These adorable small cakes are inspired by the famous merveilleux, or “marvelous” cakes, that Fred Vaucamps bakes in his shops across Paris. Their name makes them sound as though they came out of a fairy tale and, delightfully, they look and taste that way too. They’re created with rounds of meringue, sandwiched with whipped cream, covered with more whipped cream and rolled in something pretty and crunchy, like chocolate shavings, caramelized nuts or crumbled meringue. The cream is luxurious, the meringue just a little soft and chewy and the rocky little bits on the outside of the confections are light, sometimes a little crisp and always flavorful.
I’m giving you options here, including the opportunity to add another flavor to the little cakes by spreading the bottom round of meringue with cookie spread, peanut butter, melted chocolate or jam. You can also put a little spice in the whipped cream. My favorite combination is a swish of cookie spread, cinnamon whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
- PLAN AHEAD: To get the volume that you need, the egg whites must be at room temperature, so leave them out, covered, for at least 1 hour before setting to work. Also, plan on dedicating your oven to the meringues for at least 4 hours.
- Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 250 degrees F. Using a pencil, draw ten 3-inch circles on each of two sheets of parchment paper; leaving about 2 inches between the circles. Turn the sheets over and use them to line two baking sheets.
- Strain the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and the confectioners’ sugar through a fine-mesh sieve; set aside.
- Working in the (clean, dry, grease-free) bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the whites and vinegar on medium-high speed until they form soft peaks, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running, add the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting a few seconds after each addition. It will take about 5 minutes, maybe even longer, to get all the sugar into the whites, but it’s this slow process that makes pristine meringue. Once all the sugar is in, beat for 2 minutes or so, until you have stiff, glossy, beautifully white peaks. If you want to add the vanilla, beat it in now. Switch to a flexible spatula and fold in the reserved sugar mix.
- You can spoon the meringues out or shape them with a small icing spatula, but it’s faster and easier to pipe them. Use a pastry bag without a tip, or cut a 1⁄2-to-3⁄4-inch-wide opening in the tip of a disposable piping bag or a bottom corner of a large ziplock bag. Fill the bag with the meringue and dab a little of it on the four corners of each baking sheet to secure the parchment. Using the circles as your guide, aim to pipe disks that are between 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 inch high, but don’t get nutty about it—the diameter is more important than the height.
- Bake the meringues for about 50 minutes. You don’t want the meringues to take on (much) color; they’re properly baked when they peel off the paper easily. Turn off the oven and open the oven door a crack to let out whatever steam may have developed, then close the door and leave the meringues in the turned-off oven for another hour. (You can make the meringues at least a week ahead; just keep them covered and dry.)
- Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream just until it begins to thicken a bit. Gradually add the sugar and then the cinnamon, if you’re using it, and beat until the cream is thick enough to use as a frosting. If you’re using vanilla, whip it in now. (The cream can be covered and refrigerated for up to an hour or so.)
- If you want to add a spread, coat the top side of half of the meringues with whatever you’ve chosen. Top with whipped cream—you can use a spoon or a cookie scoop to portion out the cream—see what you like, but 2 tablespoons of cream should do it for each cake— then cap each cake with another disk of meringue, flat side up. Using a small icing spatula, frost the tops and sides of the cakes with the remaining whipped cream. The layer doesn’t have to be very thick, just generous enough to capture the crunchies you’ll cover it with. Pop the cakes into the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for about 1 hour before coating them. (The cakes can stay in the refrigerator for about 5 hours; cover them lightly and keep them away from anything with a strong odor.)
- Put whatever you’ve chosen as your coating in a shallow bowl or a small tray. One by one, roll the cakes in the coating, getting some of the crunchies around the sides and on the tops. If it’s easier for you, use a spoon—I roll them and use a spoon to help me get a good coating. Refill the bowl as needed. Refrigerate the cakes for an hour, or until you need them. (The cakes can also be frozen for up to 2 months; see Storing.)
- The cakes should be eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator, and preferably on the day that they’re made. However, you can freeze them: Freeze on a tray until solid, then wrap each one well and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can put them in the refrigerator for an hour to defrost, but I think they’re wonderfully delicious—like mini ice cream cakes—still frozen.
Excerpted from Baking with Dorie © 2021 by Dorie Greenspan, Photography by Mark Weinberg. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.