoleon cake! Want to get new recipe updates? Subscribe to my website and YouTube channel and you’ll receive a notification every time a new recipe goes live!
Ingredients for Napoleon Cake
Here are the main ingredients you’ll need to make this stunning, layered cake:
- Eggs, Flour, Sugar, Butter: for making the easy puff pastry cake layers.
- Vodka: vodka is added into the puff pastry layers; it helps make the layers more flaky. You can use more water in place of the vodka, too.
- Egg Yolks: for making the creamy vanilla pastry cream, which is the filling and frosting for this cake recipe.
- Whole Milk: full-fat milk makes the custard more rich and flavorful.
- Cornstarch: for thickening the filling.
- Black Tea: I use sweetened black tea for lightly soaking the puff pastry cake layers. This makes the cake more moist and delicious.
How to Make Puff Pastry!
Torte Napoleon is all about the buttery and flaky layers and this cake has 12 of them! It’s very popular in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe – every celebration has to have one! Making puff pastry is actually super easy but you will need to follow a few steps to ensure that the layers come out perfectly each time. Here are a few guidelines:
- Use COLD butter! I recommend cubing the butter and placing it into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, then combining it with the flour.
- Handle the dough as minimally as possible. Body heat from your hands will warm the butter quickly, making the dough warm. If the dough gets too soft or sticky, place it into the refrigerator to chill.
- Keep the dough COLD to prevent shrinkage in the oven! If your puff pastry layers are shrinking in the oven, make sure the dough is cold.
- A note of on the vodka – this may seem like a strange ingredient but adding the vodka instead of water is actually quite genius! The vodka adds extra moisture to the dough without activating the gluten in the flour. This allows the puff pastry dough to stay soft and not stretchy. This recipe can be made without the vodka, substituting it for water.
- Do not over knead the dough. Knead it just until the flour is incorporated and not dry crumbs remain; over mixing the dough will make it tough and stretchy, which isn’t good!
- The easiest way to make great layers for Torte Napoleon is to roll the pastry dough out on silicone mats. If the mat is slipping on your work surface, just place a damp tea towel underneath to keep it steady. Don’t have mats? No worries! Roll the dough out on a sturdy work surface and then gently transfer onto a baking sheet, then cut to size!
How to Make Torte Napoleon
Here’s how to put together this incredible, layered cake:
- Prepare the puff pastry cake layers and let them cool completely on a wire rack.
- Prepare the custard or pastry cream filling and let it cool completely. I usually set mine into the refrigerator to cool completely.
- To assemble the cake, first, soak each puff pastry layer lightly with the sweetened black tea, using a pastry brush. Add 1/4 cup of vanilla custard between each layer, using an offset spatula to spread the custard evenly. Use the remaining custard to frost the top and sides of the cake.
- Add the crumb garnish next. Place the remaining cake layer bits into a bag or food processor and crush into small bits. Gently press the cookie crumbs into the outside of the cake.
- Allow the cake to set overnight, or for at least 8 hours, for best results. Allowing the cake to set will also soften the cake layers, creating a more delicious and moist cake.
Making the Custard Cake Filling
Torte Napoleon wouldn’t be a great cake without a great custard. The custard is what softens the pastry layers and adds sweetness and creaminess to the recipe. My recipe for ‘Vanilla Custard’ is super easy and foolproof! It has just the right amount of sweetness and it’s super creamy – this is the only recipe for custard that I use! To get great results:
- Temper the hot milk into the egg yolk and sugar mixture slowly, so the yolks don’t separate or curdle.
- Cook the custard over medium-low heat! This is important! The cornstarch will start to separate if cooked at high heat. If your custard does separate, don’t worry – it’s easy to fix! Just mix an additional 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water and add to the custard. Cook again at medium-low heat for a few minutes, until the custard thickens.
- Always, always keep the mixing the custard while it’s cooking! I use a wide, rubber spatula to scrap along the bottom to ensure the custard doesn’t burn. If you get any clumps, just whisk vigorously for a minute.
Enjoyed this Russian cake recipe? Check out some of my other recipes you’re sure to love!
- Walnut Prune Honey Cake – a traditional Eastern European cake with honey cake layers, walnuts, prunes and sour cream frosting!
- Chocolate Spartak Cake – 8-layered chocolate cake with whipped cream filling!
- Kiev Torte – this iconic hazelnut cake is made with sponge cake and crispy meringue layers.
- Russian Easter Bread (Kulich) – the most delicious, rich, buttery and flake sweet bread for Easter, with royal icing!
- Golden Key Caramel Cake – the best-ever caramel cake with dulce de leche, sweetened condensed milk, pecans and whipped cream frosting!
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Need some supplies to make this recipe? You can get them here online (Amazon affiliate links):
- This classic CuisinArt food processor is simple but gets the job done!
These silicone mats are great for baking!
My Ateco turntable is a must for all bakers!
Torte Napoleon Recipe (video)
For Cake Layers:
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2/3 cup cold water
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 3/4 cup butter, cubed
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Sweetened black tea, for soaking
Puff Pastry Cake Layers:
- Prepare the puff pastry dough first. Cube the butter and place it into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely chilled. I recommend using a food processor to break the butter into the flour. Depending on the size of your food processor, the flour and butter may need to be halved. Place half the butter and flour into the food processor and pulse for a minute, until fine crumbs form. Empty the flour and butter mixture into an extra large bowl, then do the same for the remaining butter and flour.
- In a large measuring cup or bowl, combine the wet ingredients: eggs, water, vodka, vinegar and salt. Whisk the ingredients together for a few minutes until a smooth mixture forms. Create a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to combine the flour with the water, creating a soft dough. Once the dough starts to come together, switch to mixing with your hands.
- Knead the dough very minimally, just until the flour is incorporated and no dry patches remain. Do not over knead the dough. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces; I like to use a kitchen scale for accuracy. Roll each piece gently into a ball, then place onto a tray. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and place the dough into the refrigerator to chill; about 1 hour in the refrigerator, 30 minutes in the freezer.
- After chilling the dough, preheat the oven to 375F. Prepare 2 silicone mats. Work with 2 pieces of dough at a time, keeping the rest chilled. Gently shape each piece into a disk, then use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into an 8-inch circle. Use an 8-inch pan or round of parchment paper to cut the dough evenly; keep the scraps on the pan. Save the baked scarps for garnishing the cake.
- Transfer the silicone mat onto a baking sheet and bake the layers for 8 to 10 minutes at 375F, until the pastry is golden brown. Remove the layers from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Prepare the remaining layers the same way. I like to use 2 mats so I can prepare the next layers while one pan is baking.
Vanilla Custard Filling:
- While the dough is cooling and baking, prepare the vanilla custard. Place the egg yolks and sugar into a large mixing bowl. In a small ramekin, combine the cornstarch and water, creating a slurry. Add the slurry to the egg yolks, then whisk vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Pour the milk into a large pot and add the flour, then whisk until smooth.
- Cook the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is steaming but not boiling. Slowly temper the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture – add a cup at a time into the yolks, mixing well after each addition. Once the two mixtures have been combined, pour the custard base into the pot. Cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the custard thickens into a pudding. It should hold its shape on the back of a spoon. If the custard starts to clump, whisk for a minute until smooth.
- Once custard is thickened, remove it from heat and add the butter and vanilla. Whisk until the butter is completely melted. Cover the custard with a lid or plastic wrap and cool completely at room temperature.
Assembling the Cake:
- To assemble the cake, first allow the layers and the custard to cool completely. First, soak each layer lightly with the sweetened black tea, using a pastry brush. Add 1/4 cup of vanilla custard between each layer, using an offset spatula to spread the custard evenly. Use the remaining custard to frost the top and sides of the cake.
- Place the baked pastry scraps into a ziplock bag and crush the pieces with a rolling pin into fine crumbs. Press the crumbs into the sides and top of the cake gently. Allow the cake to set and chill in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to serve, remove it from the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to allow the layers to soften. If desired, drizzle the cake with melted chocolate and sliced fresh strawberries.