What on earth is a meringue cake?! Keeping all the best features of meringue, but add in a dark, sticky, hazelnut-y chewiness, lightened by a sweet creme patissiere filling, with refreshing thin orange slices scattered through the middle, and you sort of get the jist… As an added bonus, this dessert is gluten, wheat and dairy free!
This is not a pretty dessert. Despite its fluffy and delicate appearance, it deserves to be smashed to pieces with a fork and gobbled up in seconds. Or at least – that was how we did it! The few lucky ones who got to taste test this recipe quoted it was their favourite bake of mine ever – and coming from them, that’s something! This is especially surprising as this recipe really came about in a funny way; driven by the desire to use up 4 egg whites and half a carton of hazelnut milk, I began really having to search hard for a recipe. Turns out that recipes do not often combine egg whites and milk, but then the wonders of the hazelnut meringue cake came back to me.
I think this was something I first saw on bake off – and I loved the idea of turning a meringue into something other than a sweet, crispy treat. Although this still retains those things we love about a good meringue, it is also darker, slightly heavier and more chewy – and therefore ever so slightly more like a cake- because it is packed full of very finely chopped hazelnut pieces.
I have filled the meringue cake with creme patissiere – which is a fancy name for a custard thickened with cornflour. So, as we’ve been practising our custard over the last few weeks, it will be an absolute doddle (which I can promise it will be…as it’s actually easier and much harder to get wrong than custard – the cornflour stops the eggs curdling, so unless you burn it, you’ll be hard pressed to ruin it!)!
Lastly, buy the best oranges you can and very very thinly slice the segments. By layering these onto the creme pat, before sandwiching the second meringue on top, you’ve created a light, refreshing, fruity cleanser that balances the sweetness of the rest of the dessert. It’s this secret which will keep you coming back for more until it’s all gone in one sitting!
Makes 1 large meringue cake. Serves 6 – 8 generously. Takes 1 hour plus baking and cooling time.
- Vegetable oil for greasing
- 150g blanched hazelnuts
- 5 egg whites
- 280g golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- Zest of 1 orange
- Creme Patissiere Filling:
- 2 egg yolks
- 40g golden caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 300 ml hazelnut milk (I used Alpro Hazelnut Milk)
- 1 orange
- 80g dark chocolate
- 30g dairy free butter
- 30g finely chopped hazelnuts
- Preheat the oven to 190 degrees (170 fan), and line the bottom of two 20cm loose bottom tins with grease proof paper. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of the tin.
- Make the meringues: This can be done up to 4 days in advance, stored in an air tight container. Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until very finely chopped. In a large, very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add the sugar one teaspoon at a time, whisking between each addition.
- Keep whisking until the egg whites are very stiff, shiny and smooth. Whisk in the vinegar, and then fold in the hazelnuts and orange zest.
- Divide the mixture between the two tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 40-45 minutes until firm, turn the oven off, and then leave the meringues in the oven until cool.
- Make the filling: This can be done up to 2 days in advance, just store in the fridge once made. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and creamy and the mixture leaves a trail when you lift the whisk.
- Mix the flour and cornflour with a little of the hazelnut milk, then briefly whisk the mixture into the eggs and sugar.
- Heat the remaining hazelnut milk in a pan until almost boiling.
- Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking all of the time.
- Pour the mixture back into the pan used for the milk. Over a low heat, stir until the mixture boils. This is important, as it is when the mixture boils that the flours will thicken the mixture properly. Keep cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes, then take off the heat and cool completely.
- Assembly: This is best done on the day it will be eaten. First make the chocolate topping. In a heat proof bowl suspended over just simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter.
- Peel and remove as much of the pith as possible from the oranges. Carefully, finely slice the oranges, and put to one side.
- Place the most level meringue on a large serving plate. Spoon a generous layer of the creme patissiere on the meringue, and then, in concentric circles, layer the orange slices from the inside to the outside.
- Place the second meringue on the filling, and then spread the chocolate sauce on the top. Sprinkle over the hazelnuts, and leave at room temperature for 1 – 2 hours before serving.