Poland: Kremówka Papieska / "Papal" Cream Cake

Kremowka papieska (Papal Cream Cake)

It was apparently during a visit to his old home town Wadowice in 1999 that Pope John Paul II mentioned casually how fond he was of the cream cake or kremówka that he and his school friends had often pooled their funds to buy from a baker in the town's market square. More or less inevitably, the next day the entire town was coming down with kremówka, suddenly rebranded as Kremówka papieska, the "Papal Cream Cake."

Before it went so high-profile, kremówka probably started out as a confection devised by some smart town baker as a way to thriftily exploit extra or unsold ingredients left over at the end of the day. Even a careful baker would occasionally wind up with unsold plain sheet cake, shortcrust pastry, and sometimes even the pastry cream also called custard cream or créme patissiére -- which is full of egg yolks and way too expensive to just throw away. When the improvised sandwich of pastry cream and cake or pastry proved popular, someone undoubtedly started making it on purpose in flats and selling it by the square piece -- which is one reason why the boy-who-would-be-Pope and his friends would have been able to afford it. (At least one Polish source says that kremówka sometimes might contain a local brandy called winiak, but the Pope apparently made it known that this wasn't the version he was interested in, but the simpler version that came from the bakery run by the father of one of his friends.)

The version of kremówka which has become standard for professional Polish bakers is simple. It calls for sheets of baked puff pastry on top and bottom -- or in the less formal or less expensive versions of the cake, just on the top: the bottom is sometimes just regular short-crust pastry. Of course, when the recipe started to migrate into the home baking repertoire, change started setting in. (Click here to see a sampling of the many ways kremówka can look.)

Some versions of kremówka don't use puff pastry at all, just short-crust pastry on both top and bottom, the pastry often enriched with egg yolks as in this Google-translated version. Other versions substitute thin layers of a plain sheet cake. Some recipes use a fast version of the rich filling based on pudding mix -- see one roughly translated here. You can even find the occasional rare double decker kremówka, with both whipped cream and créme patissiére. And on its home turf in Poland, the Gellwe people (among others) market a kremówka mix. (Their TV ad is here if you feel like taking a look at it.) In any case, the pastry-cum-cake is popular enough with Polish people to have been voted one of the two Polish "national birthday cakes" for the EU's 50th birthday celebrations.

We give both the puff-pastry and cake versions of the recipe below. As regards the pastry cream filling, please note: the amounts given below result in a cream layer that stands about half an inch thick in a nine=inch=square baking pan. We wanted more cream in our own version, so we doubled the cream part of the recipe when making the kremówka you see in the photograph at the top.

Directions:


Preparing the puff pastry for baking: wire rack underneath,
another one on top to keep the puff pastry under control

If you're making kremówka with puff pastry: buy (or make) enough unbaked puff pastry to cover the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch baking pan twice.

When ready to bake, trim each piece to fit your cake pan: then score lightly where you will be cutting it later for individual servings. Be very cautious about this, as if you score the puff pastry too deeply, it will split apart while baking. But don't be tempted to omit the scoring: if you do, you're going to have serious trouble when you try to cut the finished pastry into separate servings later.

(A note here to home bakers who might feel inclined to make their own puff pastry for this: EuroCuisineLady did, and her experience suggests that a "rough paste" puff pastry might actually work better for this than the more complex puff pastry version; the top and bottom layers of the kremówka would be a little more controllable, and the flavor won't really be impaired. The full puff pastry we used for our example above actually rose too high, even under the rack weighing it down, and got all over the place when we were slicing the kremówka up. A word to the wise...)

Place each trimmed piece of puff pastry between two sheets of baking parchment, place on a wire cooking rack, and place another cooling rack upside down on top of the upper piece of baking parchment. (This will keep the puff pastry under control while it bakes.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F / 200 degrees C and put the puff pastry in to bake. After fifteen minutes, remove the top cooling rack and the top layer of baking parchment. Bake for another fifteen minutes until the puff pastry is golden. Remove from the oven, remove the second layer of baking parchment, and cool completely.

If you're making kremówka with cake:

Grease well 2 8- or 9-inch baking pans / tins: coat with bread crumbs and set aside.

Then make the cake mixture:

  • 8 ounces butter
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • A pinch of salt

Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender. Beat the egg yolks into the water: mix into the flour. Mix well. Divide in halves and spread/press each half to completely cover the bottom of one of the baking pans. Bake for approximately 30 minutes in a medium-low oven (325F / 160C): remove and let cool. Remove from pans when cooled.

...Whichever version you're making, the custard cream filling is the same.

Custard cream:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks

Scald the milk and vanilla. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and egg yolks. Stir until very well blended (ideally, whisk to make sure there are no lumps). Add milk gradually. Cook over low flame, stirring constantly, being careful to scrape bottom of pan.

Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 3 minutes, still stirring constantly. When finished cooking, remove from heat and pour cream into a bowl; allow to cool, stirring occasionally until cold.

When the custard cream is cold:

Whether you're using puff pastry or cake, spread the custard cream thickly over the bottom layer. (If the custard is at all runny, put one baked layer back into a baking pan of the appropriate size and then do the spreading.) Then top with the second baked layer.

Dust with confectioners' sugar. Cut and serve (possibly with thick whipped cream on top, if you like). A note about cutting: This is where calling this dessert a "cake" comes slightly into question, as it doesn't handle like a cake at all: the thick pastry cream center makes that impossible. The kremówka will always squish down somewhat when you slice it. However, it tastes so good that no one's going to care...

(Added here just as a note to EuroCuisineGuy: you were asking about the rum-based variant? It's here. Looks like the author's one of our neighbors.)


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