What to CookEastern European

This Cake is the Perfect Excuse to Stay in on New Year's

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As bad and abnormal and antisocial as you may feel for not wanting to go out on the night of December 31st, the truth is that you are not alone.

New Year's Eve festivities exist because of peer pressure and mob mentality and FoMO: No one wants to navigate a packed nightclub or stomach a mediocre prix fixe dinner in a tight dress or ill-fitting suit—it's just that we all think we should.

And even when you resist the nagging guilt—when you do spend the night eating caviar at home with your parents, like Leslie, or, in my case, sitting on the couch eating an ice cream float—it's easy to feel like you're missing out. If this is how you "ring in the New Year"—in your pajamas, generally unkempt—what does that augur for the twelve months to come? It's easy, again in my case, to cry just a little.

The most impressive cake you'll make this year (and next).
The most impressive cake you'll make this year (and next). Photo by Bobbi Lin

So how can you feel good about the decision to stay in? Pick a project that a) gives you a great excuse not to leave the house, b) will make you feel proud of yourself, and c) ends in a celebration of its own.

Oh, would you look at that: The towering, pastry cream-gushing Napoleon Cake from Mamushka by Olia Hercules meets all of those criteria!

A rustic, cake-version of the French mille-feuille that some say was eaten to celebrate the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812, it's made of twelve layers of pastry—each rolled and baked individually—swiped with vanilla bean-flecked pastry cream and stacked precariously high.

The leftmost cake, oozing (in a good way) with pastry cream
The leftmost cake, oozing (in a good way) with pastry cream Photo by Bobbi Lin

When you slice into the cake, each cross section is striated with layers of flaky and buttery pastry, cool and sweet cream. If you let the cake sit assembled overnight or for at least a few hours (Olia does, her mother does not), the inside will be soft and pudding-like while the outer perimeter maintains some crispness.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. You'll have to make the pastry dough and the pastry cream ahead of time and you'll have to develop an intimate relationship with your rolling pin and your whisk.

To rosé or not to rosé? Photos by Bobbi Lin

But it's a project that will keep you occupied until the clock hits midnight. And when 2015 turns into 2016, you'll have an incredibly tall, incredibly impressive cake to make you feel proud of what you've accomplished and optimistic for the year to come. Pop some bubbly and it's a celebration that's as good—if not better—than the one you would have had outside of the house.

And the best part? You don't even have to change out of your pajamas.

Olia Hercules' Napoleon Cake

Olia Hercules' Napoleon Cake

Sarah Jampel Sarah Jampel
Serves 10 to 12

For the pastry layers:

  • 550 grams (1 pound 2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 250 grams (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled in the freezer
  • 125 milliliters (4 fluid ounces) cold water
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

For the pastry cream: (or substitute with your favorite recipe!)

  • 1 liter (1 3/4 pints) milk
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthways, seeds scraped out and pods reserved
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) superfine sugar
  • 75 grams (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 50 grams (2 ounces) butter, cubed
Go to Recipe

A few notes on the recipe:

  • The original recipe (and the one we followed in the test kitchen) calls for baking each pastry disc in a 400° F oven for 3 to 4 minutes, until pale golden and puffed in places; when I was working at home, however, I found that I had to bake the layers at 450° F for 7 to 8 minutes to achieve golden brown, crisp and puffy layers. You'll need to figure out the time and temperature that works for you and your oven. If you have to sacrifice one or two layers for testing, that's okay: You'll still end up with an impressive tower!

  • Can't be bothered with homemade pastry? You can use store-bought puff pastry instead.

  • If you want to experiment, try flavoring the pastry cream with lemon or grapefruit zest, or adding chocolate shavings or chopped nuts between the pastry layers.

  • You can use your go-to pastry cream recipe instead of the one provided with the recipe.

What's the most daring New Year's Eve dessert you've attempted? Tell us in the comments!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Russian, Cake, Dessert, Entertaining, New Year's Eve, Party, Bake, Burnt Toast Dinner Brigade