I’d never heard Napoleon Cake until Ma-in-law put in a request for one for her 80th birthday. I can see why her mum only used to make it on rare (and very special) occasions, despite it being a much-loved treat. Whilst the cake part is simple enough (it’s just a sponge), the surrounding layers are what make it a bit of a challenge – the first time around anyway.

It starts with a layer of baked puff pastry, topped with a generous layer of butter cream (aka ‘mock cream’). Next comes a layer of raspberry jam, the sponge cake, more jam, more ‘cream’ and then a second layer of baked pastry. On top of this little lot goes a layer of sticky super-sweet pink icing to finish it off.

Protip #1: Back in the day, Ma-in-law’s mum used to actually make the pastry by hand, as it was well before the days of the frozen store-bought variety. Seriously, just use the frozen variety! It cuts down the construction time and simplifies things a whole bunch. Besides which, when she tasted the test-run, Ma said it was much nicer and lighter than the pastry her mum used to make 🙂

The cake took a whole afternoon to prepare and construct, but looked amazing in the end. The tricky parts were the butter cream, the bake-time for the pastry, the sheer stickyness of it all – and bringing it all together.

Protip #2: An extra pair of hands is essential at the end point. Himself was calm throughout my sticky dramatics and his help really was invaluable for the final assembly stage.

The response from visitors here for the afternoon ranged from Delicious! More? (Suz) to OMG! Instant diabetes… but sooo good! (K) 🙂

Daughter Dearest suggested we try a cream cheese icing in place of the butter cream to cut down on the sweetness factor, which might be worth a try at some point.

But not for Ma-in-law’s birthday party. What we made was exactly what she wanted, sweetness overload and all. It was 100% worth it when we took some of the finished product round to the Parents’ place that evening. Ma opened the front door and her whole face lit up.

Oh!, she said. Napoleon Cake! How Wonderful!

She enjoyed every delicious morsel – and has put in a firm request for a super-sized version for her birthday. So we’ll be having a Napoleon Bake-a-thon here in late February to construct the one cake to rule them all. If anyone wants to give a hand, let me know. 🙂

Here’s the recipe in case you’re interested in giving it a try at home. It’s based it on one provided by Sharen from Bundaberg, Queensland.  Her recipes range from pure indulgence to plain comfort food. They’re all traditional family favourites and she’s well and truly tested them all. I’m going to give her breakfast bake a try next.

For your Napoleon Cake you’ll need:
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry
½ cup raspberry jam – and everything listed below for the other layers.

For the Sponge Cake
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
⅓ cup caster sugar
⅓ cup self raising flour
2 Tblsp cornflour

For the Butter Cream:
125g unsalted softened butter (½ cup)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
2 Tblsp milk
¼ – ½ tsp vanilla bean paste / vanilla essence

For the pink icing
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp soft butter
A dash of red food colouring
2 tsp milk (approx)

Protip #3: Start by making the sponge cake layer; it’s the easiest bit!

The Cake Layer
•    Preheat oven to 180C
•    Line a square cake pan with baking paper – mine is about 20cm and it worked well
•    Beat eggs and vanilla (use an electric mixer!) while you gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until the sugar is all dissolved and the mix light and fluffy
•    Sieve the flour & cornflour, then gently fold it into the mixture
•    Pour the mix into your prepared cake pan and bake for approx 15 minutes. The cake should be golden and springy to the touch when you take it out
•    Remove the cake from the tin and place on cake rack to cool completely **

The Pastry Layers
•    Increase your oven temperature to 210C
•    Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and place one puff pasty sheet on each
•    Bake for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is well risen, golden and crispy looking
•    Leaving the hot pastry on the trays, gently flatten each sheet with the bottom of the (now empty) cake tin**
•    Using the cake tin as a template, trim the pastry sheets to the same size as the cake
•    Now leave the pastry on the baking trays to cool
Protip #4: Don’t take the pastry out too soon or you’ll need to redo this step. #life lesson!

The Butter Cream Layer
•    Beat the softened butter until smooth; use the paddle attachment of your electric mixer
•    Gradually beat in the icing sugar until well mixed & fluffy
•    Add vanilla to taste
•    Add the milk and beat again until a smooth consistency and texture is achieved
Protip #5: My first attempt at this was an epic (!) fail. Be patient. Taste as you go and make sure the end result really is smooth.

Preparing the Pink Icing
•    Sieve the icing sugar into a microwave safe bowl
•    Mix in the butter and enough milk to form a stiff paste
•    Add food colouring until you have a nice shade of pink 🙂
•    Microwave the icing 10 seconds, then stir well
•    Repeat this step until the icing mix is runny

Assembling the Cake
•    Place one baked puff pastry sheet on a serving plate & spread it with half the butter cream
•    Now spread half the jam on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the butter cream layer
•    Carefully spread the rest of the jam on top of the cake layer
•    Next spread the remaining butter cream on one side of the remaining sheet of baked puff pastry, then invert and position the pastry sheet on top of the other layers.
•   Pour the icing onto the top of the cake (slowly and carefully) and smooth with a knife / spatula
•    Pop the cake in the fridge to let the icing and mock cream firm up a bit

To Serve
•    Cut the cake into rectangles to serve
•    Use a serrated knife to do this. ‘Saw’ through the pastry gently so that you don’t squish the filling
Protip #6: This cake is SUPER sweet, so don’t make the slices huge!

Another version of this can be found in the NZ Women’s Weekly

12 thoughts on “Adventures with Napoleon Cake

  1. Cheryl Stark on September 26, 2020 at 11:58 am said:

    Used to make this years ago and was only thinking of it yesterday, thought it would go down a treat for the grandkids.

  2. Elizabeth on January 20, 2021 at 6:36 pm said:

    This is wonderful. I’m generally not big on overly sweet cakes but Napoleon cake is a favourite of mine & an indulgence. I haven’t one for over 12 years as none of the bakers here make them. Now I can make one for myself. Thank you for the recipe.

  3. Rose Turley on July 16, 2021 at 11:49 am said:

    Glad to find this recipe. .Mil used to make this she is 95..had lost recipe now found l xan make for her…thanks.

    • Maggie Ross on August 9, 2023 at 2:34 pm said:

      Thank you so much for the recipe. My mother used to make this from memory 1950s onward and I have been scouring my old NZ cookbooks with no luck. Now I have it❤️❤️

  4. Tony on May 14, 2023 at 8:35 pm said:

    Unfortunately, what is described here is actually a neapolitan cake. A true napolean cake is (essentially) lots of layers of cream and pastry. Try googling the recipes for each.

    • nikmacd on May 24, 2023 at 9:01 pm said:

      Hi there
      This is my mother-in-law’s version of reality and not to be trifled with lightly (by me, anyway!). Have a look here: See also https://www.nzwomansweeklyfood.co.nz/recipes/napoleon-slice-6726 for another version of the same thing, although in NZ they seem to call it a Napoleon Slice.

      • Lynette Carter on February 17, 2024 at 8:52 am said:

        We called it Napoleon in New South Wales when I was a child, now 81. My Mum would bake it for birthdays, occasionally from one of the many cake shops that were around in those days. Virtually impossible to find
        one anywhere these days. Bread shops tend to make some cakes, however they bear no resemblance or taste to what we have lost over the years.
        Todays young people don’t know what they’ve missed!

    • Hi Tony,

      Different countries have different names for cakes, and in Australia we call this cake Napolean Cake (Only sold in South Australia now). Neapolitan cake to us is a three layered cake made with a layer of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, all surrounded by the cream cheese icing. I have had Napolean cake for about the first 50 years of my life, and as nikmacd said her mother-in-law has had it too. I finally found a recipe in one of my old cookbooks and I am going to make it today or Monday. Will see if it brings back memories.

  5. My husband asked me to bake him a Napoleon Cake for his birthday; and despite both of us growing up in Brisbane, I had never heard of it. Ha. I just finished making your recipe (well your MIL), and it turned out perfectly. Thank you for sharing it ✨

    • nikmacd on March 4, 2024 at 10:11 pm said:

      Great to hear that MiL’s favourite indulgence is being enjoyed by others as well. She was chuffed when I told her!

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