Our final birthday person for the year at work is Susie, whose birthday falls on 30 December. As with Matt, I did not think it was fair to allow her birthday to pass unnoticed simply because she had the good sense to be born during the holiday season. Of my previous creations, Susie loved my marshmallow Easter bunny (so much that she originally asked for her birthday cake to be a marshmallow Santa!) and the strawberry/sponge/meringue concoction that I previously whipped up for Dawn. However, I wanted to do something different for Susie that reflected her preferences, but which was unique.
I originally envisioned a cake filled with a block of marshmallow, but I couldn't find a recipe for this, and conceptually was too much for me to invent at this time of year. Accordingly, I went back to the strawberries and meringue, and decided to make a gorgeous-looking strawberry vacherin from Delicious - 5 of the Best by Valli Little (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 2006). I had been eyeing up this recipe since I bought the book last Christmas. Although it sounded relatively easy to make in theory, this cake was tricky in practice, primarily because it involves making and assembling three very thin and fragile meringue and almond discs. In addition, the recipe did not give any handy tips and tricks that would have prepared me for potential baking dilemmas.
Despite some close calls, I managed to assemble this cake successfully. If you would like to try it, the recipe (in my own words with hints) is as follows:
175g almond meal (or grind up your own roasted almonds)
5 egg whites
110g melted butter
70g plain flour
300ml whipping cream
150g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
250g fresh strawberries
1 x 100g Toblerone
I recommend starting this recipe a day ahead so that the meringue discs have time to cool and harden.
Preheat your oven to 120 degrees Celsius. Draw 20cm circles on 3 squares of baking paper, and place circle side down on three small baking trays. Spray each square liberally with cooking spray.
In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and half of the sugar together until they are stiff. (I thought that it was wrong to add the sugar until the egg whites were stiffened, but weirdly, this works.) Beat through the remaining sugar, then remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold through the almond meal with a spatula. Finally, add the butter and sifted flour to the mixture and stir through gently (so as not to knock the air out) to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between the circles on each of the three baking trays, and spread out the mixture to an approximate thickness of 1 cm within each circle, so that when they are baked, you will end up with three discs of approximately even size and thickness. This is not as easy as it sounds, because the mixture is quite thick and has a tendency to stick to the spatula.
Bake all three discs in the preheated oven for roughly 50 minutes (mine took about an hour, and I cranked up the temperature to 150 degrees Celsius for the last 5 minutes) until the discs are firm to the touch and off white in colour. Remove the discs from the oven and leave on the trays to cool. (The original recipe says to peel the baking paper off as soon as you remove the discs from the oven, but I found that at this stage, the discs tended to stick to the baking paper and to crack.)
The next day, whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla until the mixture reaches a thick, spreadable consistency. Break the Toblerone into pieces and melt over a bain marie.
Take the sturdiest meringue disc and put on a serving plate. Spread the disc with half of the melted chocolate and one third of the whipped cream, going right to the edges of the disc with each. Place a second meringue disc (use the weakest or ugliest disc, as it is fully supported and will be in the middle of the cake so no-one will see it!) on top of the cream, and then spread it with the remaining melted chocolate and a further third of the cream. Finally, place the last disc on top of the stack and spread with the remainder of the cream.
To serve, slice the strawberries lengthways into halves/thirds/quarters (whatever takes your fancy) and place upright like soldiers on the top of the cake. Finally, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar - voila! (I forgot the icing sugar, but this cake is so sweet that you really don't need it.)
Although the photo of the slice of cake is not artistically great, it shows the various layers of the cake quite clearly.
This cake was very sweet, but was delicious. I prefer the taste of the cream whipped with icing sugar to cream whipped without it, and the delicate almond meringue and berries were a sensational foil for the cream. This cake is the first one that I have made for a while that was universally enjoyed by the team. For a special occasion, this cake would make a pretty centrepiece treat.