This Karpatka recipe is an amazing Polish Carpathian mountain cream cake that consists of two layers of choux pastry and delicious pastry cream in between. Dusted with powdered sugar, the choux pastry that puffs up unevenly in the oven represents the Carpathian mountains. It’s so delicious and decadent, with just the perfect sweetness.
Ingredients and substitutes
Flour - I use all-purpose flour but you can use pastry flour if you like to make this cream puff cake.
Cornstarch - Cornstarch has no aftertaste and it doesn't affect the texture or the color of the cream. However, some people prefer to use a blend of flour and starch, while others replace it with potato starch.
Eggs - We need three whole eggs at room temperature to make choux pastry for Polish Carpathian cake and 4 egg yolks to make the cream. If you don’t know where to use egg whites, check my Meringue cookies recipe.
Milk and water – For the choux pastry, we need whole milk and water. However, you can use only water if you like. As for the pastry cream, we need whole milk which you can’t replace with anything else.
Vanilla extract and salt – I add these to the pastry and cream to make the flavors more interesting.
Butter – We need unsalted butter for the dough as well as for the cream. Although the temperature of the butter for the dough doesn’t really matter because you’re going to melt it together with the milk and water, the cream calls for room temperature butter.
Sugar – I use granulated sugar for the dough and cream and powdered sugar to decorate the cake.
Use a digital kitchen scale for the best results. Measuring the ingredients in cups is not the best way to approach baking projects.
Preparation is key! You think that this recipe is complicated because it has a lot of steps. I assure you, the cooking itself takes a maximum of one hour if you’ve prepared all your ingredients in advance.
Cool down your pastry cream in a large, shallow dish. The larger the surface, the faster your cream comes to room temperature.
Put your pastry cream in a fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour to speed up the cooling process, but don’t overdo it. If the cream becomes too cold, you need to let it sit at room temperature to warm it up.
Use an instant-read thermometer to check your pastry cream and butter temperature. They should be approximately the same temperature to combine well into mousseline cream. If your pastry cream is too warm, it will melt the butter and your cream will turn out runny instead of fluffy and stable. If your pastry cream is too cold, it will make your butter hard right away when it touches it, meaning the butter will appear grainy. So either use a thermometer or make sure that your pastry cream sits at room temperature for a good amount of time.
Make your pastry cream ahead of time. If you’re worried that your mousseline cream won’t turn out right, cook the pastry cream in the evening and let it sit at room temperature overnight. Next morning you can continue baking and assembling our delicious Karpatka cake.
Whisk vigorously. When making pastry cream, the mixture can look lumpy as it thickens up. If that’s happened, don't panic and whisk vigorously. Use your muscles! The lumps will dissolve if you continue whisking. For that reason, I highly recommend using a metal whisk, as a rubber whisk can be too soft to break the lumps.
No mixer - no problem. If you don't have a stand mixer or a hand mixer, you still can make Karpatka cake. Use a wooden spoon to mix the eggs into the dough. Yes, it will take more time, but mixing with a machine or with a wooden spoon won't make any difference in the texture of your choux pastry!
Step by step directions
For the dough
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/390F and prepare a 23cm/9-inch springform pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and greasing the sides with cooking oil or butter.
2. Combine water, milk, unsalted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan, then heat over medium heat until it starts simmering.
3. Remove from the heat and add the flour. Mix until no dry flour is left and bring back to the heat. Set it to low.
4. Cook for 2 minutes until the dough forms a ball and leaves a pale residue on the bottom of the saucepan.
5. Place the dough into a mixing bowl or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and let it cool down for 10 minutes. Then, add one egg and mix until fully incorporated. Repeat with the rest of the eggs.
6. Split the dough between two spring forms and spread it unevenly.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until reaching a deep golden-brown color on top. Cool down on the cooling rack completely before assembling our Polish cake.
For the filling
1. Place milk, half of the sugar, and salt into a saucepan and heat over medium heat until simmering.
2. Combine the second half of the sugar with cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks and vanilla. Whisk until a homogenous consistency is reached without lumps.
3. Add approximately ½ of the hot milk to the egg yolk mixture while whisking vigorously to temper the eggs. Then, pour the egg mixture back into a saucepan with the rest of the hot milk.
4. Return to the heat. Cook over low heat for 5-7 minutes, whisking consistently until the mixture becomes pudding-like in consistency (this is so-called pastry cream or custard cream), then cook for 2 minutes. If lumps appear, whisk vigorously and they will dissolve.
5. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a large, shallow dish. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap so they touch each other, then leave it to cool down to room temperature.
6. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer and a large mixing bowl), beat the butter with 15g of sugar until white and fluffy.
7. Whisk the pastry cream with a whisk until smooth again.
8. Add the pastry cream a couple of tablespoons at a time to the butter and whisk every time on medium until incorporated. Continue until all pastry cream is combined with the butter. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl, then beat again for 10 seconds. Here you have your mousseline cream for Carpathian cream cake.
9. Assemble your Karpatka cake and chill. Then, dust with powdered sugar and serve.
It will last for up to 3 days. Also, you can make the choux pastry in advance and keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days, then bake.
You can freeze baked cake layers for up to 1 month but you can’t freeze the cream. It’s also not recommended to freeze unbaked choux pastry.
More dessert recipes
- Rubber spatula
- Stand mixer
- Digital kitchen scale
- 23cm/9-inch springform pan
For the dough
- 75 ml whole milk
- 75 ml water
- 75 g unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100 g all-purpose flour sifted
- 170 g 3 large eggs at room temperature, the eggs should be weighed without shells
For the cream
- 600 ml whole milk
- 160 g granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 50 g cornstarch sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks of large eggs at room temperature
- 200 g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 15 g granulated sugar to beat with the butter
- Powdered sugar for decoration
For the dough
- Preheat the oven to 200C/390F (top and bottom heat, no fan). Line the bottoms of two 23cm/9-inch springform pans with parchment paper and grease the sides with butter or cooking spray. If you have only one springform, you will need to bake one layer of the cake and then prepare the form again to bake the second layer.
- In a saucepan, combine water, milk, unsalted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract, then heat over medium heat until it starts simmering. Remove from the heat and add the sifted flour. Mix until no dry flour is left, bring back to the heat, and set it to low.
- Cook the dough, mixing with a rubber spatula continuously for 2 minutes or until the dough forms a ball and the bottom of the saucepan is covered with white residue. Remove from the heat.
- Place the dough into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Let it cool down for 10 minutes or until it’s no longer hot to touch but still very warm.
- Start by adding the eggs a little at a time and mix with a hand mixer, a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or even by hand using a wooden spoon, until they are fully incorporated. Then, add more eggs and repeat until all the eggs have been incorporated. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl and beat one last time for just a few seconds to ensure thorough mixing. The dough should be smooth. When you lift the paddle, it should slowly fall from it, leaving a V-shaped tail. The dough should be firm enough to hold its shape. If you achieve this texture before all the eggs have been incorporated, stop adding them. If the texture isn't there yet after you've added all the eggs, you may need to add an extra ¼ to 1 egg.
- Split the dough into two even parts and spread unevenly between two prepared spring forms. This unevenness will create random bubbles on the surface of the cake layers during the baking, which represent the Carpathian mountains. If you’re using one spring form, cover the second part of the dough with a plastic wrap while the first part is baking.
- Bake for 25-27 minutes or until reaching a deep, even golden-brown color on top. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down for 10 minutes before removing it from the form onto a cooling rack to cool down completely. Repeat the process if using only one spring form.
For the cream
- Place milk, half of the sugar, and salt into a saucepan and heat over medium heat until simmering.
- Meanwhile, combine the second half of the sugar with the cornstarch in a heatproof mixing bowl, then add the egg yolks and vanilla. Whisk until a homogenous consistency is reached without cornstarch lumps.
- When the milk start simmering, remove from the heat and slowly add approximately ½ of it to the egg yolk mixture while whisking vigorously to temper the eggs. Then, pour the egg mixture back into a saucepan with the hot milk.
- Cook over low heat for 5-9 minutes, whisking consistently until the mixture become pudding-like in consistency, then cook for about 2 minutes. Don’t stop whisking. If lumps appear, whisk vigorously and they will dissolve.
- Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into a large, shallow dish. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap so they touch each other and let it cool down to room temperature. You can place it into the fridge to speed up the process. However, if you cool it down too much, you need to bring it back to room temperature before the next step.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer and a large mixing bowl), beat the butter at room temperature with 15g of sugar until white and fluffy.
- Whisk the pastry cream (IMPORTANT! The pastry cream should be at room temperature at this point or it won’t mix well with the butter) until it becomes smooth again.
- Then, add the pastry cream a couple of tablespoons at a time to the butter and whisk every time on medium until incorporated. Continue until all pastry cream is combined with the butter. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl, then beat again for 10 seconds.
Assembling the cake
- Onto a serving plate, place the clean ring from the spring form that you used to bake the cake layers. Cover the sides inside the ring with parchment paper, if desired, as it will make it easier to release the cake after chilling.
- Place the first layer (the one that is less puffed up) inside. Press slightly to make it flatter.
- Place all cream on top and even it out.
- Cover with the top layer and press a little bit to attach it. Then, refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until the cream has set. Remove from the ring, peal the parchment paper if used, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.