The recipe I have for you this week is more a set of guidelines that can be adapted to whatever takes your fancy or whatever you have to hand in the cupboards.
These individual cakes were inspired by a picture I saw of a Swiss cake, the Zuger Kirchetorte, which looked delightfully neat and elegant, as one might expect of the Swiss. I tried several recipes, but became increasingly frustrated by my own ham-fistedness in reproducing the elegance: the sponge was too thick, or the meringue too thin, or too soft or too fragile. In addition, it had a LOT of alcohol in it, which is nice for a special occasion but a bit much during daylight hours.
So I abandoned that idea for something smaller, which owes its composition to the Zuger Kirchetorte, but is also much more adaptable: you can dress it up or down, depending on whatever is to hand, even improvise with ready-made components if time or patience is short.
Essentially, these individually-sized cakes are sandwiches, with a dacquoise (hazelnut meringue) as the ‘bread’ and sponge cake as the ‘filling’, all stuck together and decorated with the sandwich ‘glue’ of your choice. The look substantial, but are very light to eat.
The possibilities for variation are endless:
- Meringue: I’ve used a hazelnut dacquoise but you could swap those out for pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts. You could even use plain meringue, or meringue shells from the supermarket. Alongside this, you can choose to flavour the meringues by adding in freeze-dried fruit powder to complement your other ingredients.
- Sponge: literally any sponge will do, plain vanilla, rich madeira, moist almond, fatless, genoise, joconde, flavoured however you like.
- Syrup: to make your sponge luscious and tender, you can soak it in a syrup of some kind. If you don’t want to have too many flavours, then a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water is fine. Or you can add flavouring to the syrup such as coffee, tea infusions, fruit juices, spirits such as Kirch, Maraschino, Disaronno, mead, madeira, rum, brandy, etc.
- Filling: I’ve used a dark chocolate ganache, to be honest, because I had some in the fridge left over from something else, but milk, white and caramelised are all good choices too, as are all flavours of buttercream. For simplicity, you can also use chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), spekuloos spread, even thick, smooth jams or fruit spreads.
- Garnish: for the outsides of the cake, something that will stick on easily and match your other flavour choices. I chose nibbed and toasted hazelnuts, because I used them in the dacquoise, but you could use flaked or slivered nuts, feuilletine, crumbled biscuits, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate sprinkles, meringue crumbs, chocolate shards.
I used baking rings made from small tinned food tins (5cm diameter tins from mushy peas, in case you’re wondering) opened at both ends, but these quantities will also make one large, 24cm cake if you prefer.
Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes
Makes 8 individual sandwiches or 1 large 24cm cake.
For the Sponge
You can choose your own favourite sponge recipe if preferred. This fatless sponge recipe also happens to be gluten-free.
2 large eggs
60 g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp hot water
50 g Green & Black’s cocoa
30 g of cornflour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line your tin(s) with baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
- Sift the cocoa and cornflour together.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar, water and salt together over a saucepan of hot water for 3-4 minutes, until light and frothy.
- Remove from the heat and whisk until billowy and increased in volume (about 5 minutes).
- Gradually fold in half the cocoa and cornflour, then add the remainder and fold in.
- Transfer to your tin(s), filling each about half-way.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes (20-25 minutes for a large cake) until firm and springy and slightly shrunk from the sides.
- Cool on a wire rack.
For the Dacquoise
You can grind the hazelnuts finer, but I like the texture the slightly larger pieces give.
2 large eggwhites (80ml)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbs cornflour
60 g chopped, toasted hazelnuts
- Turn the oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Draw 16 circles using your baking rings as a guide onto a sheet of parchment, 2 for each sandwich.
- Turn the paper over and lay onto a baking sheet.
- Whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle in the caster sugar and whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy.
- Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together and fold into the meringue.
- Sprinkle in the nuts and briefly mix.
- Spoon the dacquoise onto the prepared baking parchment and spread into the marked circles. Make sure it at least reaches the edges of the circles. It doesn’t have to be too accurate, as they can be trimmed after baking. Smooth over.
- Bake for 1 hour.
- Switch off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then prop the oven door open and allow to cool completely.
- When cold, remove from the parchment and store in a ziplock bag until required.
For the Ganache
300g plain dark chocolate
150ml double cream
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
- Pour the cream into a small pan and bring to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the ganache smooth and glossy.
For the syrup
50g caster sugar
flavouring to suit
- Put the sugar and water into a small pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
- Add any flavouring to taste.
- Select the eight meringues with the smoothest bases and set aside. These will be used for the top of the sandwiches, for a neat finish.
- Put the remaining meringues on a tray and spoon over a layer of ganache.
- Trim the cakes level and set onto the ganache.
- Soak with the sugar syrup. It’s almost impossible to use too little. You can see from the photograph the syrup I used only soaked a little way into the sponge, so more is better.
- Add a second layer of ganache.
- Add the remaining meringues, turning them upside down, so that the smooth bases are uppermost.
- Sprinkle your decor into a tray.
- Spread the remaining ganache in a smooth layer around the sides of the sandwiches then roll in your chosen decoration. Set aside. If you’ve made one large cake, then hold your cake on one hand and lift up handfuls of your decoration and press into the sides.
- When all the sandwiches are coated, transfer to a dish and cover with clingfilm. This will keep the meringues from absorbing too much moisture.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.
- When ready to serve, dust the tops liberally with icing sugar and use a hot skewer to caramelise the sugar in an abstract design.
This week’s recipe is a variation on a meringue cake, where sponge and meringue are baked at the same time, on top of one another, and then sandwiched together with any of a range of fillings.
I discovered this German version in a rather roundabout way, on a Croatian cooking site. Loving both the name (Himmel und Hölle Kuchen) and the striking appearance, I decided to try my hand at it, since there was suitable fruit in the freezer and I needed some space for this year’s harvest. It’s a cake of contrasts – my favourite kind of cake: sharp, red fruit in jelly, smooth sweetened cream, crunchy meringue and moist sponge. Delightful!
I didn’t actually get as far as the fruit, initially, because the sponge and the meringue required a bit of work: the original sponge was too dry and the meringue went soggy within an hour. So I opted for recipes that I have more faith in, viz: the cream cake recipe of a few weeks ago, and a French meringue recipe from a professional French patisserie site. One of these days I shall compile a chart of how various sugar and egg-white ratios perform with the different meringue methods but, as a famous Braavosi once said, not today.
With the cake and meringue sorted, I could turn my attention to the fillings. The name Heaven and Hell comes (I’m assuming) from the contrast between the red ‘hell’ of the fruit and the white ‘heaven’ of the cream. The red fruit is a mixture of raspberries and redcurrants and is set with gelatine. The white cream was originally a sweet Chantilly, but for the above cake design, I felt it needed something a little more robust, so I’ve substituted a variation I used to fill my mille feuilles in the GBBO.
Which reminds me – the above cake design – don’t. I decided to make the cake/meringue as a tray bake and then cut and constructed it in a rectangular, spring-form tin. It makes for an elegant slice, but, on reflection, it would have been much less complicated to use two sandwich tins and then construct in a regular spring-form tin. Additionally, you’d only have to pipe one layer of meringue ‘kisses’ for the top layer, and make the second layer just smooth meringue, thus allowing the cakes to get into the oven more quickly. So I highly recommend that course of action.
Although the red and the white form a great contrast, I think an equally great combination would be blackberries and blackcurrants – one which I shall be trying shortly – and this time in round tins!
Heaven and Hell Cake
There are four elements to this cake: sponge, meringue, fruit filling, cream filling. Once all four elements are ready, the cake can be constructed. The slightly tricky part is the meringue mixture and the cake mixture need to be ready at the same time. Whilst practicing, I made the cake first, then the meringue, but I think for future reference, making the meringue first might be the better way to go, hence the following recipe order.
150g egg whites
20 g caster sugar
125 g caster sugar
125 g icing sugar
- Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peaks.
- Add the 20g caster sugar and whisk until firm.
- Mix the remaining sugars together and gradually add to the egg-whites.
- Whisk until firm, at least 5 minutes.
- Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain tip.
- Set aside while you mix the cake.
Vanilla Cream Cake
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
- Grease and line 2 sandwich tins with baking parchment – the size can be small – 20cm – for an impressively tall final cake, or up to 24cm for a lower-level affair.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
- Add the cream and vanilla and whisk in.
- Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the rest of the ingredients
- Divide the mixture evenly between the baking tins. Smooth over.
- Pipe meringue ‘kisses’ onto the top of the cake mixture in one tin, and pipe an even layer of meringue over the cake mixture in the other tin.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cake is risen and cooked and the meringue lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
Red Fruit Filling
150ml redcurrant juice 
450g fresh raspberries
sugar to taste
1 sachet powdered or 4 leaves gelatine
- Put the juice and 300g of the raspberries into a pan and warm gently over a medium-low heat, mashing the raspberries into the juice.
- Taste and add enough sugar to take the edge from the sharpness.
- Soak the leaves of gelatine and then add to the pan, or sprinkle over the powdered gelatine and stir until dissolved. NB The quantities given normally set a whole pint of liquid, and you might therefore think it a bit excessive. The reason behind this is that gelatine isn’t overly fond of acidic mixtures, so a little extra concentration is helpful in encouraging it to set up properly.
- Set aside to cool.
200ml double cream
200g cream cheese
200g low-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla extract
icing sugar to taste
- Put the creams, cheese and extract into a bowl and whisk together until firm.
- Add icing sugar to sweeten. It won’t need much – 2-3 tablespoons is about right.
- Set aside.
To assemble the cake
- If available, line the spring-form tin you’re using to construct the cake with food-grade acetate around the edge. This will allow the fillings to form clearly defined layers and not smudge when you remove the cake from the tin for serving. Alternatively, use clingfilm, and cover the whole of the bottom/sides.
- Lay the cake with the flattened meringue into the bottom. There are two options available: meringue up or meringue down. Meringue up makes it easier to move/serve, meringue down might be more aesthetically pleasing, being a mirror of the top meringue/cake layer. You also need to bear in mind the effect the fruit layer will have on either the meringue or the sponge.
- Once the fruit mixture has cooled a little, it will start to thicken. Fold in the remaining raspberries, trying to keep them as whole as possible, then spread in an even layer over the bottom sponge/meringue layer.
- Put the cream mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe a thick line of cream all around the edge of the cake tin, then fill in the middle. Strictly speaking, the piping bag isn’t compulsory, but I find it’s the best way of getting the filling nice and even around the edge.
- Place the top layer of sponge and meringue on top of the cream and press gently.
- Chill in the fridge until the gelatine has completely set.
- When set, remove the cake from the tin and place onto your serving dish. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve.
 I thawed 400g of redcurrants and then sieved the softened berries. It doesn’t need to be all juice – a mixture of pulp and juice is fine, just so the gelatine has something to dissolve into.
I’m on a bit of a using-up-egg-whites roll at the moment, having made a lot of egg-yolk-heavy recipes recently, and so here is a variation on meringue that is ideal for lunchboxes, mid-morning snack or afternoon energy boost.
They’re gluten-free and, although they contain sugar, the amount-per-biscuit is really quite low (about 5g), so they can also sneak in as a Paleo treat.
They’re packed with nuts and seeds for all those beneficial vitamins and minerals. You can also choose to make them even more substantial by replacing the flaked almonds with some toasted oats (steel-rolled for preference – less dust, more crunch!) if you like. Don’t feel obliged to stick rigidly to the ingredients below, just make up the overall weight with your own mix of nutty goodness: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, etc.
Short and sweet (and crunchy!) this week. 😀
70g egg-white (2 large)
pinch of salt
70g caster sugar (or the same weight as the egg-whites)
60g flaked almonds
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
30g pecans – chopped
20g flax seeds
- Preheat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan – although no-fan is preferable if you want to keep the biscuits pearly-white.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add the salt to the egg-whites.
- Whisk the egg-whites on medium speed until frothy, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, a spoonful at a time (to allow it time to dissolve before the next spoonful). You can test whether the sugar has dissolved by rubbing a little of the egg-white between finger and thumb – you shouldn’t feel any graininess.
- Increase the speed of whisking as you add the sugar until full speed by the time the last of the sugar is added.
- Continue whisking until the sugar is fully dissolved and the meringue is thick and glossy.
- Fold in the nuts and seeds.
- Drop the mixture onto the baking sheets in whatever size you desire, but bear in mind, the larger the diameter, the longer it will take to dry out. I used a heaped tablespoon and a small round cutter to give the biscuits an even and consistent shape.
- Dry the biscuits slowly in the oven for 1-1.5 hours.
- Allow to cool completely before removing from the paper. Use a thin spatula in case the middle is still a little sticky.
- Store in an airtight container.
Cor! It’s been a while since I made a post – apologies for that, but it’s been a bit hectic since the final of The Great British Bake Off aired.
Now I know this is still a Bake Off recipe, but I wanted to make it a blog post just to fill in some background on how I put the recipe together. I did actually go through the reasoning behind the recipe on camera, but obviously it never made it into the edit. To me, at least, it therefore seemed like I’d just given a pie a bit of a poncy name for no real reason. So for those interested, here is the background and how I put this dessert together. Feel free to skip down to the recipe.
Still here? Awesome! Ok, so the recipe request for the Week 5 Showstopper Challenger was for: A Unique Meringue Pie. The guidelines were very specific in two respects:
- It had to be something much more than a regular Lemon Meringue Pie, and
- It had to be big. Huge, even. At least 30cm diameter across the base.
Obviously the size was going to test our skill in baking such a large pie, and the filling stipulation was going to test our creativity. So all this got me pondering how I could do something that was original, unique and achievable within the time limit of 3 hours.
Now when I think of a meringue pie, I naturally think of lemon meringue pie – and it just reminds me of a bright, sunny day: the circle of yellow like the sun, the mounds of fluffy white meringue clouds. So I thought it would be fun to make something that was a contrast – involving dark and light, very Ying/Yang. Then I thought about it a bit more and decided it wasn’t going to work – Ying Yang Meringue? Please.
So I crossed over to the Dark Side (Luke I am your father) and The Midnight Meringue was born!
Dark chocolate pastry, rich mocha filling and a dark meringue made with…..well, it went through several revisions, including (as some of you might remember) right down to the wire on the day itself! Treacle meringue, molasses meringue, coffee meringue – but on the day, brown sugar meringue won out.
I also decided to ‘assemble’ rather than bake the meringue, reasoning that less could go wrong that way – I could concentrate on each component individually and not have to worry about something over-cooking. The final dish consisted of a cooked Italian meringue made with brown sugar, a thick and rich custard filling flavoured with coffee and dark chocolate and a blind baked chocolate pastry case.
The meringue was piped in a huge swirl and finished off with a few blasts of the blowtorch to toast the edges.
The meringue was a little softer than the standard meringue topping because of the brown sugar, but I still think it was the right choice and really made the pie stand out.
This recipe is for a single large pie, but you could just as easily bake mini pastry shells and create individually-sized pies for a special occasion – and would probably be less stressful than worrying about one big pie. The fact that at least 2 of the components can be made in advance just makes it that much easier.
The Midnight Meringue
300g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
175g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp milk
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180 Fan.
- Grease a deep, loose-bottomed, 30cm tart tin.
- In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
- Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
- Add 2 tablespoons of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
- Press the mixture into the base and sides of your pie tin. Alternatively, press mixture together and roll out using a rolling pin. It’s quite crumbly, so this is rather tricky and best done between sheets of cling film. Depends how critical your guests are going to be 😉
- Line with baking parchment, fill with rice/beans/baking bead and bake blind, 200°C 180°C Fan, for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove beans, cover edge of rim with foil to prevent burning and return to the oven until fully baked (10-15 minutes).
- Allow the pastry to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then ease out of the tin and cool on a wire rack
The mocha filling
250g dark (70%) chocolate, chopped
6 large egg yolks
225g caster sugar
1 litre milk
2 tbsp espresso coffee powder
- Melt chocolate in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent burning.
- In a bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar and cornflour.
- Add the coffee powder to the milk and heat, stirring until the coffee has dissolved.
- Whisk hot milk mixture into the egg/sugar mixture.
- Return the custard to the pan and continue to heat, stirring, until it has thickened.
- Stir in the melted chocolate until fully incorporated.
- Check flavour. Depending on the strength of your chocolate, you may need to add more coffee powder.
- Cover with cling film to stop a skin from forming and chill until required.
The brown sugar Italian meringue 
150g egg whites (5 large)
pinch of salt
few drops of lemon juice
45g granulated sugar
15g powdered egg white
300g dark muscovado sugar
- Put whites, salt and lemon juice in a mixer bowl.
- Whip whites slowly until frothy, then fast until stiff peaks.
- Gradually add granulated sugar and egg white powder (mixed together). Allow each spoonful to dissolve before adding the next.
- Whip to stiff, glossy peaks.
- Heat sugar and water to 115°C
- Remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
- With the beaters running, pour the sugar syrup into the whipped whites in a thin stream, then continue whisking until bowl is cool to the touch and the meringue is stiff. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
- Place the chocolate pastry case on the serving dish.
- Whisk chilled custard filling and pour into the pastry case.
- Spoon (or pipe) over the brown sugar meringue. Make sure there are no gaps between the meringue and the pastry shell, and that the filling is completely covered.
- Use a blowtorch to lightly toast the meringue. Serve.
 This quantity makes enough meringue to cover a single large meringue pie. If you want an awe-inducing mountain of meringue like the picture (although I feel obliged to point out that the picture is actually of a mini, 8cm pie), you might want to make double the quantity. If so, then I would suggest making two batches, because a single batch fills a standard mixing bowl.
This recipe was inspired by a song written and first recorded by Harry Nilsson on his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.
I first heard it as the background music in a small bistro I used to waitress in, in my home town. NOT in 1971 I hasten to add – it was a good decade later – which…is still thirty years ago, so *ahem* moving quickly on….
It has a rather catchy/irritating chorus refrain…
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both together,
Put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better,
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both up,
Put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the moooooorning…..
…which has a habit of creeping into your brain and before you know it, you’re singing along. When I moved away to college, I ended up buying the album, as the song reminded me of fun times.
So it seemed an ideal combination for something else that’s fun – cupcakes! The opportunity arose a couple of months ago to come up with a couple of cupcake recipes and I remembered this song when pondering flavour combinations. The rest, as they say, is history: Soft and fluffy coconut sponge filled with a zingy lime curd. Confession: the swirl of Italian meringue on the top is merely an excuse for me to break out my Christmas present blowtorch and play with fire. “Say helloooo to mah leetle friend!” </scarface>
OK, so my blowtorch only stands 10cm high, but you get the idea.
This recipe has three components: the cake, the curd and the meringue. Of these three, only the meringue might be a little on the tricky side, but I’m going to share some helpful hints and tips I’ve picked up, to ease things along the path of success.
Coconut Cupcakes – makes 12
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
50g unsweetened dessicated coconut
80g soft margarine
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml plain yoghurt.
12 hole muffin/cupcake tin
12 cupcake paper cases
- Heat oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan
- Sieve flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and set aside.
- Put coconut into a dry frying pan and stir over medium heat until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
- Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly in-between. Add vanilla.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir well. Add half the yoghurt. Stir well.
- Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remainder of the yoghurt.
- Add the last portion of flour and, when thoroughly combined, stir in the toasted coconut.
- Line a 12 cup cupcake tin with paper cases and spoon in the filling.
- Bake for 15 minutes then turn the pan and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until evenly browned and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Remove cakes from the pan and cool on a rack.
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- Add remaining ingredients and stir over low heat until thickened.
- Set aside to cool.
plain tip nozzle
- In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until foamy.
- Add cream of tartar and lemon juice and continue whisking on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
- With the whisk running, slowly add the 40g of caster sugar in a steady stream.
- When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, stop the whisk until the syrup is ready.
- In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the 200g of caster sugar and water, swirling the pan until the sugar is dissolved. NB Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallise and you will have to start again.
- Turn the heat to high and cook the syrup until the soft ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115°C).
- Remove the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup has stopped bubbling. If you’re not confident about pouring boiling syrup from a hot pan one-handed, pour the syrup into a plastic jug.
- Switch the whisk to medium speed and slowly pour the cooked sugar into the stiffly beaten whites. NB This is the tricky part. If you are pouring the syrup straight from the pan, be sure your oven gloves are thick enough so that your hand is fully protected. Pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the point where the beaters meet the side of the bowl. This will achieve 2 things: the syrup will cool and this will help avoid cooking and/or curdling the egg-whites and the beaters won’t get covered in sticky syrup.
- Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating the egg-whites until the outside of the bowl feels cool. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
To assemble the cupcakes:
- With a sharp knife, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcakes and fill the hole with lime curd.
Call dibs and scoff the leftover pieces of cake, claiming (om-nom-nom) cook’s priviledgesDiscard the cones of cake.
- Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (or just snip the end of the bag if you are using disposable piping bag).
- Pipe a swirl of meringue over the top of the cupcake, making sure to completely cover the lime curd. Finish with a nice pointy tip.
- Using a blowtorch, lightly toast the outside of the meringue until the sugar caramelises.
Cost: Cupcakes = £1.45, Curd = £2.28, Meringue = £1.00, £0.40 per completed cupcake (July 2011)