Soft, fluffy, mile-high meringue usually finds itself perched atop a citrus or cream-filled pie. It makes a big impression based on volume alone, but meringue is more than just show.
Whisked egg whites and sugar are the basis for many sweet culinary delights, from chocolate soufflés to pistachio macarons. Their job is to impart a light airiness, sometimes combined with a crispy chewiness, as it does in this week's recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Meringue Topping.
You may think the idea of baking meringue and cake batter together is a strange one, but it's a method that's been used for years to give interest and added texture to a simple cake.
The meringue gets dry and crispy on the outside, and stays chewy — almost marshmallowy — on the inside. In order to get that texture, though, it must be baked at a lower temperature than most cakes, and long enough to allow the meringue to sufficiently dry out.
Choosing the right cake to sit beneath this halo of deliciousness is also, obviously, important. Cakes can be fussy, so for this recipe, especially given the upcoming holiday, it made sense to make a pumpkin version, as it can be a very forgiving, slightly dense cake — think of it as a cross between cake and quick bread — that will stay nice and moist, even if it's been in the oven a while.
Toasted, chopped pecans give the cake extra flavor and texture. Could we have added some chopped bittersweet chocolate to the mix? Absolutely. If you like it in your pumpkin bread, you'll like it in this cake.
The meringue itself is spread on top of the cake batter and swirled, slightly, by dragging a knife through the egg whites and batter, then pulling the knife up and over the top. Doing this a few times creates a lovely marble pattern on the cake, but make sure not to overdo it. If you mix too much cake batter with the meringue, the topping won't crisp as well.
Baking this cake takes some time, but the result is a deeply golden brown, puffy, craggy-topped dessert that will fill your house with the aroma of the holidays and wow your guests at the same time.
Spiced Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Meringue Topping
Can't decide if you want cake or pie at the end of your Thanksgiving meal? This impressive, fragrant pumpkin cake, studded with toasted pecans and crowned with a crispy meringue, can satisfy both cravings. Low and slow baking is the key to getting the meringue dry and crispy without overcooking the cake. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 c. flour
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. ground ginger
• 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
• 1 c. vegetable oil
• 3 eggs
• 3 c. sugar, divided
• 1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin purée
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 c. toasted, chopped pecans
• 6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan and place on a large rimmed baking sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, pumpkin and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until completely combined. Stir in toasted pecans. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
Pour 2 inches of water into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Combine the egg whites and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar in a medium metal bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and set over the simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water). Continually whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot (about 115 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), about 3 to 5 minutes.
Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the hot egg whites on the highest setting until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Spread the meringue over the cake batter. Drag a knife through meringue and batter a few times to create a light marbled pattern. Don't swirl too much, or the meringue won't get crispy.
Bake the cake, sitting on the baking sheet, on a rack in the lower third of the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until a knife inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean and the meringue is firm, dry and feels crispy when tapped. Let cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake, and carefully transfer it from the pan to the wire rack to cool completely. Serve cake at room temperature.
To prepare in advance: The cake topping will be crispier if served the same day as it's baked, but the cake can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept covered at room temperature.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.