As I always end up doing, I made my own cake again this year - though Jeff did help this time... helped to taste test anyway! I've never been very traditional in picking out what to make, so I randomly picked out this Coffee Pecan Meringue Cake to try! What's funny is that I don't enjoy coffee much at all, however, I love desserts and treats that have that pungent brew in them - I don't get it either, but it works for me.
Rather than actual "cake", the layers are made from a flour-less sweet meringue that we spiked with finely chopped pecans. To ensure the layers were roughly the same size, we traced a 10" circle on to a couple pieces of parchment paper, flipped them over and used the outline as a guide to smear on the meringue. We found a dinner plate was just the right size for this - the edges of the meringue will probably be fairly ragged, but don't worry or try to get them perfect as they'll be trimmed off later on. After baking the meringues until they were golden, we set the two discs aside while I got working on a smashing filling.
Instead of a super-sweet buttercream made from loads of confectioners' sugar and butter, we prepared a Swiss Meringue that we infused with two types of coffee. This frosting is a little more work, but extremely worth the effort. We needed to heat egg whites and sugar over boiling water to start out - this first warms up the egg whites so they will whip to a greater volume, but this process also melts the sugar into those whites, making for a stable mixture. They are then whipped until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch on the outside. As soon as that happens, you swap out the whisk attachment and move to the paddle as you've incorporated plenty of air into the eggs at this point.
Butter is added slowly, a tablespoon at a time, until all of it has been tossed in. It may look a odd when the butter goes in - almost curdled and sloppy, but this is just how it works. As you continue mixing, the butter will emulsify into the airy whites and it will gradually transform in front of your eyes into a smooth frosting. To slip the coffee flavor in, we combined strong espresso powder into a few tablespoons of prepared coffee and added that into the frosting a tablespoon at a time. It will look messy again, but it absorbs quickly and you'll see just how shiny and spreadable the frosting becomes. Jeff did plenty of quality control checks at this point - he was surprised with just how light, yet rich, buttery and not tooth-achingly sweet this type of frosting is! The coffee is directly up front, but it was also not bitter or overwhelming.
Assembly of this cake doesn't get any easier - all we had to do was scoop the generous, silky buttercream on top of one crunchy meringue and top it off with the other! If you assemble the cake a day or so ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator, the meringue softens ever-so-slightly - this makes slicing this delicate treat easier, yet the meringue retains a satisfying bite. I was wondering if the flavor in the meringue would just disappear into its buttercream center, but those tiny pecan nuggets studded throughout gave the layers enough strength to hold their own. Different, I agree... but what a spectacular way to celebrate with a little decadence minus the guilt!
Coffee Pecan Meringue Cake