In the fall of 1986, I was teaching my first career-training intensive baking course at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking school when I learned that Peter’s birthday was a few days away. I asked Gaynor Grant, our registrar, what kind of a cake I should make for Peter, and she told me that he absolutely adored the raspberry meringue cake from Maurice Bonté’s bakery, then the best pastry shop in Manhattan. So I took a walk over after class and with the pretext of buying a few pounds of cake yeast, which they were always happy to sell to us, I asked Mme. Bonté about the unusual triangular cake covered with chunks of broken meringue so that the bright pink buttercream beneath showed through, the two narrow corners festooned with thin multi-colored curling ribbons. Yes, it was all meringue layers, and yes, it was raspberry buttercream, were her answers. Leaving with the three pounds of yeast (she charged only a dollar a pound!), I returned to the school to start preparations, happy that the recipe had cost me so little. I was very flattered when Peter refused to believe we hadn’t bought the cake from Bonté.
Makes one 9 x 9 x 13-inch triangular cake, about 16 to 20 servings
Two 9-inch square meringue layers, plus the rest of the meringue piped into a rectangle on another pan, baked and cooled (see below)
1 batch raspberry meringue buttercream (see below)
Trim each of the meringue layers to an even 9-inch square, then carefully cut through each diagonally with a sawing motion to make 4 triangles—only 3 will be used to assemble the cake.
Use a chef’s knife to chop the least even of the 4 triangles and the extra rectangle into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces.
Cut a cardboard that will fit under one of the layers and use a dab of the buttercream to secure a layer in place, flat (bottom) side down. Spread the layer with a third of the buttercream.
Place the second triangle on the buttercream, flat side down, and spread with another third of the buttercream.
Place the last layer on top, again flat side down, and gently press into place. Spread the entire outside of the triangle with the remaining buttercream.
Press the broken meringue chunks against the buttercream all over the top and sides of the triangle.
SERVING: Cut slices from either narrow end of the cake inward. Once the slices are very long, cut the remaining cake in half in the length to make more manageable slices.
STORAGE: Keep the cake refrigerated, but bring it to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before serving. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers and bring to room temperature again before serving.
Baked Meringue Layers
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar or strained lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided use
Three cookie sheets or jellyroll pans lined with parchment and one 20-inch pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tube (Ateco #806)
Half fill a saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Decrease the heat so that the water boils gently.
Combine the egg whites, salt, vinegar, vanilla, and 2/3 cup (half of) the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk by hand just to mix.
Set the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly but slowly to keep the mixture in motion, but not to incorporate air, until the egg whites are hot, about 140˚F, and the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Place the bowl on a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until cooled and increased in volume.
Once you can touch the bowl and feel that it has completely cooled, decrease the speed to medium and add the remaining sugar about 2 tablespoons at a time, continuing to whip until all the sugar has been added.
Use a dark pencil to trace two 9-inch squares onto pieces of parchment, then invert the paper. The size and shape of the rectangle you’ll make with the remaining meringue is not as important.
Fold back one third of the pastry bag and stand it in a jar or large measuring cup to fill. Spoon in one third to one half the meringue, unfold the bag and twist the top of the bag closed behind the meringue.
Hold the bag at a 45-degree angle to the pan with the tube touching the surface of the paper. Start at the far side of your pattern and, while squeezing, pull the bag toward the side closer to you. Repeat, making a series of lines with the meringue that are almost touching (they’ll puff a little and join while baking). Squeeze out a few blobs of meringue the same height as your layers, which you’ll be able to press to determine the degree of doneness later on.
Repeat to create the second 9-inch square and then the rectangle.
Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 200˚F. Bake meringue until it is almost completely dry, which can take up to 2 hours, watching carefully that the meringue takes on no or as little color as possible. After 1 1/2 hours, press one of the extra pieces of meringue. There should only be 1/2 inch in the center that is still soft.
Cool the meringues on the pans on racks.
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 cup thick, cooled raspberry purée
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur or eau de vie, optional
Half fill a saucepan over which your mixer bowl will fit without having more than a couple of inches in the pan. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat and decrease the heat so that the water boils gently.
Whisk the egg whites, salt, and sugar together by hand in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place over the boiling water and whisk constantly but not furiously until the egg whites are hot (about 140˚F) and the sugar is dissolved, 3 to 4 minutes. Test a little by withdrawing the whisk and letting a little of the mixture flow onto a fingertip; it should be a smooth liquid with no sugar grit.
Place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until the meringue is very risen in volume and beginning to cool. The outside of the bowl should feel just slightly warm.
Switch to the paddle attachment and beat on lowest speed until the meringue is completely cooled and the bowl no longer feels at all warm. This is critical – if you add the butter when the meringue is still warm it will melt and ruin the buttercream.
Add the butter in 6 or 8 additions immediately following each other, still mixing on lowest speed. Scrape the bowl and beater and increase the speed to medium; beat the buttercream until it is smooth, thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Don’t be concerned if the buttercream appears separated a little while after adding the butter; it’s normal.
Once the buttercream is perfectly smooth, add the raspberry purée and liqueur, if using, a little at a time, beating smooth again after each addition.