This is an Eton-mess type of layer cake – when you cut into it, you won’t get fine slices like a cake but it will crumble into a very tasty creamy, crunchy mess. When assembled and brought to the table, wait for the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ before people dig in. This method for making meringue is known as the ‘reverse method’ because you add the sugar first – give it a shot and see if you prefer making it this way!
You will need to make five meringue layers for this layer cake. I have a double oven with a small top bit and a bigger bottom bit which works well for this, but if you have one oven then you may need to cook the meringue layers in batches.
Line five baking sheets with baking parchment, then draw a 23cm circle on each piece of paper and flip it over so that the markings don’t make contact with the meringue. Again, if you don’t have five baking sheets of a suitable size, you may need to do this in batches.
Put the granulated sugar into a large bowl and then add three of the egg whites. Whisk this up until it is really stiff and shiny. You can use a hand-held electric whisk or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment if you fancy it.
Once the mixture is stiff and shiny, add another egg white, continuing to whisk the mixture until stiff. Add the rest of the egg whites like this, one at a time, making sure that the mixture is whisked up before the next addition, until you have added all of the egg whites and the mixture is super stiff and shiny. To check that it is ready, take some of the meringue on the end of the whisk, then turn the whisk meringue-covered end up – the meringue should be super stiff and not floppy.
There is a neat way and a messy way to do the next stage. For the messy way, spoon the meringue onto the marked circles, being sure to stay within the lines. For a neater version, half-fill the piping bag with the meringue – filling halfway ensures that the mixture does not squidge out of the top when you are piping. Starting on the outer edges of each circle, pipe the meringue into a spiral shape going round and round in ever-decreasing circles until you finish at the centre. Repeat with the other four circles.
Place the meringues into the oven and bake (in batches if need be) for about 1 hour, or until the meringues are crisp and cooked through. Then remove them from the oven and leave to cool completely.
Once the meringues are completely cool, make the cream filling. In a large bowl, whisk the cream, vanilla and enough of the icing sugar to taste until it is just beginning to hold. Place a small blob of the cream filling on a serving plate and then take one of the meringue layers and place it on top. This will help the cake to stick on the serving plate and not move around as you layer.
Reserving 400g of the prettiest strawberries for the top, finely slice the remaining strawberries.
Carefully spread 2 tablespoons of the cream filling on the bottom meringue with a spoon. Scatter a quarter of the chopped strawberries over the cream, then take another 2 tablespoons of the cream and spoon this over the top of the strawberries (so your next meringue layer will stick on top of it).
Repeat with three more of the layers: spreading 2 tablespoons of the cream on each layer, then a quarter of the chopped strawberries, followed by 2 more tablespoons of the cream filling. Carefully place each layer on top of the layers beneath. For the top layer, pop the final meringue circle on the top of the stack and spread with the remaining cream. Arrange the whole strawberries all over the top, then sprinkle over the icing sugar and mint leaves, if using. Serve.
© Lorraine Pascale, 2017. Images: © Myles New, 2017.