Sunday, December 02, 2007

Autumn Meringue Cake

Another month lapsed without any posts. I do have a good excuse this time, though. My brother and his wife Fatima -- an ex-contributor to this blog -- had a baby, and I was off to California for two weeks to see my very first nephew. It was a very pleasurable experience for me to be so close to a newborn without the crazy hormones, aches and pains getting in the way. I went to college in California, too; so it was nice to be able to go back to a familiar landscape and experience California's bounty and nice people, once again.

As you might expect, we did not have much time for sightseeing, for somehow a tiny infant is capable of keeping any number of adults extremely busy. But on one occasion, we stopped by an Iranian grocery store, and I chanced on a bag of vibrantly green sliced pistachios. Pistachios being my favorite nuts, I could not let this opportunity pass by, and I grabbed the bag although it did not have a price tag. I regretted this later at the cash stand, as the bag turned out to be much more expensive than I guessed. But there was no turning back now, as Fatima insisted on making it a gift and would not take "NOO!!!" for an answer. So I came back with my precious stash of sliced pistachios (Thank you, Fatima), and have since been contemplating what kind of goodies I could use them for.

The opportunity presented itself on Thanksgiving: I was making Autumn Meringue Cake from Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan's Desserts. I don't know if this is only my problem, but I always run into difficulty when I am glazing sides of cakes. The tops are usually OK; but the sides do not have a really smooth finish (without spatula marks), and I usually end up covering them with chopped nuts, chocolate curls etc. This is probably happening because of the meager amount of glaze I use each time, but mine is only a virtual patisserie, what can I say?

Autumn Meringue Cake is a pure chocolate dessert, and it is so good that I don't think anybody would miss nuts tastewise. However, in my interpretation of it, the sides needed some camouflage, and the sliced pistachios provided a pretty cover-up.

As for the rest of the cake, I must say that the meringue layers were perfect. In the past, I had all kinds of experiences with meringue cake layers, from those that vanished in the cake to others which were really hard to cut. These were tasty and still crunchy after a night in the refrigerator and offered just the right amount of resistance to the knife. Of course, in meringue cakes, the result also depends on the filling of the cake. P. Herme called his filling a mousse, and it did have a moussy texture, but it also had the makings of a buttercream. Let's say that it was like chocolate buttercream lightened with beaten egg whites. I was a little put off when I saw the amount of butter used, but the end result was not heavy. Needless to say, a tiny slice of such a dessert goes a long way. In fact, the the slice you see in the picture below may even be enough for two.

Let me make a final comment about the pictures. I used all my bittersweet chocolate for the mousse, and had to turn to semisweet chocolate for the glaze. As a result, the filling and the glaze were almost the same color. If you follow the directions, your mousse will be a lighter color compared to the glaze, providing a visual contrast.

This cake is a real feast for both the eye and the palate. As with many good chocolate desserts, there are waiting times and several steps involved, but you can plan to make it over a few days, in fact a week. And I assure you that, at the end, you will not regret the time you invested.