In Russia, where Christmas was banned in 1928 during Bolshevik rule and not reinstated until 1991, New Year’s Eve has long been the biggest celebration of the year, with decorative trees and opulent feasts. But also a towering Napoleon cake, often home-baked.
The so called Napoleon cake may be similar to the French emperor in fame, but certainly not in stature… Standing tall with at least eight tiers (and sometimes more than 20) of alternating layers of delicious pastry and custard, it has become a national Russian dish, inspired by the French mille-feuille.
In 1912, a first version of the cake was crafted to honor the 100th anniversary of the country’s defeat over Napoleon and his troops. Initially, it was much smaller, just a single-serve, cream-filled pastry crafted to resemble the defeated Frenchman’s triangular bicorne.
However, over the years, the Napoleon cake has changed alongside Russia’s politics and economy. After the 1917 revolution, elaborate desserts were branded “bourgeois,” and food shortages forced home cooks to adjust their recipes. Margarine, for istance, replaced butter, rendering the previously delicate pastry layers hard, and eggs disappeared from the once-rich custard. And eventually the final product shaped up to become a whopping, many-tiered cake, topped with crumbled pastry, which some claim symbolizes the snow that allegedly helped the Russians defeat Napoleon himself.
In any case, baking it is a bit of a battle itself: between crafting all of the pastry layers, whipping up the custard, letting it cool, and assembling, the process usually takes several hours….
Images from web – Google Research