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Alternative namesNapoleon, gâteau de mille-feuilles, vanilla slice or custard slice
Place of originUnknown
Main ingredientsPuff pastry, pastry cream, powdered sugar
Homemade mille-feuille, using traditional techniques
Homemade mille-feuille, using traditional techniques

The mille-feuille (French pronunciation: ​[mil fœj], "thousand-leaf"),[notes 1] vanilla slice or custard slice, also known as the Napoleon, is a French pastry whose exact origin is unknown. Its modern form was influenced by improvements made by Marie-Antoine Carême.

Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry (pâte feuilletée), alternating with two layers of pastry cream (crème pâtissière). The top pastry layer is dusted with confectioner's sugar, and sometimes cocoa, pastry crumbs, or pulverized seeds (e.g. roasted almonds). Alternatively, the top is glazed with icing or fondant in alternating white (icing) and brown (chocolate) stripes, and combed.


All the elements of the recipe are present in numerous cookbooks since, at least, the 16th century but the exact origin of the mille-feuille is unknown. The earliest mention of the name mille-feuille itself appears in 1733 in an English-language cookbook written by French chef Vincent La Chapelle.[1] Unlike the modern cake, the 18th-century mille-feuille is served stuffed with jam and marmalade instead of cream.

In French, the first mention of the mille-feuille appears a little later, in 1749, in a cookbook by Menon.[2]

To make a mille-feuille cake, you take puff pastry, make out of it five cakes of equal size, & of the thickness of two coins, in the last one you shall make a hole in the middle in the shape of a Knight's cross, regarding the size you will base yourself on the dish that you will use for service, bake them in the oven. When they are baked & cooled, stack them one on the other, the one with the hole on top, & jams between every cake, [sentence unclear, maybe referring to covering all sides with jam] & ice them everywhere with white icing so that they appear to be a single piece; you can embellish it with some red currant jelly, candied lemon skins & pistachio, you serve them on a plate.

Menon, La science du maître d'hôtel cuisinier, avec des observations sur la connaissance & propriétés des alimens, 1749, p.367. Available online.

The word mille-feuille is not used again in the recipe books of the 18th century. However, under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, several of the fanciest Parisian pastry shops appear to have sold the cake.[3] During the 19th century, all recipes are filled with jam with the exception of the 1876 recipe by Urbain Dubois which is served with Bavarian cream.[4]

According to Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food (p. 505), the invention of the form (but not of the pastry itself) is usually attributed to Szeged, Hungary, where a caramel-coated mille-feuille is called Szegediner Torte.[5]


Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry, and two layers of crème pâtissière. The top layer is coated with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.[6] In later variations, the top is glazed with icing, in alternating white (icing) and brown (chocolate) strips, and then combed. Today, there are also savory mille-feuille, with cheese and spinach or other savory fillings.

Variant names and forms[edit]

A mille-feuille pastry that has combed glazing
A mille-feuille pastry (Japan)

According to La Varenne, it was earlier called gâteau de mille-feuilles (English: cake of a thousand sheets), referring to the many layers of pastry. Using traditional puff pastry, made with six folds of three layers, it has 729 layers; with some modern recipes it may have as many as 2,048.[7]

The variant name of Napoleon appears to come from napolitain, the French adjective for the Italian city of Naples, but altered by association with the name of Emperor Napoleon I of France.[8] The Larousse Gastronomique does not mention the Napoléon, although a gateau napolitain is listed, with a note that while the cake itself is not often seen, small biscuits known as fonds napolitains are still made, decorated with butter cream or conserves.[9] There is no evidence to connect the pastry to the emperor himself. In France, a Napoléon is a particular type of mille-feuille filled with almond-flavoured paste.[5]

Russian Napoleon cake

In Russian literature, a cake named Наполеон (Napoleon) is first mentioned as early as in the first half of the 19th century.[10] Alexander Bestuzhev explained the emergence of such names by the romantic and historicist spirit of that time.[10] The cake has enjoyed an especially great popularity since the centenary celebration of the Russian victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. During the celebrations in 1912, triangular-shape pastries were sold resembling the bicorne. The many layers of the cake symbolized La Grande Armée. The top is covered by pastry crumbs symbolizing the snow of Russia which helped the Russians defeat Napoleon. Later, the cake became a standard dessert in the Soviet cuisine. Nowadays, the Napoleon remains one of the most popular cakes in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. It typically has more layers than the French archetype, but the same height.

In Lithuanian tradition, Napoleon or Napoleonas is quite similar to Russian Napoleon. The recipe varies slightly as Lithuanians add layers of fruit filling such as apricots. It is often associated with weddings or celebrations and often given as gifts.

Italian mille foglie filled with pastry cream and garnished with strawberries and powdered sugar

In Italy, it is called mille foglie and contains similar fillings. A savory Italian version consists of puff pastry filled with spinach, cheese or pesto, among other things. Another important distinction of the Italian variety is that it often consists of a layer of puff pastry with layers of sponge cake as well (e.g. from bottom to top, puff pastry, sponge cake strawberries and cream and then puff pastry).

In the United Kingdom, the pastry is most often called a vanilla slice, cream slice, or a custard slice, but can, on occasion, be named mille-feuille or Napoleon on branded products. It is common in the UK to only use two slices of pastry with a single, thick layer of filling between them.[11]

In Canada, mille-feuille is often named gâteaux Napoléon or Napoleon slice (in English Canada). It is sold either with custard, whipped cream, or both, between three layers of puff pastry. Almond paste is the most common flavoured variety. There is a French Canadian way where the mille-feuille is made with graham crackers instead of puff pastry, and where pudding replaces the custard layer.

In South Africa and Zimbabwe, it is called a custard slice.

In Australia it is called a custard slice or a vanilla slice, colloquially, it is referred to as a snot block or puss pie. It is made using a gelatin-set crème pâtissière, and in many cases, passionfruit icing. "French Vanilla slice" refers to a product similar to that in the main article.

In New Zealand it is variously known as a 'custard slice', a 'custard square', a 'vanilla slice', or, with passion-fruit icing, a 'passion-fruit slice'.

In the German speaking part of Switzerland and also in Austria it is called Crèmeschnitte. In Israel it is known by a variation of that name, kremshnit (קרמשניט).

Polish kremówka

In Poland, the local variant of the pastry is called kremówka, or napoleonka. It consists of two layers of pastry separated by a thick cream layer. The whole pastry is then covered with powdered sugar. A similar local variety is called krempita in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, kremna rezina or kremšnita in Slovenia, and krémeš in Slovakia. In Hungary it is called krémes.[12] Its version francia krémes (French Napoleon) is topped with whipped cream and caramel.

In Sweden as well as in Finland, the Napoleonbakelse (Napoleon pastry) is a mille-feuille filled with whipped cream, custard, and jam. The top of the pastry is glazed with icing and currant jelly. In Denmark and Norway, it is simply called Napoleonskake.[13]

In Belgium and the Netherlands the tompouce or tompoes is the equivalent pastry. Several variations exist in Belgium, but in the Netherlands it has achieved an almost iconic status and the market allows preciously little variation in form, size, ingredients and colour (always two layers of pastry, nearly always pink glazing, but orange around national festivities). The cartoon character Tom Puss by Marten Toonder is named after the tompouce.

Tompouce on the King's Day in Netherlands

In Greece, the pastry is called μιλφέιγ, which is the transcription of the word mille-feuille using Greek letters. The filling between the layers is cream whereas Chantilly cream is used at the top of the pastry. It also has some resemblance to the traditional Greek dish of Galaktoboureko (literally "milk börek"), though with this dish, the custard is baked with the pastry, rather than added afterwards.

In the Spanish milhojas, the puff pastry is thin and crunchy. They are often far deeper than solely of three layers of the pastry, and reach up to .5 feet (0.15 m) tall.

In Latin American milhojas, various layers of puff pastry are layered with dulce de leche and confectioner's sugar on top. A Colombian version of milhoja has dulce de leche, melted bocadillo between the layers, topped with whipped cream and coconut flakes.

A Napoleon pastry in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the 拿破侖 (naa4 po3 leon4, Napoleon) is layered with buttercream, meringue and walnuts. In Mainland China, a similar product also marketed as a Napoleon (拿破侖; Nápòlún) varies between regions and individual bakeries, but usually features a top and bottom layer of rough puff pastry, typically made with vegetable shortening rather than butter, and a sponge cake and artificial buttercream filling.

In Philippines, it is called Napoleones (pronounced [na.pol.jɔ.nɛs], na-pol-yoh-nes); and is composed of two to three layers, with pastry cream or white custard as filling, topped with sugar glaze. It is a popular specialty on Negros Island, especially in Silay City, and can be bought as pasalubong by many who visit the region.

In Iran, the pastry is called شيرينى ناپلئونى (shirini-e Nâpel'oni, literally "Napoleonic sweet pastry"). It consists of thin puff pastry and often topped with powdered sugar.

In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, it is consumed regularly and is known by the French name mille-feuille. In northern Morocco they call it milfa which is a portmanteau of the words mille and feuille.


An annual competition for the best vanilla slice baker is the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph held in Ouyen in western Victoria. Judging criteria include "when tasted, should reveal a custard with a creamy smooth texture and a balance of vanilla taste with a crisp, crunchy pastry topped with a smooth and shiny glaze/fondant".[14]

The inaugural winner and reputedly best Vanilla Slice maker in the world is Just Fine Food, a baker in the Victorian town of Sorrento[15][16].[17]

In 2011 Ouyen decided to award the rights to host the Great Vanilla Slice Triumph to another town in the Sunraysia district – Merbein, in northwest Victoria

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The name is also written as millefeuille and mille feuille.


  1. ^ La Chapelle, Vincent (1733). The Modern Cook. London: N. Prevost. p. 20.
  2. ^ Menon (1749). La science du maître d'hôtel cuisinier, avec des observations sur la connaissance & propriétés des alimens. p. 347 – via Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  3. ^ Grimod de la Reynière (1810). Almanach des gourmands: servant de guide dans les moyens de faire ..., Volume 7. Joseph Chaumerot. p. 221. Retrieved 26 July 2016 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Dubois, Urbain (1876). Cuisine de tous les pays: études cosmopolites. p. 538 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ a b Davidson, Alan; Jaine, Tom (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 505.
  6. ^ "Mille-feuille". Larousse Cuisine. Retrieved 2016-03-11.
  7. ^ André Guillot, Vraie Cuisine légère, Éditions Flammarion, 1992, republished in 2007 ISBN 978-2-08-202542-3 (in French). The counting of layers was reported in Compte-rendu du Séminaire n°32 de gastronomie moléculaire (December 18, 2003) from the French Society of Chemistry, see Compte-rendu Archived 2008-12-05 at the Wayback Machine. (in French).
  8. ^ Lynne Olver. "history notes-pie & pastry". Food Timeline. Retrieved 2016-03-11.
  9. ^ Larousse gastronomique, p702; the mille-feuille is mentioned, page 667, and credited as a late 19th-century creation.
  10. ^ a b «Вонзаете вилку в сладкий пирог и - его имя Наполеон!» из статьи «Клятва при гробе Господнем. Русская быль XV века. Сочинения Н. Полевого. 1832». А. А. Бестужев-Марлинский. 1833. (in Russian) -Stick a fork in a sweet cake, and its name is Napoleon! from the article Oath at the Holy Sepulchre. Russian true stories in the 15th century. Works by N. Polevoy. 1832. Alexander Bestuzhev. 1833.
  11. ^ "Custard slice". BBC Food.
  12. ^ "The Best Krémes in Budapest, Hungary". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  13. ^ "Napoleonskake". Archived from the original on 16 October 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  14. ^ "The Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph". Ninemsn. 2006-07-20. Archived from the original on 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2007-01-06.
  15. ^ "Just Fine Food in Sorrento, Australia". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  16. ^ "A slice of vanilla heaven…". My Mornington Peninsula. 2011-09-21. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  17. ^ "Just Fine Food - home of Sorrento's famous vanilla slice". Visit Mornington Peninsula. Retrieved 2017-12-16.