The Napoleon cake, a New Year’s Eve staple in many Russian households, 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 pastry and custard, the Napoleon cake has become a national Russian dish, inspired by the French mille-feuille.
In 1912, the first iteration of the cake was crafted to honor the 100th anniversary of the country’s defeat over Napoleon and his troops. Initially, the cake was much smaller: a single-serve, cream-filled pastry crafted to resemble the defeated Frenchman’s triangular bicorne.
Over the years, the Napoleon cake underwent a series of transformations, including axing the eggs and replacing butter with margarine during the Russian Revolution. But 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. Beware that 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 focused, but worthwhile, hours.
Where to Try It
An elegant and expensive restaurant, this spot serves a cognac-enhanced Napoleon cake. Check to make sure it'll be on the menu on New Year's Eve.