Napoleon’s cake

Napoleon’s cake

Scandinavian Baking
Columbus Leth

There are different stories about the name of this cake: some think it was given because it came from Naples; others think it is French. What is not in doubt is that Scandinavian cakes were influenced by all of Europe. The world was more cosmopolitan 100 and more years ago than we imagine…

This is a bit of a project, but totally worth it. However, if you know a really good ready-made all-butter puff pastry, you can cheat and use that.


Quantity Ingredient

For the puff pastry

Quantity Ingredient
250g plain flour, plus more to dust
2 pinches salt
250g butter, chilled
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the crème pâtissière

Quantity Ingredient
300ml single cream
1 vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
200ml double cream

For the filling and icing

Quantity Ingredient
4 tablespoons redcurrant jelly, plus 4 tbsp more for the glaze
200g icing sugar


  1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in 50g of the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the lemon juice and 125ml of water and mix into a dough. Knead on a floured work surface just until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to around 50 x 30cm. Arrange the remaining cold, sliced butter on the dough 2cm from the short edge on one side, creating a 25cm square of butter. Fold the 2cm edge over the butter then fold over the other side of the dough and gently press, to encase the butter. Roll out to a rectangle, making sure the butter stays inside the dough. Now, take a short side of the rectangle and fold it over towards the centre by one third; take the other short side and fold it over the top (as if you were folding a business letter). Wrap and rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Roll out to a rectangle once more and repeat the folding and chilling. Do this six times in all.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 210°C. Roll the dough out to 60 x 30cm and cut into four with a sharp knife, so you don’t tear the dough. Put on baking trays with sides, lined with baking parchment, cover with more baking parchment, then put a baking tray on top to stop them rising too much. You should have about a 1cm gap between the pastry and the tray on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190°C and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool on wire racks.
  4. Meanwhile, make the crème pâtissière. Put the single cream in a saucepan, slit the vanilla pod lengthways and add that, too. Heat until steaming. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until fluffy and pale. Pour a little hot cream into the egg mixture, then pour it into the saucepan. Place on a low heat and whisk until it thickens, taking care not to boil. Pour it into a bowl and place a sheet of cling film on the surface, to prevent a skin forming. Leave to cool, then chill. Whip the double cream until billowing, then mix it in.
  5. Place the two least attractive sheets of puff pastry on a serving plate, spread 2 tbsp of redcurrant jelly over each, then cover with a 2–3cm thick layer of crème pâtissière. Place the other two sheets of puff pastry on top. Heat up the redcurrant jelly for the glaze over a low heat. As soon as it melts, whisk in the icing sugar. Spread over the two cakes and chill until serving time.
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