Alternative titles considered for this post:
“How much raw cake batter can a person consume without dying?”
“How to dirty basically all your dishes and not be certain it’s worth it *until* you bite into this cake.”
“50 Shades of Meringue Making Agony.”
“Cake supposedly serves six, but for real I am eating this all by myself.”
I learned many, many lessons while developing this recipe, but perhaps the most important of them all is that if you’re craving an intense, chocolatey, nutty cake with a simultaneously crisp and chewy meringue layer, plus a hefty dose of whipped cream, and more chocolate all over because why the hell not, you will stop at nothing to make this thing happen. Because, dear readers, not unlike the infamous apple cider cake incident, this gem did not want to come together in a reasonable number of tries. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this cake was a complete bitch to make. But it was oh, oh, so worth it.
Valuable lessons learned along the agonizing, hair-pulling, crazy-making way:
First, you can make this cake (or just about any cake, really) in a food processor, so if you’re going to dirty it by grinding hazelnuts anyway, you might as well keep using it. Fewer dishes to wash means less time until this cake is in your mouth.
Second, when life gives you soupy meringue, make buttercream:
I could not BELIEVE how many times my meringue failed for this recipe. Four times, before I realized that I could at least salvage it by throwing some butter in there and making Swiss meringue buttercream — which, for the record means the meringue actually failed five times. It was blowing. my. mind. I used to have an Australian roommate and we made pavlovas and meringue all the time! I wrote a tutorial about it for one of my classes! I could do it in my sleep! I knew all the tricks: clean the bowl really well and even wipe it down with vinegar beforehand, make sure the egg whites are at room temperature and there’s no yolk or grease in sight, use a pinch of cream of tartar in the beginning, do not even attempt if it’s humid outside — all this, and yet I was beating my whites for more than fifteen minutes and getting NOWHERE.
At this point, the carton of egg whites I’d been using ran out, and it was a blessing in disguise because I realized that the carton eggs were the problem! I’d chosen them originally just because I figured it would reduce the risk of any yolk contaminating them, but somehow forgotten that egg whites from the carton whip up terribly. As soon as I tried this with fresh whites from actual eggs, it was like night and day. Suddenly everything was whipping up just fine and within minutes I had dreamy, airy, real, oh-my-god-this-is-really-happening meringue.
I may or may not have been crying with joy when my roommate walked into the kitchen, looked at me, and (wisely) hastened in the other direction.
This cake is actually incredible, though. Eat it with your loved ones, eat it with your enemies, eat in in your pyjamas while watching About Time over and over again on Netflix. Either way, go get ‘er.
Chocolate hazelnut meringue cake
For the cake
- 150g (1 heaping cup) hazelnuts, toasted
- 150g (1 heaping cup) 70% roughly chopped dark chocolate
- 150g (3/4 cup) sugar
- 2 whole eggs + 3 eggs separated (whites reserved in a clean bowl for meringue below)
- 150g (1/2 cup + 2Tbs) softened unsalted butter
- 12g (2 Tbs) dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 tsp instant espresso powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
For the meringue
- 3 large egg whites (90g)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
- 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
For the whipped cream + garnishes
- 1 cup 35% whipping cream, cold
- 2 Tbs cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
- optional: chocolate shavings or sprinkles
- Preheat the oven to 350F, and generously grease two (3-inches tall) 6-inch round cake pans. Line the cake pans with three (2-inch wide) strips of parchment paper going all the way up the sides of the pan, to make a sort of asterisk shape. This will help you remove the cake when it's done baking.
For the cake:
- In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until they're finely ground, but make sure to stop before they turn into hazelnut butter! Remove and set aside in a bowl.
- In another small bowl, melt the chocolate in 30-second increments in the microwave (or, if you prefer, over a bain marie). Once melted, set aside to cool for a minute or two.
- Meanwhile, throw your sugar and butter back in the food processor (do not bother washing it first). Pulse until they become light and fluffy. Add your whole eggs one by one, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Repeat with the three egg yolks. Add your cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, and ground hazelnuts in, and pulse a couple times. Add in your melted chocolate and pulse a few times, then give it a final stir with a spoon to make sure everything is incorporated.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and try to level them a bit with the back of a spoon.
For the meringue:
- Working quickly, in a clean metal bowl, add the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until they reach the soft peak stage, then add in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each one fully before adding the next. Continuing at medium speed, beat the whites until they become stiff and glossy, and when you turn off the mixer, the mixture holds a stiff peak. Do not overbeat, or they will become weepy. Gently spoon the meringue evenly between the two baking pans, over the cake batter.
- Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes, until the meringue is golden-brown and dry. Cake testers like toothpicks are useless here, as the cake batter will seemingly always come out 'wet'; trust that it's done (unless your oven runs cool, in which case, you can bake it 10 minutes longer). Turn off the heat and prop the oven open with a wooden spoon; allow to cool fully in the oven.
For the whipped cream:
- Beat cream in a bowl until you achieve stiff peaks.
- Carefully remove the cakes from the pans by scoring around the edges with a knife and then lifting them out with their parchment slings. Set one cake on your serving dish, and cover with half the whipped cream and a scattering of hazelnuts. Set the second cake on top, and cover with remaining whipped cream. Dust with the cocoa powder and sprinkle with the rest of the hazelnuts and some chocolate shavings, if desired. Serve immediately.
- This cake tastes best the day it's made, but if you'd like to prepare it in advance, keep the cakes covered, in their tins, at room temperature, and assemble with the whipped cream just before serving.