Last winter, I spent a month baking at a wine bar in Paris. A highlight of the gig was traversing the city’s many epiceries in search of something special to inspire the menu each week. It was a cold January and I wasn’t sure what would be available, but I found the shops full of plump Corsican citrus, golden kiwi, and marron glacé, or glazed chestnuts. To my surprise, I also found neat parcels of hand-wrapped premade pastry dough. I’d assumed the French would prepare their pastry at home, but my Parisian friend and host confirmed it’s extremely common to buy it. This made me realize it might be time to shed my long-standing Sandra Lee bias and embrace the semi-homemade, if even the French were doing it.
Sadly, American shops don’t carry freshly made raw pastry dough speckled with flakes of European-style butter. So I started to brainstorm other thoughtful shortcuts I could utilize in my own home kitchen. My lightbulb moment came not from dough but a personal childhood favorite: the meringue cookie.
Made from only egg whites and sugar, meringue is a versatile building block for desserts such as pavlova, lemon meringue pie, and macarons. When baked in a low oven and allowed to dry for hours, it transforms into a sweet, thoroughly crunchy, and shelf-stable cookie that makes a perfect blank canvas for a semi-homemade dessert.
To use it in a new dessert, I found inspiration in the torta meringata, an Italian confection built on crisp meringue and whipped cream. My spin combines crushed meringue with coffee-and-spice-infused whipped cream. To make it, you can bake your own meringue cookies, or skip the hassle as I do and seek out a box of Trader Joe’s perfect vanilla meringues. I give them a quick toast in the oven to bring out a more caramelized flavor and up the crisp factor, then gently crush and fold them into the whipped cream. Frozen in a loaf, it’s coated in a final layer of crushed meringue and drizzled tableside with warm honey fudge sauce. The alchemy of textures, temperatures, and flavors belies the dessert’s simplicity, and explains the instant satisfaction it provokes.
Spiced Coffee Meringata with Warm Honey Fudge Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
For the spiced coffee meringata:
1 (7.76-ounce) box vanilla meringue cookies, such as Trader Joe’s
2 cups (473 ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (64 grams) honey
2 tablespoons instant espresso
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom or 8 whole pods
¼ teaspoon ground cloves or 3 whole cloves
Cocoa powder for finishing
For the warm honey fudge:
2 ounces (56 grams) bittersweet chocolate
½ cup (50 grams) cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup (85 grams) honey
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
½ cup (118 ml) heavy cream
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and line up the meringues in a single layer. Bake until they smell caramelized and darken slightly, 12 to 13 minutes, watching closely so they do not burn. Set aside to completely cool.
Step 2: Pick 3 of the prettiest meringues and set aside for decoration. Put the rest in a large plastic or ziplock bag and gently crush until they resemble rubble. The average-sized piece should be about the size of an almond. Some dust will be inevitable but the majority of the meringues should be in small pieces.
Step 3: If using whole spices, crush them lightly in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle before combining them with the instant coffee in a medium bowl.
Step 4: Put the honey and 1 cup of the cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat and bring to a bare simmer. Pour the hot cream over the coffee and spices and whisk to combine. Add the remaining cup of cream to the mixture. Transfer to the fridge to chill until completely cold, about 45 minutes.
Step 4: Line an 8 ½-inch by 4 ½-inch (6-cup) loaf pan with 2 pieces of plastic wrap in opposite directions. The plastic wrap should have enough overhang that, once filled, it can be lifted over the top to cover. Set aside.
Step 5: If using whole crushed spices, pour the cream through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl, then discard the spices. With a large balloon whisk and some elbow grease (or a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment), whip the mixture until it forms medium peaks when the whisk is lifted from the cream. Set aside ½ cup in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Step 6: Add half the bag of crushed meringue to the whipped coffee cream and gently fold to combine, taking care not to deflate the cream as you fold. Transfer the mixture to the lined loaf pan. Use a spoon to spread it into the edges and corners of the pan in an even layer. Sprinkle a light layer of the remaining crushed meringue over the top of the loaf and set the rest aside to decorate. Cover the top of the loaf with the plastic wrap overhang and place in a secure spot in the freezer overnight.
Step 7: While the cake is freezing, make the warm honey fudge sauce: Combine the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside. Add the honey to a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Toast the honey for 3 minutes until the bubbles slow and the honey is extremely fragrant and darkened, swirling the pan occasionally and watching closely to make sure the honey doesn’t burn. Add the heavy cream and sugar and bring to just below a boil, stirring regularly. Take care to catch the mixture before the boiling point to prevent overflow. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes to melt. Whisk thoroughly until glossy and smooth. Refrigerate for up to 10 days. Reheat in a microwave or small pot before serving.
Step 7: An hour before serving, decorate the cake. Unwrap and unmold the cake onto a serving platter. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Use a spoon or small offset spatula to spread the reserved half-cup of coffee whipped cream along the sides and top of the cake. Grab small handfuls of the crushed meringue and press it into the sides and ends of the cake to completely coat. Space the 3 intact meringues down the top of the cake and press gently to adhere. Fill in any gaps with crushed meringue. Lightly dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder and refrigerate before slicing and serving. I like mine still slightly frozen in the center, but if you prefer a softer texture, let the cake rest in the fridge for an additional hour.