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Karpatka: Polish Cream Cake

4.8/5 - (75 votes)

Karpatka is a Polish cake with a lush cream filling sandwiched between two golden layers of crisp-tender choux pastry. Karpatka is the more rustic version of kremówka or napoleonka, with choux pastry being more approachable in home kitchens than kremówka’s puff pastry.

Often translated as Carpathian cream cake, the name karpatka comes from Karpaty, the Polish word for the Carpathian Mountains. The rugged, sugar-dusted peaks of choux pastry are meant to mimic the snow-covered mountain range.

karpatka on an overturned baking sheet
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Tips for Making Karpatka

  • Choux pastry starts by essentially making a roux. Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil. Take the pan off the heat and add the flour all at once, whisking constantly. Adding all of the flour at once helps to prevent clumps from forming in the paste.
  • The paste is cooked over medium heat until it forms a mass and pulls from the sides of the pan. Cooking the flour gelatinizes the starch, thickening the paste. It also evaporates some of the moisture, allowing the eggs to incorporate into the mixture better.
  • Pâte à choux can be made with water, milk, or a mix. Choux made with milk tends to have a richer flavor, but result in a softer shell that may brown too quickly in the oven. Choux pastry made with water is crisper and has a bit more structure, but doesn’t have as rich a flavor. This recipe uses both milk and water as a compromise. The pastry is baked golden and has a rich flavor. It’s tender, but crisp enough to stand up to the cream filling.
  • Choux paste has to be baked at a high temperature to create steam that rapidly expands the pastry and causes them to puff. The pastry has to be baked long enough to set properly so when they cool they can support themselves.
  • The krem filling is a German buttercream. The base is pastry cream and it’s whipped with an almost unreasonable amount of softened butter until it’s lusciously fluffy and light.
  • For the pastry cream, gradually pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk constantly. By adding the milk slowly, you temper the eggs and prevent them from curdling.
  • After the pastry cream starts to bubble, continue to cook it for another minute. This ensures the starch is fully cooked and the pastry cream won’t break down.
slices of karpatka on an overturned baking sheet
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Yields one 9×13-inch (23x33cm) cake.

120ml water
120ml whole milk
85g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

120g plain flour

4 large eggs

100g sugar
30g cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Yolks from 5 large eggs

480ml whole milk

340g unsalted butter
50g sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Yolks from 5 large eggs

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pastry Cream for the Krem Filling

1. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, salt:

Whisk together 100g (1/2 cup) sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a mixing bowl.

2. Whisk in the egg yolks:

Whisk in the egg yolks and mix until pale and smooth, about 1 minute.

3. Bring milk to a simmer:

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

4. Add the milk to the yolk mixture:

When the milk comes to a simmer, remove from the heat. Slowly pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture a splash at a time, whisking constantly.

tempering egg yolks with hot milk
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5. Cook the pastry cream:

Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Then continue to cook for 1 more minute.

6. Strain and chill:

Remove the pastry cream from the heat. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. Refrigerate until cool.

pastry cream in a glass bowl with a whisk
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Choux Pastry

1. Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and line a 9×13-inch (23x33cm) pan with parchment paper.

2. Bring water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil:

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil.

3. Whisk in the flour:

Take the pan off the heat and add the flour, all at once, whisking vigorously to combine. Place the pan back over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture forms a mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 to 2 minutes.

choux paste in a saucepan with a whisk and eggs in a prep bowl
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4. Add the eggs:

Transfer the batter to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or if using a hand mixer, a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute to cool the paste.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until completely smooth before adding the next. Pause halfway to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then continue adding the remaining eggs one at a time. The paste should be smooth and glossy.

choux paste falling from the mixer paddle
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You know choux pastry has the correct consistency when the batter falls from the paddle in the shape of a long ‘V’.

5. Divide the choux paste:

Spread half of the choux paste in the prepared pan with an offset spatula. You can either do this by eye, or if you have a scale, each layer will be about 300g (10-1/2 oz).

The dough will be spread fairly thin, but it will puff up in the oven. Use the offset spatula to rough up the surface of the dough. After baking these ridges are meant to mimic the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains.

choux paste spread thinly on parchment paper
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6. Bake

Bake the choux for 25-30 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Remove the layer from the pan and set on a wire rack to cool.

Repeat with the second layer.

a layer of baked choux pastry on a cooling rack
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While the pastry cools, finish the krem filling.

Krem Filling

1. Cream the butter:

Once the pastry cream cools, cream the butter and 50g (1/4 cup) sugar in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

ingredients for krem filling
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2. Add the pastry cream:

While continuing to whip the butter, add the pastry cream one spoonful at a time.

Add the vanilla extract and whip to combine.

Continue to beat the filling for 2 – 3 minutes, until creamy and fluffy.

To Assemble

1. Fill the Cake:

Place the first layer of pastry on a serving platter.

Spread all of the krem filling evenly over the pastry using an offset spatula.

Place the second layer of pasty on top.

spreading the krem filling onto the pastry with an offset spatula
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the assembled karpatka cake
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2. Chill:

Chill the cake for at least 1 hour before serving to give time for the krem filling to set.

3. Dust with confectioners’ sugar:

Before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

dusting the karpatka with confectioners' sugar
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  1. Not for the faint of HEART! SO MUCH BUTTER and eggs!!! Recipe is fairly easy to follow. I would recommend you weight those ingredients that are in grams. I would also recommend buttering the parchment paper as the choux stuck and it was tricky getting it off workout destroying it. The butter cream tastes more buttery than custard so be prepared for that. I actually think next time I will try just the custard without all that butter….but that’s just me.
    Thanks for the recipe!!

    1. Thanks Linda for trying out this recipe and for the tips! You’re right, that buttercream is super rich! It’s related to a German Buttercream frosting which is made by whipping butter into a custard. It’s definitely more about creaminess and richness than it is about sweetness. Happy Baking!

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