Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Odds & Ends Cake

Does anybody know where the summer went?  It seems like only yesterday we were anticipating stone fruit pie, shortcake and fresh homemade ice cream and now we’re nearly heading into September. Though we still have some peaches, nectarines, plums, berries and now figs to savor, it feels like the summer is slipping away, once again.  Time does fly. 

This cake is a sort of lucky conspiracy of lots of odds and ends in my kitchen.  There was fruit left over from other projects that needed to be used.  I had egg whites and yogurt left over from ice cream experiments.  So I decided to set to work to find a way to use all these ingredients in one simple preparation.  As luck would have it, this cake turned out to be remarkably delicious.  What started out as a waste not/want not mission turned into quite a luscious and beautiful dessert.

The cake is a basic yogurt cake to which I’ve added some lemon and orange zest along with a dash of almond extract.  The fruit layer is tossed with a bit of sugar to elicit some wonderful juices.  I happened to have strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and a nectarine and that turned out to be a heavenly mix.  I decided to finish the cake with a lavish crown of meringue for not only a sumptuous look but for an element of texture as well. 

First, I prepared the meringue.  The best meringue starts with room temperature egg whites for maximum volume.  I add a pinch of salt and some cornstarch to prevent weeping.  A good ratio of sugar is required for the meringue’s structure and in order for it to set properly.  Once it was whipped, I went with large spoonfuls dolloped in concentric circles but you can make swirls or pipe something fancier if you so desire.  Then it went into the oven for a long and slow baking to dry it out and crisp it up. 

Once the meringue was ready, I baked the cake and then macerated the fruit.  And here you can use any fruit of your choosing, the juicier the better.  Then when you’re ready to assemble, simply whip up a gorgeous cloud of whipped cream and you’re all set.  Layer on the fruit and juices, dollop on the cream and crown with meringue.  Presto!

The finished cake does look very festive and a bit regal.  (I may have had a PBS show on the life of Marie Antoinette I’d watched the night before lingering somewhere in my mind.)  But really, it's just a super good way to use up the odds and ends of summer.  I hope you've all had a chance to enjoy the best pastries of the season.  Cheers!

Bench notes:
- I used extra virgin olive oil in the cake but canola oil is a good alternative if you want a more neutral taste.
- Raw egg whites can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator up to four days. Each egg white is 1 ounce, so weigh out 4 ounces for this recipe if you have a stash in your refrigerator.
- Egg whites will whip with greater volume if they are at room temperature.  Be absolutely sure your bowl has no trace of grease, egg yolk, butter, oil, nuts or chocolate present.  Begin the process by whipping the whites with a pinch of salt until they are foamy and opaque. For a stable meringue, slowly add the sugar a couple tablespoons at a time and then keep whipping until they are glossy and form a stiff peak. It should hold its peak without slumping over. If the meringue starts to look dry and grainy and begins to separate, you've gone too far.
- A pinch of salt helps to firm up the egg protein.  Cornstarch acts as a stabilizer and keeps it from weeping.
- The amount of sugar for the meringue does seem like a lot but its important for the structure.  The sugar draws moisture from the egg white and helps it set.  Superfine sugar works best because it dissolves more completely.  You can make your own by running granulated sugar in your food processor until very fine, about 1 minute.
- Once whipped, try not to handle the meringue excessively to avoid deflating it.  Once baked, meringue loses its structure and crispness and does not hold well in humidity, so best to prepare this when the air is dry. 
- To prevent the meringue from sticking to the parchment, very lightly dust the paper with cornstarch or a very light brush of oil.  If you have the time, turn off the oven and let it dry out for another 1/2 hour, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.  Be gentle when removing from the parchment to prevent cracking.  A long metal spatula can be a useful aid. 
- Use a sawing motion with a serrated knife to cut into the finished dessert.

Summer Odds & Ends Cake
Serves 8

4 (4 oz) egg whites @ room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
pinch salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder                                            
1/4 teaspoon salt                                                   
1/2 cup (4 oz)) extra virgin olive oil          
1 cup (7 oz) sugar                                      
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) plain yogurt 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
zest of 1 small lemon
zest of half medium orange

2 – 3 cups fresh fruit
sugar, to taste

1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the meringue, preheat oven to 200 degrees F.  Using the bottom of a 9” cake pan, trace one circle on a piece of parchment paper using a dark pencil.  Place the parchment pencil side down on a baking sheet. 

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium low speed.  When they're foamy, add cornstarch and a pinch of salt.  Increase speed to medium high and continue whisking until they have increased in volume and are opaque.  Slowly add sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time and continue whipping until meringue forms very stiff shiny peaks that hold their shape.

Starting in the center of the circle outline, drop spoonfuls of meringue onto the parchment.  Continue until the circle, using a light tough and letting it take its own cloud-like form.

Place in the oven and bake for about 2 hours or until meringue is dry and can be released from the parchment.

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease 9” cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs and blend thoroughly.  Add the yogurt, vanilla and almond extracts and citrus zest.  Mix in the dry ingredients just until there are no streaks of flour, being careful not to overmix.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap the bottom of the pan on a work surface a few times to release any air bubbles.  

Bake the cake until it's a light golden brown and springs back when touched or a tester comes out clean, about 25 - 26 minutes.  Place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert the cake and gently remove the parchment.  Invert again and cool completely.  

Slice the fruit and place in a bowl.  Add sugar to taste and toss.  Set aside for 20 minutes to macerate, tossing a couple of times to distribute the juices.

To assemble, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla to soft peak.  Use a serrated knife to slice off the dome on the cake and to expose the interior so that it can soak up the juices of the fruit.  Place the fruit on top of the cake and dollop with whipped cream.  Gently remove the meringue from the parchment and place on top of the cake.  



A Plum By Any Other Name said...

What a very cool idea--I love it! Waste not, want not, and eat more meringue.

heather said...

This cake is lovely! I too am so sad that summer is almost over! Maybe if we're lucky, the nice weather will last into September.

pastry studio said...

Plum, I think the wastefulness avoidance comes from my upbringing but I was very pleasantly surprised that all this came together in such harmonious enjoyment.

heather, I'm actually more of a spring and autumn person but this summer has been very mild. I hope the sunshine follows you into the fall wherever you are!

Kate said...

Clever combining talents... for the cake components and your winning ways. Some of my most satisfying meals have been born out of looking into the fridge and pantry and creating a amazing, creative and unique dish. Congrats on a job well done and fancy to boot. I read your comment about being raised to avoid waste. You've learned well ;)
I would so love a slice of this!

pastry studio said...

Thanks so much, Kate. I used to have a boyfriend who could do the most amazing things for dinner with whatever was in the kitchen. I'm not quite there but this cake was really good!

Shelley said...

This is beautiful, Gayle, a thrift-inspired sleight of hand, utterly elegant under its extravagant meringue chapeau. If we could only reach into the screen for a slice!

pastry studio said...

Shelley, thank you so much. Definitely a "meringue chapeau"!