Autumn Meringue Cake

Autumn Meringue Cake

from Desserts by Pierre Herm
by Pierre Herm and Dorie Greenspan

Buy This BookThis cake is based on a great classic recipe. It is at its most intriguing when the meringue is really well doneso well done that there isn't a speck of white in the center. This may be contrary to the popular idea of meringuesome people say the best meringue is white all the way throughbut I think a well-baked meringue has more flavor than one with no color.

With only three componentsmeringue disks, dark chocolate mousse, and a shiny chocolate glazethis cake tantalizes, satisfies, and delights your five senses. First you see the cake (an invitation to indulgence), then you catch the wonderful aroma of chocolate, and then, as you cut into it, you hear the crackle of the meringue. When you take your first forkful, you both feel and taste ityou don't chew this cake as much as allow it to melt in your mouth. The meringue goes first, and it goes with a little effervescence, a slight pop, and then the mousse, softer, richer, and more slowly, leaving enough of its lovely chocolaty residue to set you up for the next forkful. All this and it's the perfect party cake because it's best assembled a day or two ahead. (In fact, you might want to start working on this a little ahead since you'll need to have the chocolate sauce and glaze on hand.)

Pierre uses two different chocolates to make the mousse filling, but if you can only get one extra-high-quality dark bitter chocolate, carry onit will be delectable.

The Meringue

Meringue Batter

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Before you start mixing the batter, check the specific recipe in which you'll be using the meringue.

2. In an impeccably clean, dry mixer bowl with a clean, dry whisk attachment in place, whip the egg whites on high speed until they turn opaque and form soft peaks. Still whipping on high, gradually add half of the sugar and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold firm peaks. Beat in the vanilla

3. Working with a large rubber spatual, gradually fold in the remaining sugar. Work as quickly and delicately as you can to incorporate the sugar without deflating the whites. The meringue is now ready to be piped into whatever shapes or forms your recipe requires.

To Pipe and Bake:

1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 250F degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and fit a pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip.

2. To make disks, pencil the outline of a 9-inch disk on one piece of parchment and the outline of two nine inch disks on the other; turn the sheets of paper over. (If you can't see the outline of the circles clearly now that the paper is flipped over, darken the pencil lines.) Gently spoon one third of the batter into the pastry bag and begin piping the batter at the center of a circle. Work your way in a spiral to the penciled edge and try to have each coil of batter touch the preceding coil. Pipe with light, consistent pressure and try to keep the disks thinthey shouldn't be more than 1/3 inch high. Refill the bag twice more to pipe the remaining diks. If you have any leftover meringue, use it to make another dissk, if there's enough, or switch to a star-shaped tip and pipe out rosettesthey'll make great cookies for espresso or tea.

3. If there are any spaces or uneven sections in the disks, give them a once-over-lightly with a metal spatular. Place the baking sheets in the oven and insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven to keep the door slightly ajar. Bake the disks for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, until firm and very lightly caramel colored, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom two or three times during the baking period. Turn off the oven and continue to dry the meringues for another 8 hours (or overnight) with the door closed.

4. Transfer the meringues, parchment and all, to a counter. Run an offset spatula under the disks to loosen them from the paper.

If necessary, trim the meringue disks so that they are all the same size. The easiest way to trim meringue is to shave off the excess using a small sharp knife, as you would a saw. (The meringue disks can be made up to a week in advance and stored in a metal tin in a cool, dry place.)

The Mousse

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 6 and 1/2 ounces Valrhona Noir Gastronomie and 2 and 1/2 ounces Valrhona Guanaja), finely chopped
1 and 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
4 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons Chocolate Sauce*
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over, but not touching, simmering water (or do this in the microave oven). Set the chocolate aside to cool to 104F degrees, as measured on an instant-read thermometer.

2. Put the butter in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until it is light and fluffy. Lower the speed and add the chocolate in three additions, increading the speed and beating well after each addition, then lowering it again before the next addition. You want to beat as much ari as possible into this butter-chocolate mixture. Whisk the yolks together with the chocolate sauce and add this mixture to the bowl, beating it in well.

3. In an impeccably clean dry bowl with clean beaters, start whipping the egg whites, then add the sugar and whip until the whites hold soft peaks. (The whites needn't be as firm for the mouse as they were for the meringue.) Working with a large flexible rubber spatula, fold a quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then, working with a light hand, fold in the rest of the whites. The mousse is now ready to use.

To Assemble

1. Place one meringue disk, flat side down, on a cardboard cake circle. (To preven the cake from slipping, you can "glue" the disk to the circle by placing a dab of mousse in the center of the plate and very gently pressing the disk into it.) Spread about two fifths of the mousse evenly over the disk. The meringue is very delicate, so work carefully. If the disk breaksthey really are fragileglue it together with a little mouse. Cover the second disk and then another two fifths of mouse. Top with the remaining disk and spread the rest of the mousse over the top and sides of the cake, striving for an even coating but not fussing too muchit will be covered by the glaze or chocolate curls.

2. Refrigerate the cake until the mousse firms, about 2 hours. When the mousse is set, cover the cake with plastic if you're not going to glaze it immediately. (This cake can be made to this point and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.)

To Finish

1. To get the best coverage, the glaze should be about 114F degrees. If it's too cold, just warm it to the right temperature by putting it in a water bath or popping it into the microwave oven for a few seconds on low power.

2. Place the cake on a cooling rack and put a sheet of wax paper under the rack to catch drips. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Using a flexible metal icing spatula, smooth the glaze, taking care not to work it too much. You can serve the cake now or allow the glaze to set in the refrigerator. If the cake has been refrigerated for 6 hours or moreit's good to give it a 1-hour rest at room temperature before serving. You can best appreciate the cake's taste and texture when it's just cool.

*Chocolate Sauce

This sauce, satiny and not terribly sweet, is an important component of both the shiny Chocolate Glaze and the mousse that layers the Autumn Meringue Cake, but it is wonderful on its own. Keep a jar in the refrigerator and serve it either warm, when it's pourable, or cold, when it's spoonable, over ice cream or plain cakes.

4 and 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Guanaja), finely chopped
l cup water
1/2 cup crme frache, homemade or store bought, or heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar

Place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens very slightly and coats the back of a spoon. It doesn't really thicken much, but it does really coat the spoon. You can use the draw-a-line test to check: Dip a wooden spoon into the sauce and draw your finger down the back of the spoonif the sauce doesn't run into the track created by your finger, it's done. Be patientthis can take about 10 to 15 minutes and shouldn't be rushed. Use the sauce immediately, or allow it to cool; chill until needed.

The sauce will keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, or it can be packed airtight and frozen for 1 month.

**Chocolate Glaze

Pierre's dark chocolate glaze maintains its sheen because it is heated, cooled before the butter is added, and then cooled even more before it's used, steps that trick the chocolate into believing it has been tempered.

1/3 cup heavy cream
3 and 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Guanaja), very finely chopped
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, softened
7 tablespoons Chocolate Sauce, warm or at room temperature

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and, little by little, add the chocolate, stirring the mixture gently with a spatula. Start at the center of the pan and stir slowly in a small circle. As you add more chocolate, continue to stir gently in a circular fashion, gradually increasing the size of the circle. Measure the temperature of the mixture with an instant-read thermometer: It should be 140F degrees. If it is too coolas will often be the casewarm it in a microwave oven or scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl or the top of a double boiler and warm it over (not touching) simmering water; remove from the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 140F degrees. If it is too hot, let it cool to 140F degrees.

2. Stirring gently, blend in the butter and the chocolate sauce. Once again, take the temperature of the glaze: You're aiming for 95F degrees to 104F degrees, the temperature at which the glaze attains prime pourability. If the glaze is too cold, it can be warmed in a water bath or a microwave oven at a low setting. The glaze is now ready to use.

While it is best to use the glaze as soon as it is made, it can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator; then brought up to the proper spreading temperature in the top of a double boiler over (bul not touching) simmering water or in a microwave oven at a low setting. If you reheat the glaze, resist the urge lo stir it a lotworking the glaze can dull its beaulful sheen.

1998 by Pierre Herm and Dorie Greenspan. Excerpt posted with permission from

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