The Best Torte Napoleon Recipe (video)
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.
- Ukrainian 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!
Share it on Pinterest!
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.
In your ingredients list and your video you don’t add flour to the crème but in your detailed instructions you mention flour… “To prepare crème, combine the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla sugar or extract in a large, nonstick sauce pot. Whisk in ¼ cup cold milk until well combined. Then add the FLOUR and whisk until smooth and add additional ¼ cup milk” PLEASE CLARIFY… Thanks 😉
I apologize for the confusion. Yes, the flour is added at about 1:20 of the video. Looks like I accidentally forgot to add it into the recipe on my website! Thank you for catching that! Will have it fixed!
would be nice to have a link to your video
Hi Julie! If you click the tab “how to” right above the recipe, the video is linked there OR all my videos are under the video tab. Just drop the menu to “Russian”
Are the layer Supposed to shrink?
Yes, they will shrink a little bit!
Tatyana, this recipe is outstanding. I have to admit that I have been using packaged puff pastry but making the crème based on your video and recipe. My family and I are originally from Ukraine and everyone agrees that this is exactly what a Napoleon should taste like….and you know we are not an easy group to satisfy. Thank you for providing me with this great recipe and such easy to follow instructions. Maybe someday if I have extra time I will try and make the dough as well.
I’m so glad you enjoyed my custard cream recipe! 🙂 I’m sure the puff pastry works well, too!
Appreciation to my father who shared with me regarding this weblog,
this website is actually awesome.
I made this torte yesterday. Thumps up!! It was everything i was looking for in a napoleon the layers were so delicious and the creme took it to another level of yummy.. Everybody said that the sweetness was perfect. By the way it worked great even without using vodka. Thank you so much. Sorry for thw long comment
I love this recipe, especially the custard. The pastry layers were a little bit stiff though. I cooked them for 7 minutes each and they were just turning golden brown. The finished cake was hard to cut through but it didn’t stop it from tasting great. Should I err on the side of undercooking the pastry?
You can try baking them just until lightly golden. The other thing to try is allowing the cake to set for about 24 hours, the longer the better for the cake layers to absorb the moisture from the custard 🙂
Thank you for this easy to follow recipe! It turned out delicious!
This is next to make on my list, i was wondering Is whole milk necessary? Or can it be made with 1% milk? Thanks
I do recommend using whole milk; this recipe needs a little more fat content… the original used heavy cream but I found that it was too rich
How neccessary is the vodka in the recipe?
It’s not 100% necessary but it helps keep the layers flaky 🙂
I was wondering how long can the cake be stored in the fridge after it made and assembled, before the cake becomes soggy?
I recommend refrigerating it at least a day before serving, to make the layers soft. It should be just fine for up to 3 days 🙂
Hello Tatyana, is there any substitute for the vodka in the cake dough? And can I use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar? Thanks and I love your videos 🙂
Hi! You can use water although vodka is supposed to work better. And yes, apple cider vinegar should work well, too. Enjoy!
Your recipes are amazing. I just have a little request that if you put a picture beside the ingredients , it will be good .when I try your recipes, l go up and down to see the picture
I am making the cake today and for some reason my cake layers are shrinking a lot. I am cutting them to be 8inches but when I take them out after them baking they are about 7inches or even less then that. I don’t understand what is wrong since my dough is really cold I keep it in the fridge the whole time and don’t roll it out up until I have to put it into the oven to bake. Could you please tell me as to what could be wrong. Thank you
Hi Natasha! I’m so sorry to hear that – I hope you were still able to enjoy the cake! I’ve had that happen to me many times and it’s so frustrating! I think the best thing is to keep them refrigerated and don’t handle the dough too much. If it looks too soft after rolling it out, you can even place the rolled out dough into the freezer for a few minutes before baking. Also, the dough needs to be slightly sticky. If you add too much flour, it makes the dough shrink even more.
My advice don’t cut round shape before baking, roll out the dough, bake it and cut round shape as soon you take it out from oven.
This is not puff pastry. Puff pastry is a much more involved process that includes wrapping pounded butter inside dough, rolling out, folding, chilling then repeat multiple times to create layers of laminated dough. It may taste good, but it is short crust pastry.
This cake doesn’t require true puff pastry so this easier version works really well 🙂
I made this cake recently. It looked great and the Russian friends I made it for said that the texture and taste were as it should be. Maybe it is simply a cultural difference but, (despite the fact that on its own was very tasty) I found the finished article to be devoid of taste. It’s always good to try something new but I won’t be bothering with this one again.
Sorry it should have said that the custard on its own was tasty.
Yes! I love this custard! I use it always 🙂
Hi! I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the cake! I think it’s definitely a cultural difference. Russians don’t like their cakes to be sweet; it should definitely be enjoyed with some sweet tea or coffee. I’m glad you tried the recipe – it’s definitely not an easy one! 🙂
My favorite cake! This cake is challenging to make but your recipe makes it easy. It was one of the first cakes I baked and it turned out perfect from the first try. Now this is the only recipe I use for Napoleon cake.
I’m so glad you gave the recipe a try! It’s definitely not easy but so worth making! 🙂
Time consuming but oh so worth it! Almost exactly like babushka would make it. Thank you for sharing!
I agree!! So worth making even if it takes time! 🙂 I’m so glad you’re enjoying my recipe!
This was my first time attending to bake a Napoleon cake and it turned out so good. It’s a bit time consuming but well worth it. Thank you for detailed instructions and your video!!!
That’s so wonderful to hear! I’m so glad you loved the cake! It definitely is time consuming but perfect for special occasions! 🙂 You’re very welcome!
Hello! I plan to make this but don’t want to use frozen puff pastry, but rather plan to make it with the recipe that you provided for the layers 🙂 I want to make a sheet cake, though – is it going to be possible to make a sheet cake by using the recipe that you provided for the cake layers? If so, how would I go about shaping the layer (since with a round cake, we use a 9 inch springform bottom or a round cake pan), what would you recommend using when trying to get perfect rectangles for the sheet cake? 🙂 also, would I have to adjust the measurements do you think? (Doubling them or something along those lines?) Please let me know when you get a chance. Thank you!
Hi Darya! For a larger sheet cake, I would double the dough recipe to ensure you have enough for the layers. Instead of the round pan, you can roll the dough out on the back of a large baking sheet or on a silicon mat, then cut to the size you need. You can bake the scraps, too and use them for garnish. Let me know if you have any questions! Hope you enjoy it!