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Polish Vanilla Custard Cream Squares

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You know we love a good, creamy custard filling, so we’re always on the hunt for recipes that will live up to (and hopefully) exceed our expectations – which this one did! When we first heard of Polish cream cake we were immediately intrigued. Anything that’s stuffed with a thick custard is a “yes” in our book, so it wasn’t a matter of if we were going to try it, but when. Now, there are three Polish desserts that look similar, but that have their own distinct characteristics: karpatka, napoleonka and kremowka, so let’s dive into them and see what makes each of them special.


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Karpatka is the first cream “cake” we came across. It’s got a choux pastry dough for the bottom and top layers that, when baked, resembles the peaks and valleys of the Carpathian mountains, hence, giving it its name, since “carpathian” is “karpatka” in Polish. This dough is what’s used to make eclairs and profiteroles, so it’s a little softer and bread-ier than puff pastry, and the pastry cream sets into it beautifully.

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Napoleonka is the second Polish cream pie we came across, and is also known as Kremowka. This dessert is different from Karpatka in that it does, in fact, use puff pastry (or mille feuille), which brings a little more texture to the overall dish. There’s much debate over what the “correct” name for it is, but there’s no arguing with how good it is.
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Our dessert today is inspired by all three acclaimed Polish desserts, though it leans a little closer to a Kremowka, since we decided to use puff pastry. You can make your own if you’re feeling particularly motivated, but we’re always very happy with the outcome of using store-bought, and it really does save so much time. You’ll want to bake your puff pastry to start so that it’s cool and ready to use once you’ve made your custard, then it’s a pretty simple assembly and all you have to do is let it set in the refrigerator before serving. The custard comes together pretty easily on the stove. As usual, you’ll want to be sure the stir constantly and make sure to not have the heat too high to start, as you want to keep the egg yolks from scrambling. Once it’s all ready to go though, you’ll have a deliciously thick and creamy dessert, with just the right amount of crunch from the puff pastry and a perfectly light dusting of powdered sugar to top it all off. Whatever the name, we know we’ll be having seconds (and possibly thirds) of this tasty treat!

Polish Cream Pie Squares

45 minutes active; 4+ hours inactive to prepare serves 12

Ingredients

  • 1 ( 17.3 oz.) package refrigerated puff pastry, thawed
  • Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • powdered sugar, optional, garnish
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Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Roll out each sheet of puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness, making sure scored pieces are sealed together.
  3. Optional: score one sheet of pastry (this will be your top sheet) with a fork to make 12 even squares. This will make cutting easier later.
  4. Transfer each sheet of pastry to lined baking sheet. Optional: top with another layer of parchment paper and another baking sheet to making sure pastry stays flat.
  5. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, then, if necessary, remove top baking sheet and parchment paper and bake for another 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven when golden and let cool completely before filling.
  7. For the pastry cream:
  8. In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt, then stir in milk, butter and egg yolks. Stir continuously until mixture comes to a boil. (Don’t turn heat up to high; this process should be gradual, so eggs don’t curdle.)
  9. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking for 1 minute, then stir in vanilla extract and remove from heat.
  10. Transfer hot pastry cream to a bowl (so it doesn’t continue to cook in hot saucepan).
  11. Place (unscored) baked puff pastry in 9x13-inch baking dish, then spread pastry cream into an even layer. Top with scored pastry sheet, then place in refrigerator for 4-6 hours, or until set.
  12. When ready, dust generously with powdered sugar and cut along scored lines. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats

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