A reader asked if I had a good recipe for Pope’s Cake, something that was new to me. I hope this, Kremówka Papieska or Papal Cream Cake, will fit the bill. A little research told me that kremówka (cream cookie), pastry cream sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry, very similar to the French Napoleaon, became famous when Pope John Paul II reminisced about the pastry from a bakery in his hometown of Wadowice.
All of my research and my own experience leads to me make a couple of recommendations regarding the top and bottom crust of the pastry. Poke the puff pastry many times with a fork before it goes in the oven, to let out steam as it’s baking, and hopefully keeping it somewhat flatter. In addition, you might after “forking” the crust, cover with parchment and a cooling rack, a little something to hold it down. You want the light crisp layers, but you don’t want a lot of airy space in between the layers. Or maybe consider making a rough puff pastry, which should give you a flaky crust but with a little less volume, but let’s face it, what could be easier than using frozen puff pastry?
The first batch I baked, I did nothing to, other than roll it a tiny bit, The height, out of the box, was just right for my baking sheets, so I rolled it to be about 1.5 – 2 inches wider. I put it in the oven an didn’t check it for 15 minutes. By that time, it was already puffed up at least 4 inches high, a ridiculous amount for a top and bottom crust. . . insert quick trip to the grocery store. . . the second time I baked puffed pastry, I decided to bake only one sheet, cutting it in half for the top and bottom crusts. Using half a sheet was ideal because it gave me the desired thickness of pastry cream.
I poked the sheets with a fork every inch or so, I put parchment paper and an upside-down cooling rack on top of the poked pastry, removing the “toppers” for the last two minutes to baking to be sure the pastry could dry out. This time, my frozen puff pastry only got to be about an inch thick, a marked improvement, but still a little thick for my purposes. I split it in half crosswise, giving me top and bottom crusts of about 1/2 an inch in thickness. Perfect! Finally!
I’ll tell you that I lost my nerve and didn’t cook the pastry cream quite long enough. When chilled, it wasn’t setting up firm enough to use as a filling in this recipe. So in order to save it, I first added some gelatin by softening a bit of unflavored gelatin in water and then heating until it dissolved, and cooling to room temp. This is the process I use to stabilize whipped cream. I chilled again for a few hours, but it was still too runny. Next, I put it back on the heat and stirred in a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch into about 1/4 cup of water and I whisked this slurry into the custard, cooking it until it was steaming and just beginning to bubble. It cooled over night, and it was finally enough. Whether it was the addition time or the corn starch that made the difference, I can’t say, but I was very relieved.
I hope your Kremówka Papieska or Papal Cream Cake turns out perfectly!
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A rich vanilla pastry cream sandwiched between crisp puff pastry, a favorite with Saint John Paul II
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
- 2 cups milk
- 1 vanilla bean or 3 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup corn starch
- 1 cup butter
- powdered sugar for decorating
- Preheat oven to 425 F, divide frozen puff pastry into two equal pieces, poke at 1 inch intervals with a fork, place on a parchment lined baking sheet, top with parchment, and an upside down cooling rack, bake for 15 minutes, remove top parchment and cooling rack, bake at least 2 minutes more or until golden brown, cool
- Pour milk into saucepan, slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds and add to milk (or vanilla extract) heat almost to boil
- In a bowl beat egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and fluffy, add corn starch and mix until well combined, very slowly (a spoonful at a time in the beginning) add hot milk, stirring constantly
- Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until very thick, some say it should coat the back of a spoon and running your finger through it should leave a clear path, cool to room temp covered with plastic wrap, pushed down on top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming
- When completely cool, whisk in softened butter
- Depending on the height of the puff pastry, either use one piece as the bottom crust or spilt one and use the bottom half, spread with pastry cream, cover with the second, top half and press gently, use a spatula to smooth out the sides, refrigerate overnight
- The next day cut into rectangles with a light sawing motion, not with pressure
- Before serving, generously dust with powdered sugar.