Sunday, 16 January 2011

Napoleon Kake

As an Englishman I was surprised to find that a number of nations, including Russia, eat what are described as Napoleon cakes. Normally the term is given to what I learned to call a mille feuille, but which others might call a vanilla slice. Clearly the Norwegian version pictured above is not a mille feuille, but it is delicious and undoubtedly very fattening.

I was intrigued as to why on earth Norwegians would ever name a cake after Napoleon. He never went there, and had no direct impact on its history. (1)

A little research indicated that the cake and its variants has nothing to do with Napoleon. The name almost certainly derives from Napolitain, the French adjective for Naples.

I am still a little intrigued though as to when the transition from Napolitain to Napoleon took place. Nobody seems to know. I would hazard a guess that had there been no Emperor Napoleon there would be no Napoleon Cakes. It is probably significant also that Canada, which has a large French population, is apparently the only country in the former British Empire that eats "Napoleon cake".

That still leaves me wondering about Norway's delicious Napoleon kaker.

(1) Napoleon's defeat however meant that Sweden was able to conquer Norway from Denmark. Whilst Napoleon was on the road to Moscow the Tsar Alexander met Napoleon's former General, Bernadotte, who in 1810 had become Crown Prince of Sweden and Regent for the ailing King Charles XIII. They agreed that in return for Russia keeping Finland, Sweden could have Norway. Alexander also hinted that Bernadotte might get the throne of France! Assured of Bernadotte's support, Alexander was able to withdraw three divisions from Finland and deploy them against Napoleon.

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