One thing I like about Valentine's Day being on a weeknight is that it seems to spread the celebration (i.e. the fancy cooking and chocolate eating) out over the weekend before or afterward. On Valentine's Day itself we might (okay, definitely will) order pizza and take it easy, but this past weekend we got a chance to celebrate a little more. My husband's aunt and uncle's family invited us over for their yearly homemade-heart-shaped-pizza-and-sugar-cookie-decorating-party. I smiled when my husband's aunt confided that it's one tradition she's tried to stop many times because it is so much work, but the kids won't let her. I think my mom has the exact same problem with some of the traditions she's started, too. Mental note: when starting family traditions with the new baby, make sure they are easy. Anyone have some great, easy V-day family traditions they love?
In keeping with the spirit of easiness is this chocolate meringue cake. It's layers of chocolate meringue covered in layer after layer of soft whipped cream, and it's just as good as it sounds. It's made ahead of time and the hands-on part of making the dessert is minimal. The finished cake looks impressive, and you don't have to frost it. Bonus.
If you've never made meringue or a pavlova before, this would be a great place to start. It's really as simple as whipping egg whites with sugar and baking it until it is a beautiful, light, crisp cloud of sugar and air. You don't even have to stress about the meringue cracking or collapsing since the whipped cream will cover any imperfections. In fact, one of my meringues came out so perfect the last time I made this I was a little disappointed that no one would be able to see it. Yes, sometimes I'm vain about my food.
After layering the meringues with whipped cream and refrigerating overnight, the layers solidify slightly to make a cohesive cake. The meringue still stays mostly crispy, which I really like in contrast to the soft whipped cream layers. I'm sharing the recipe for a chocolate meringue today, but you could easily adjust this cake to suit yours tastes. You could add some extract to the whipped cream (mint or raspberry would be delicious) if you wanted, or you could add a layer of sliced strawberries between each layer. Another bonus is that because there is no flour in the recipe, you could make this for a loved one with gluten free dietary restrictions.
Hope you all have a fun, stress-free, chocolate-filled Valentine's Day!
Chocolate Meringue Cake
6large egg whites (about 1 cup)
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoonsunsweetened cocoa powder
2 tspvanilla extract
1/2 tspalmond extract
1 cupmini chocolate chips
6 ozbittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
3 cupsheavy cream
1/4 cuppowdered sugar
Chocolate shavings for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Draw two 8-inch rounds on one sheet of the parchment and one 8-inch round on the other.
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 shiny. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts and cocoa powder. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the melted chocolate down the side of the bowl and gently fold until the meringue is lightly marbled.
Spread the meringue in the drawn circles. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees and bake for 1 hours and 20 minutes, until crisp; rotatating the pans halfway through baking. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar to let the meringues cool completely.
In the bowl of the standing mixer, beat the cream with the powdered sugar until firm. Remove the meringues from the parchment paper. Spread the whipped cream on the layers and stack them. Refrigerate or freeze the cake overnight. Cut into wedges (this is done easiest with a serrated knife when the cake is frozen or very cold) and serve cold, but not frozen. Garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.