Yo, you know I love a good icebox cake. They are one of the best ways to celebrate: leave whipped cream sandwiched between cake or cookie layers in the fridge for long enough, and it becomes a thick buttery frosting (without the butter!). This meringue cake, nicknamed “The Beast” by its creator for the challenge of cutting it, is definitely better off from some refrigerator timeout. After an overnight stint in the icebox, the meringue and cream meld and stabilize, but there is no loss of crunch, texture, or flavor like you might expect; plus, it’s really not that tough to cut after a proper cooling. Better said: take this baby for a spin!
But don’t get the wrong idea about me and Valentine’s Day. This cake, while surely befitting a sweetheart, did not come about in an homage to today. There ain’t a single thing that’s disagreeable about romance (give me more romance!), but I relish the blogging community much for its commitment to creativity, and that all seems to disappear in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. All of my favorite DIY sites are suddenly posting links to mass-produced “him and her” gifts to purchase, and whether it’s an effort to monetize or a need to keep up with What The People Want, the buy-it-now attitude behind Valentine’s Day is counter to these sites’ everyday goals. Maybe we can all find some relief and inspiration in food blogs today instead: they often emphasize creativity and taking risks—both elements of a real romantic gesture, no?
Getting back to what’s really important here: this cake is totally delicious and totally nuts. You will love it, and it will love you right back without asking for a single thing.
Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue Icebox Cake
Adapted from Daniel Jasso for Food & Wine
A few notes: if you're short on space or nervous about cutting into this cake, consider making a bunch of two-inch cookies instead of eight-inch layers. You could stack two cookies with cream in the middle and on top, and they'd be single-serving. Either way, this is definitely a dessert to make the day before you intend to eat it. The meringue takes several hours to bake and cool, and then the whole thing goes into the fridge. The recipe counsels us to cut with a serrated knife, but I found the nicest slices came about after I stabbed straight through the top of the cake with a butcher knife.
I didn't change much here: just reduced the amounts of sugar and chocolate ever so slightly. Is that sacrilege? The original calls for six ounces of each chocolate, but that seemed just a bit too rich for my family. The final product certainly didn't suffer!
7 ounces hazelnuts (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (original calls for 1 1/2)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Chocolate shavings for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two very large or three regular baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace three eight-inch circles across the parchment. (I had to use three medium sheets, so one circle on each sheet.)
2. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet or in a pie pan and toast for 12 to 14 minutes, until browned. Close hot hazelnuts into a non-terry-cloth towel, allow to steam for five or so minutes, then rub to remove the skins; don’t worry if some of the skins are still on. Chop the nuts fairly small, but don’t powder them.. Lower the oven temperature to 225 degrees F.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar at high speed until stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Fold in the hazelnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the melted chocolate down the side of the bowl and gently fold in until the meringue is lightly marbled.
4. Divide the meringue evenly between the three drawn circles; spread evenly. Bake for two hours and 30 minutes, until crisp; rotate the pans halfway through baking. Turn off the oven, prop oven door open, and let the meringues cool completely. (I propped a wooden spoon against the “light-on” switch to keep it off and the door open.)
5. In the bowl of the standing mixer, beat the cream with the confectioners' sugar until firm. Remove the cooled meringues from the parchment paper. Spread the whipped cream between the layers and stack them. Refrigerate or freeze the cake overnight. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature. Garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.