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Some kind of cake alchemy

THE WASHINGTON POST – I first stumbled upon an old-fashioned blitz torte, a German layer cake traditionally filled with custard and topped with meringue, when researching recipes for my second cookbook, The Vintage Baker.

It’s the kind of cake alchemy of my dreams: A glossy, sweet meringue spread over cake batter and baked together until the meringue is bronzed and crisp while the cake reaches optimum moistness and fluffiness. Then it’s finished with a creamy, cool layer of custard, pastry or whipped cream sandwiched between the layers, taking this cake to the realm of otherworldly.

It’s no surprise that the cake is known as Verdens beste, or the “world’s best”.

The blitz torte is not difficult to assemble, and I’ve made it even easier. This version is assembled in a bowl with a whisk (no heavy equipment needed), and the filling is a simple whipped cream – no need to cook a custard or assemble a pastry cream. Plus, I have a few tips, tricks and substitutions for making this your best-ever cake, too.

Why coconut oil? Traditionally, a blitz torte’s batter is assembled in a stand mixer with softened butter. To streamline the process, this version calls for melted coconut oil. A liquid fat such as this one makes prep a breeze, as all you need is a bowl and a whisk to incorporate a liquid fat into your other ingredients. Unrefined coconut oil has a stronger coconut flavour than refined and is recommended here.

ABOVE & BELOW: This coconut meringue cake may live up to its “world’s best” nickname; and adding a meringue layer to the cake is not as fussy as it might seem. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

How do I melt coconut oil? Coconut oil is a solid fat at room temperature and is usually packaged in a glass container. To melt the oil, place the uncovered glass container in the microwave and cook on high power in 30-second bursts, stirring after each. Alternatively, you can place the uncovered jar in a small pot with about an inch of water and simmer the water over low heat until the oil melts. (The remaining coconut oil will resolidify as it returns to room temperature).

What can substitute for coconut oil? If you don’t have coconut oil in the pantry and don’t want to buy it, you can make this cake with vegetable oil or melted butter.

Double down on coconut: A blitz torte traditionally calls for whole milk, but full-fat coconut milk works beautifully in this coconut version. Be sure to stir the coconut milk solids into the liquid before measuring and adding to the batter.

What can substitute for coconut milk? If you don’t have coconut milk in the pantry and don’t want to buy it, you can substitute whole milk, perhaps with three-quarter teaspoon or so of coconut extract.

More coconut! Shredded and flaked: Two kinds of dried coconut make an appearance in this torte, each playing a different role. Sweetened shredded adds moisture, texture and coconut flavour to the layers, whereas the toasted and flaked, sprinkled atop the cake, contributes to the cake’s good looks and hides any meringue imperfections. If you don’t want to buy two different kinds of coconut, use shredded in the layers, then toast some and sprinkle it over the top of the cake as well.

A surprisingly unfussy addition to this cake, the meringue layers pack both a textural and visual punch. Whisking the whites just until they reach soft peaks will guarantee a meringue with enough volume to create a chewy, yet soft texture once baked.

What are soft peaks? A soft peak is reached when the meringue gently flops over at its tippity-top, creating a little downward, pointed curve. You can check this by stopping the mixer, detaching the whisk attachment or beater and turning it upside down: If the meringue droops down just at the top, you’re good to go.

Pastry cream or custard is traditional in a blitz torte, but whipped cream is a simpler, lighter alternative, making it a wonderful contrast to the rich, yolk-filled cake and sweet meringue.

The coconut extract in the cream further pops the cake’s coconut flavour, but vanilla extract would also work, as would almond extract (which can be surprisingly neutral in flavour when added in small amounts, providing more of a nostalgic flavour than anything truly nutty). If using almond, reduce the extract to half teaspoon.

How to test for doneness: When testing the cake for doneness, you’ll need to poke a tester (preferably a long wooden skewer, as its rough edges will easily grab batter and/or crumbs) into the cake somewhat aggressively. Because you need to poke through the meringue layer to get to the cake, don’t be afraid to twist the tester a bit in the cake, to make sure you get an accurate sense of whether it is fully baked (a moist crumb or two on the tester indicates it’s ready).

How to remove the cake from the pan: Wait 20 minutes before removing the cake layers from their pans. If you try to remove them too soon, the meringue topping will stick when you invert them (been there, done that). If the meringue sticks despite your best efforts – perhaps because of humidity – attempt to remove the layers from the pan with two large spatulas. And if you do end up with any imperfections on the surface of the cake, they’re easy enough to hide. Just toast a little coconut – either flaked or shredded – and sprinkle it over the top layer of the cake. In addition to hiding any minor flaws, it adds a little toasty colour that works beautifully with the oven-baked meringue, adding nice texture.

Despite the meringue bells and whipped cream whistles of a blitz torte, it’s a surprisingly easy cake to assemble and one that’s as much fun to make as it is to eat.

Coconut Meringue Layer Cake

INGREDIENTS

For the cake

– Non-stick cooking spray

– 131 grammes coconut oil, melted

– 200 grammes granulated sugar

– Two teaspoons vanilla extract

– Four large egg yolks, at room temperature

– 161 grammes unsweetened full-fat coconut milk, at room temperature

– One-and-a-half teaspoons baking powder

– Three-quarter teaspoon fine salt

– 187 grammes all-purpose flour

– 57 grammes shredded sweetened coconut (optional)

For the meringue

– Four large egg whites, at room temperature

– Quarter teaspoon cream of tartar

– One-eighth teaspoon fine salt

– 150 grammes granulated sugar

For the whipped cream

– 284 grammes heavy cream

– Three tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

– One teaspoon coconut extract (optional)

– 170 grammes mixed berries, for serving (optional)

– Toasted flaked coconut, for sprinkling (optional)

STEPS

MAKE THE CAKE BATTER

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and remove the racks above it; preheat to 175 degrees Celsius. Generously grease the sides and bottoms of two eight-inch cake pans with the cooking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar and vanilla until combined. Whisk in the egg yolks until the mixture looks thick, yellow and well-combined. Whisk in the coconut milk.

Sprinkle the baking powder and salt over the bowl one at a time, whisking vigorously after each. Fold in the flour and shredded coconut, if using, just until the last streaks of flour disappear. Evenly divide the batter between the two pans – each pan should get about 360 grammes of batter. Using a small offset spatula or a butter knife, smooth out the tops.

MAKE THE MERINGUE

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a large bowl and a handheld mixer, beat together on medium speed the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until frothy. Slowly pour in the sugar, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until soft, thick, glossy peaks form (the peaks should bend a little at the top), five to eight minutes. Divide the meringue between the two cake pans and, using a small offset spatula or butter knife, smooth it out over the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the meringue has risen considerably (it will deflate, don’t worry) and is lightly browned, and a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Testing the cake underneath the meringue is a little tricky, but you can be aggressive in searching for a few moist crumbs with at least one of the cakes, as it will be topped with the other.

As soon as the cakes are pulled from the oven, run a butter knife or a small offset spatula around the edges of the pans to release the meringue before it hardens and sticks.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes, before inverting them and then turning them right side up and letting them cool completely.

If it’s humid, the meringue may stick a bit when you flip the cakes upside down – just sprinkle whichever layer becomes the top of the cake with toasted flaked coconut, and no one will be the wiser.

Make the whipped cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a large bowl and a handheld mixer, beat the cream, confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract on medium-high speed until medium peaks form, about five minutes.

Spread the whipped cream over the meringue on the less-attractive layer (we know you love them both, but just pick one), sprinkle with the berries, if using, and top with the second layer. The meringue should be on top.

Press down very lightly on the top of the cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut to cover any meringue imperfections. Slice with a large serrated knife, wiping the blade between slices, and serve.

Spread the whipped cream over the meringue on the less-attractive layer (we know you love them both, but just pick one), sprinkle with the berries, if using, and top with the second layer. The meringue should be on top.

Press down very lightly on the top of the cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut to cover any meringue imperfections. Slice with a large serrated knife, wiping the blade between slices, and serve. – Jessie Sheehan

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