Karpatka: Polish Carpathian Cream Cake

Get ready to bake something special with this Karpatka recipe. It’s a cozy, creamy treat that’s perfect for sharing.

Karpatka cake powdered with sugar

Karpatka is a traditional Polish choux pastry pie. The dessert takes its name from the mountain-like pleated shape of the top layer of choux pastry, which resembles the snowy peaks of the Carpathian Mountains.

Recipe At a Glance

Karpatka comprises of two layers of choux pastry and a filling (usually a custard or pastry cream) that separates the two. Since the filling is typically quite rich, and there’s a lot of it, it’s usually finished only with a dusting of powdered sugar.

For this version of Karpatka, I decided to go with vanilla pastry cream, which I then mixed with gelatin and whipped cream, making diplomat cream. In Poland, the usual filling is vanilla pastry cream mixed with whipped butter, a pastry filling known as creme mousseline. It’s a much richer option and one to consider if you want to go all in on the authentic experience.

If this is your first time making Karpatka, read the ingredient notes, step-by-step instructions, and tips. If you know what you’re doing, feel free to skip ahead to the recipe card.

Karpatka cake anatomy
Karpatka cake anatomy

Ingredients Notes and Substitutes

Choux Pastry

Modern choux pastry ingredients
  • Milk and water. For Karpatka, I like the milk and water combo compared to only water.
  • All-Purpose Flour.
  • Unsalted butter.
  • Eggs. This recipe uses one more egg compared to my regular choux pastry proportions. That’s because we want the choux pastry for Karpatka to be nice and spreadable, and the regular recipe is a bit stiff (which is great for cream puffs and eclairs).
  • Salt and sugar. These turn regular choux pastry (typically pretty tasteless) into something quite tasty. And we definitely want that in Karpatka.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Vanilla pastry cream ingredients
  • Milk: Whole fat works best, but skim should be okay too. Milk alternatives also work well, though the final flavor will be slightly different. When using a vegan milk alternative, check whether it’s the regular or sweet variety. If the latter, reduce the amount of sugar so it’s not overly sweet. Using vanilla-flavored plant milk could also be an interesting option.
  • Cornstarch: You can use potato starch (half the amount) in a pinch, but cornstarch is the better option due to the thickening temperature. Read my starch 101 article for more.
  • Sugar: Regular white sugar works well, but feel free to use any sweetener you like. Again, keep in mind how different options affect the final flavor.
  • Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract gives this pastry cream its flavor. If you want to use vanilla beans instead, check out my article on vanilla pastry cream, which covers both options.
  • Unsalted Butter: Plain unsalted butter is all you need.
  • Egg Yolks.

Diplomat Cream

  • Vanilla pastry cream. All the ingredients above.
  • Gelatin. We use regular store-bought powdered gelatin.
  • Powdered sugar.
  • Vanilla extract.
  • Heavy cream. Grab the one you buy to make whipped cream.

How to Make Karpatka

Step 1: Make Vanilla Pastry Cream

(Check out my vanilla pastry cream article for a deep dive on the topic.)

  1. Bloom gelatin. Whisk gelatin with water in a small bowl and let the mixture sit on the counter.
  2. Boil Milk: Measure the milk into a pot and stir in the vanilla extract and half the sugar. Bring the mixture close to a boil.
  3. Prep Yolks: While the milk is heating, whisk the yolks in a large bowl, then stir in the cornstarch and the remaining sugar. Set aside.
Mix the egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar
Mix the egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar
  1. Temper Eggs: When the milk is close to boiling, remove it from the heat. Gradually pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, constantly whisking to prevent the yolks from curdling. Repeat this process 3 to 4 times until you’ve incorporated all the milk. Keep stirring throughout.
Pour warm milk into the egg mixture
Gradually pour warm milk into the egg mixture
  1. Cook Until Thick and Bubbly: Return the combined mixture to the pot you used for the milk. Cook it over low or medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and starts to bubble. Depending on the pot and heat intensity, this typically takes 2 to 4 minutes. Avoid rushing the process to prevent the yolks from curdling.
  1. Take Off the Heat and Whisk: Once the mixture is thick, remove the pot from the heat and continue whisking for about a minute, bringing the mixture past the point of maximum thickness.
  2. Stir in Butter: Add the butter to the pot and stir until it melts and integrates into the cream.
  1. Taste Test: Sample the cream (be cautious; it’s hot) and add more sugar or vanilla extract if necessary.
  2. Stir in Gelatin. Grab the bowl with the bloomed gelatin and scoop its contents into the pastry cream. Whisk until the gelatin melts and is incorporated.
  1. Cover: Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming, and leave the cream to cool at room temperature. We need it to cool to about room temperature so that it doesn’t melt the whipped cream, but we don’t want it go much below that so that it doesn’t gel before we incorporate the whipped cream.
Cover pastry cream
Cover with plastic wrap and cool at room temperature

Step 2: Make Karpatka Layers

(Read my articles on choux pastry for a more detailed step-by-step and various tips on working with choux pastry!)

  1. Preheat Oven: Preheat your oven to 390°F (200°C).
  2. Melt and Boil: In a pot, combine butter, milk, water, salt, and sugar, then bring the mixture to a boil, ensuring the butter is fully melted.
Boiled water and butter
Bring butter, milk, water, salt, and sugar to a boil
  1. Add Flour: Take the pot off the heat, add all the flour to the mixture at once, and stir until it roughly combines. Bring the pot back to the stove and continue stirring with a spoon or silicone spatula over low heat. The dough will thicken and clump quickly, but you should continue stirring the mixture for 2-3 minutes, making sure all the flour is incorporated and there are no white floury spots inside. While stirring, scrape the dough from the sides and bottom to prevent sticking. After 2-3 minutes, the dough should be glossy and easy to detach from the pot, and a thin layer, or film, should form on the bottom.
  1. Transfer: Move the dough to a mixing bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Spreading it across the bowl can speed up cooling.
Spread choux pastry in bowl to cool
Spread dough in bowl to cool
  1. Whisk Eggs: Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and whisk them.
Whisk the eggs
Whisk the eggs
  1. Make Dough: Once the dough has cooled slightly, start mixing it with a hand mixer at medium speed. After 20-30 seconds, add half the eggs to the dough and mix until incorporated. Repeat with the other half. We don’t use the V-shape test for this dough, as we want it a bit looser so it’s easier to spread on a baking tray.
Adding the whisked eggs
Mix at medium speed then add the whisked eggs
  1. Baking Prep: If using a 9×13-inch pan, divide the dough into two even portions. Line the pan with parchment paper and spread one portion evenly over it using a silicone spatula. If you’re working with an 18×13-inch pan, spread the whole dough on the lined pan. The layer will be quite thin, like 1/4 inch or less than that. That’s enough.
Thin layer of dough
The layer will be thin, around 1/4 inch or less
  1. Bake: Place the pan in the preheated oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 356°F (180°C). Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 320°F (160°C), open the oven door slightly so steam can escape, and bake for another 5 minutes.
  2. Cool: Remove the baking tray from the oven and let the choux pastry cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully detach it from the parchment paper and cool on a wire rack for another 15 minutes.
Whole layer of baked choux pastry
Bake the choux pastry and then cool for about 10 minutes
  1. Bake the Second Layer: If you’re using a 9×13-inch pan, bake the second portion of the dough the same way.

Step 3: Make Diplomat Cream

  1. Whip Heavy Cream: Combine cold heavy cream, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar in a bowl. Whip until stiff peaks.
Whipping the heavy cream
Whip the cold heavy cream, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar until stiff peaks
  1. Pastry Cream Prep: Before starting, make sure the pastry cream is slightly warm to the touch, but definitely not hot. If it’s too warm, you can chill it in a cold water bath, stirring every now and then. Whisk the cream well before adding whipped cream.
  1. Fold Whipped Cream: Add about one-third of the whipped cream to the pastry cream and stir it together. That helps loosen it up before adding the rest. Repeat with the second and third portions of the whipped cream. When folding, be gentle, as you don’t want to deflate the whipped cream or overbeat it.
  2. Use or Refrigerate: You can use the diplomat cream right away or refrigerate it for 30 to 60 minutes before using it to allow it to start gelling a bit. Don’t refrigerate it for too long, or it’ll set in the fridge, and you’ll have to whisk and stir it before using it to fill the Karpatka.

Step 4: Assemble

  1. Bottom Layer: If you have a single big layer of choux pastry (i.e., you’re using an 18×13-inch pan), cut it in half. Place one of the layers, preferably the one with a more rugged surface, in the 9×13-inch pan. Press it a bit using your palms to flatten it slightly.
  1. Filling: Spread the diplomat cream over the bottom layer, making sure you fill all the nooks and crannies.
Spread diplomat cream on top of the bottom layer
Spread diplomat cream on top of the bottom layer
  1. Top Layer: Place the second layer over the filling and press it down lightly using your palms so the cream fills all crevices.
  1. Refrigerate: Put the pan with the Karpatka in the fridge for the diplomat cream to set for at least three hours, but six hours or even overnight is better. Ensure the cream pie is covered so it doesn’t absorb any smells.
  2. Serve: Dust the Karpatka with powdered sugar and serve.
Dusting Karpatka cake with powdered sugar
Finish off Karpatka with a dusting of powdered sugar


Here are a couple of tips you should find helpful:

  • Dust Before Serving: Choux pastry slowly absorbs powdered sugar, so it’s best to top it right before serving.
Karpatka cake topped with powdered sugar
  • Use the Half Sheet Pan: If you have both the 9×13 and 18×13 inch pan, use the latter to save time.
Whole layer of baked choux pastry
Use the 18×13 inch pan and cut in half for both the top and bottom layers
  • Watch the Choux: When baking the choux layers, give it a visual check a few minutes before you’re supposed to decrease the temperature and open the oven door. If the choux layer is already golden and some areas start browning, reduce the temperature immediately.
  • Mind Pastry Cream Temperature: You want the pastry cream to be around room temperature before you stir in the whipped cream. If it’s warmer than that, it might melt or deflate the dairy product.
Creamy Polish Carpathian cake
Creamy Polish Carpathian cake


Here are a couple of ways you can modify this Karpatka recipe:


  • Substitute Whipped Cream for Diplomat Cream: Instead of making the pastry cream and combining it with whipped cream, you can double the heavy cream and skip the pastry cream entirely. It’ll save you about 30 minutes of work. If doing so, remember to stabilize the whipped cream with gelatin (or instant pudding) so that it can support the top layer of the choux and doesn’t deflate or become watery prematurely.
  • Switch to Creme Mousseline: As mentioned in the recipe, creme mousseline is the traditional filling for Karpatka. Furthermore, it’s slightly easier to prepare, and you don’t need to wait until the gelatin sets. If you want to go this route, make 50 percent more of the vanilla pastry cream, bring to room temperature three sticks of butter (12 oz or~ 340 g), whip it with a hand mixer until well aerated, then add the pastry cream bit by bit while whipping. Use the same way you’d use diplomat cream. Read my creme mousseline article for more details and step-by-step photos.
Creamy karpatka cake


  • Consider a Light Glaze: Instead of simply dusting with powdered sugar, you can make a light glaze or use a premade topping like chocolate or caramel syrup. Remember that the cream pie is already quite rich, so you don’t want to go overboard with the topping. A bit goes a long way.
Sugar-dusted Karpatka cake
Sugar-dusted Karpatka cake


Filled Karpatka keeps for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. That said, remember that certain fillings (like unstabilized whipped cream) might change texture and become watery sooner.

Karpatka cake powdered with sugar


Get ready to bake something special with this Karpatka recipe. It’s a cozy, creamy treat that’s perfect for sharing.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour
Refrigeration Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 5 hours
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Polish
Keyword: Baked Goods, Choux Pastry, Diplomat Cream, Pastry Cream, Whipped Cream
Servings: 24 pieces


  • Stand mixer
  • 9×13-inch pan
  • 18×13-inch pan (optional)
  • Silicone spatula


Choux Pastry:

  • 1/2 cup water ~120 ml
  • 1/2 cup milk ~120 ml
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter ~90 g
  • 5 oz all-purpose flour ~140 g
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 5 large eggs ~235g after cracking

Vanilla Pastry Cream:

  • 2 cups milk ~480 g
  • 4 egg yolks medium or large (about 60-70 g)
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch ~40 g
  • 7 tablespoons sugar ~87 g
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter ~28 g
  • 4 tsp gelatin ~12g
  • 4 tbsp water 60g

Diplomat Cream:

  • 2 cups heavy cream ~480 ml
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons powdered sugar ~40 g


Pastry Cream

  • Bloom Gelatin: In a small bowl, whisk gelatin with water and let it sit until needed.
  • Heat Milk: Pour milk into a pot, add vanilla extract and half of the sugar, then heat until it's just about to boil.
  • Prepare Yolks: Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl, then mix in cornstarch and the remaining sugar.
  • Temper Eggs: Slowly pour some of the hot milk into the yolk mixture while continuously whisking to prevent the yolks from cooking.
  • Cook Cream: Combine the yolk mixture with the remaining milk in the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the cream thickens and begins to bubble.
  • Finish Cream: Remove from heat, continue whisking for a minute, then stir in butter until melted. Add bloomed gelatin and whisk until dissolved. Cover with plastic wrap, touching the cream to prevent a skin from forming, and let it cool to room temperature.

Karpatka Layers

  • Preheat Oven: Heat your oven to 390°F (200°C).
  • Cook Dough: In a pot, melt butter with milk, water, salt, and sugar. Once boiling, remove from heat, add all the flour and stir vigorously until combined. Return to low heat and keep stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until the dough forms a film on the bottom of thepot.
  • Cool Dough: Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and spread out to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  • Incorporate Eggs: Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. Gradually add them to the cooled dough while mixing at medium speed, until the dough is smooth.
  • Bake: If you’re using a 9×13-inch pan, divide the dough into two even portions and bake each separately. For an 18×13-inch pan, bake all the dough at once. Line a baking tray with parchment, spread the dough evenly, and bake at 356°F (180°C) for 20 to 22 minutes. Open the oven door slightly to let steam escape, and bake for 5 more minutes.

Prepare Diplomat Cream

  • Whip Cream: Whip cream with vanilla and sugar until stiff.
  • Combine with Pastry Cream: Fold whipped cream into cooled and whisked pastry cream in stages to keep it light.


  • First Layer: Place one choux pastry layer in a 9×13-inch pan (cut the sheet in half if you baked the choux in 18×13-inch pan).
  • Add Cream: Evenly spread the diplomat cream.
  • Top Layer: Add the second layer of choux pastry, pressing lightly.
  • Chill: Refrigerate for at least three hours to set.
  • Finish: Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
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