Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Neapolitan and Napoleon Cakes.

In a post last week I gave a recipe for ‘Neapolitan Cake’ from a French cookery book published in 1869. The cake was a rather elegant gateau made with layers of rich sweet almond pastry and jam, and topped with pieces of puff paste. At the time of finding the recipe, I was puzzled by the name. This cake was a mille-feuille, otherwise known to me as a ‘Napoleon’ – or in its every-day cake-shop form filled with custard, as a Vanilla Slice.  

When I was growing up, anything ‘Neapolitan’ (i.e. cake or ice-cream) consisted of three distinct layers: pink (strawberry,) white (vanilla,) and brown (chocolate,) which is certainly not representative of the cake in last week’s post.

There does seem to be a bit of confusion in the culinary usage of the words Neapolitan and Napoleon, and the purpose of this post is simply to throw out a few examples of this usage in the hope that further research (any volunteers?) will throw some further light on the topic.

First, of course, to the Oxford English Dictionary for clarification. Under the compound uses of the word Napoleon it has the following:

Napoleon cake n. N. Amer. Obs. Rare.
1892   T. F. Garrett & W. A. Rawson Encycl. Pract. Cookery I. 246/1   Napoleon Cake. Lay in a Napoleon-cake pan..a layer of puff paste, spread over that a layer of pastry cream, cover with puff paste, glaze the top with sugar, and bake.

As for Neapolitan, the OED knows no cake with this name, but it does have:

Neapolitan ice cream  n. ice cream made in layers of different colours and flavours.
The first reference cited for Neapolitan ice-cream is an advertisement in an American paper (pamphlet?) from 1868. The second is from 1895 and is a simple description:

Neapolitan ice-cream. This cream is molded in brick form in three layers of different flavors and colors.

The third reference gives us our first ‘recipe’ (a simple set of instructions) for the ice-cream: it is from Fannie Farmer’s Catering for Special Occasions (1911)

Neapolitan Ice Cream
Pack orange ice cream and chocolate ice cream in layers of equal depth in a brick mold. Pack in salt and ice (using four parts finely crushed ice to one part rock salt) and let stand two hours.

So, where are we with Napoleon / Neapolitan Cake? I give you several random findings, and hope that one of us, one day, can do a little more sleuthing into the use of the names.

Napoleon Cake.
Puff pastry, sponge cake, pastry. Cream for the pastry, 1 lb. flour, 1 lb. butter. Rub a piece of butter the size of an egg into the flour; mix with enough water to make a stiff dough; roll very thin and cover with butter; fold up and roll out again, repeating this until the butter is used; roll out very thin and bake in two slabs in a quick oven. Make a layer of sponge cake the same size (use sponge sandwich for this); when cooked put pastry for bottom layer, spread with pastry cream, cover with sponge cake, then more pastry cream and another layer of pastry; spread the top layer with pastry cream and sprinkle with chopped almonds and cocoanut.
For pastry cream, 1 cup milk, 2 oz. sugar, 1 oz. cornflour, 1 egg, and a little butter. Boil for a short time.
The Sun (Kalgoorlie, WA) 12 December 1909

Neapolitan Ribbon Cake.
Weight of three eggs in butter, castor sugar, and flour, two teaspoonful of John Bull Baking Powder, a little milk. Cream the butter and sugar, add the flour and baking powder. Mix well for three or four minutes. Leave one part its natural colour, colour another pink with a few drops of cochineal, and add one pennyworth of melted chocolate to the other part. Divide each portion into two parts, and bake the six divisions thus obtained in sandwich tins. When done, turn out, and when cold, pile on top of one another, with a little icing between each layer to stick them together. Ice the whole cake with the following icing: Mix half a pound of icing sugar with orange juice, spread over the cake with a knife, and decorate with cherries cut in half.
Western Champion (Parkes, NSW) 16 January 1913

The following and final recipe hints as to the origin of the name of the cake:

Neapolitan Cake.
There are two entirely different cakes bearing this name; the one a variety of the White Mountain Cake, sometimes very elaborate and costly,—the other a plain, rich Almond Cake, given below as No. 2.
The first is made of three or four sheets of cake of different colors,—more properly three, red, white and green, the stripes of the Neapolitan Flag,—in which case one of the layers is made of Silver Cake, White Cake or the like; the next of any other white cake, flavored with almond or pistache, and colored with Spinach Green. The third is flavored with currant or other red jelly, or with rose-water, colored with a few drops of carmine.
If four colors are preferred, Gold Cake may be used for yellow and Chocolate or Caramel for brown.
Any plain cake, without fruit, that bakes well in thin sheets will answer. Each layer must harmonize in flavor and color.
Coat each differently; one with a mock cream, like that of cream-puffs, another with meringue, either plain, or with almond or cocoanut paste, and a third withchocolate, caramel, rose or pistache, or other to the taste.
Ice the top with Tutti Frutti Icing.
From the various receipts given in this volume there may be made a great variety of combinations for this dainty and elegant “Gateau d’ Elite.”

Ice-cream and cakes: a new collection of standard fresh and original receipts for household and commercial use; by an American (New York, 1883)

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