Let us now take a moment of silence to honor the 30+ egg whites who gave their lives in service of making the perfect hazelnut meringue. Rest in peace, good buddies.
Lest you gasp and clutch your grocery budget in horror, this recipe doesn’t require anywhere near 30 egg whites. It does, apparently, require one very persistent (or very cursed) baker to make and re-make meringue layers in an increasingly frustrating attempt to find the perfect recipe for a hazelnut-studded meringue that is crunchy on the outside, a bit soft on the inside, and studded with nubby bits of toasted nuts in every bite.
The problem with making a nut-filled meringue is that oil can cause the meringue to deflate, so if the nuts aren’t incorporated properly, the oil from the nuts can make the meringue collapse, spread, ooze across the baking sheet, or otherwise become “yucky,” as we culinary pros like to say. And yes, I have some fine specimens of failed meringue layers to share with you on Instagram for this week’s #fridayfoodfail post. Let’s be social media buddies already, so I can show you all of my funny/sad kitchen mishaps. Disasters, I have ‘em.
My solution to the problem was two-fold: process the chopped hazelnuts with powdered sugar, to help coat them with sugar/cornstarch and soak up some of the oil, and to cook the egg whites/sugar before whipping them (known as making a Swiss meringue) to make the meringue more stable than the traditional raw eggs/sugar method.
The final results of these efforts were four beautifully formed meringue cake layers that kept their shape and were mostly crunchy, with just a bit of softness inside—perfect! They were just begging to be paired with two kinds of chocolate and fresh berries, and I was happy to oblige. I’m a giver like that.
It feels inaccurate to call this cake “easy,” since it does require over 4 hours of baking/cooling time for the meringue layers, but almost all of that is passive time (ie, “dink around on the internet and call it working” time) and, aside from making those meringue layers, the rest of the cake just requires whisking ganache and whipping some cream, which is legitimately easy. The assembly happens quickly, too, since we don’t need to worry about slicing cake layers in half, coaxing buttercream into a smooth layer, or piping bags of any sort. You know I love that stuff, but sometimes a girl just wants to toss a handful of raspberries on top of a cake and call it a day.
Speaking of raspberries, are you digging these golden raspberries? Thanks, random grocery store sale! This cake would work equally well with any other berry, or even sliced peaches or nectarines. You could also replace the hazelnuts with toasted almonds, pecans, walnuts, or pistachios, so follow your heart and your cupboard and go crazy.
This cake is such a dreamy combination of juicy berries, soft whipped cream, and crunchy, nutty meringue. It is a bit messy to cut, so the slices aren’t the prettiest, but the taste more than makes up for it!
Hazelnut Meringue Cake
For the Hazelnut Meringue:
- 8 egg whites at room temperature
- 14 oz granulated sugar (2 cups)
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
- 7 1/2 oz hazelnuts toasted, (1 1/2 cups), (I prefer salted nuts)
- 2 oz powdered sugar (1/2 cup)
For the Chocolate Ganache:
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate finely chopped
- 8 oz heavy cream (1 cup)
For the Chocolate Whipped Cream and Assembly:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 32 oz fresh raspberries (can substitute other berries or sliced fruit)
- Toasted hazelnuts chocolate shavings, or any other decorations of your choice
To Make the Hazelnut Meringue:
- Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment, and trace two 8-inch circles on each piece of parchment, for a total of four 8-inch circles.
- Combine the egg whites and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan—this is your makeshift hot water bath. (Alternately, you can use a different bowl or an actual bain marie and then transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl once it’s heated.) Add an inch of water to the bottom of the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer.
- Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.
- Whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy, then add the cream of tartar. Continue to whip the whites on medium-high speed until they are a shiny, stiff, voluminous meringue, and the outside of the bowl is no longer hot to the touch—this may take 10 minutes or more, depending on your mixer.
- While you wait for the whites to whip, place the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds, until they are coarsely chopped. Add the powdered sugar, then process until the nuts are finely ground. Stop before the nuts start to clump together or get greasy!
- When the whites are finished whipping, gently fold the finely ground nuts into the meringue. Divide the meringue between the four circles on the parchment paper, and spread them into even circles.
- Bake the meringue circles at 200 F for 2 1/2 hours, rotating the pans halfway through for even baking. After 2 1/2 hours, turn the oven off and let the meringues sit in the oven until completely cool. They can be made a day in advance and kept in the cool oven until you're ready to assemble the cake.
To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
- Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Bring the cream to a simmer, so that bubbles start to appear along the sides of the pan, but do not let it boil.
- Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate, and let it sit for one minute to soften and melt the chocolate. Whisk the cream and chocolate together until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Press a layer of cling wrap on top of the chocolate and let it sit at room temperature to thicken and cool, until it is the texture of peanut butter. If you need to speed this process along, you can refrigerate it for 30-45 minutes. If it gets too hard, microwave it in short intervals until it is a spreadable consistency again.
To Make the Chocolate Whipped Cream and Assemble:
- Combine the cream, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and beat together until the cocoa powder holds medium peaks.
- Assemble the cake by placing a meringue disc on your serving plate. Scoop a quarter of the ganache onto the disc, and spread it in a thin, even layer out to the edge. Place a quarter of the chocolate whipped cream on top, and spread it evenly. Place a ring of raspberries around the edge of the cake, then scatter a handful of raspberries in the middle of the cake as well. Top with a second meringue disc, and continue assembling the cake in this fashion until you've used all four meringue layers. On the top of the cake, after you've added the ganache and whipped cream, place a big pile of fresh berries in the center, along with a pinch of toasted hazelnuts, chocolate shavings, or any other garnishes you'd like.
- This cake can be tricky to cut! If you want to serve it right away, the layers will be fairly crunchy and will crumble or crack. To serve it immediately, I recommend using either a very sharp serrated knife, and using light pressure while sawing the layers, or cutting through the individual layers with kitchen shears. My personal preference is to let it sit for an hour or two after assembly—the meringue will soften so the outside will still have a crunch, but it will be softer and easier to cut (although still a little messy!). Your best bet is to just accept that the slices won't look perfect, and that the taste will more than make up for a few cracked meringue layers!