World's Best Cake
First things first: for once, I'm not just spazzily doling out superlatives: the name of this cake is not of my doing. Also called Kvæfjordkake, this cake was popularized in the 1930s in Kvæfjord, a tiny town in northern Norway. It has been a national sensation ever since, and several years ago, this heavenly specimen was given the title of "verdens best" (world's best) by the country itself.
My friend Luisa informed me that this style of meringue-topped cake has German roots as well, baked in round pans with the name Himmelstorte, but I'm not here to start a war or anything. As far as Norway is concerned, however, it's a cake that comes with literal accolades, people. It's enough to make me want to move to Norway right now. Who can resist a magical land where people so highly regard cake? And birth so many supermodels? LET'S ALL GO.
There are so many things I love about this glorious dessert, which is quite possibly the perfect recipe to have in your back pocket this summer to blow minds and take names. In fact, there are so many reason to love this recipe that I need to bullet some out for you. Let's begin:
1. It's a symphony of textures. Crisp outer meringue layer, with marshmallowy meringue beneath. Crunch of toasty almonds. Toothsome, rich yellow cake layers that walk the line between sponge and pound. Clouds of whipped cream, unsweetened to balance the sweet meringue and cake. Gah.
2. Genius use of eggs. Five in total are used in this recipe (which I adapted from Everyone's Favorite Dessert Boyfriend, Paul Lowe of Sweet Paul). The yolks go into the batter for the cake layer, while the whites are whipped into the topping, which creates an almost self-frosting cake. No egg whites in the cake makes for a denser, richer result (not to mention spectacularly yellow in color), which makes it a fabulous contrast with the pillowy, snow-white meringue. This is the sort of move that is so brilliant, it makes me want to try it with other cake recipes, just to see what might transpire. I like to live on the edge, obviously.
3. The gentle flavors of eggs, dairy, almond, and vanilla in the meringue and cake make this whole concept endlessly riffable, which I adore. I opted to layer mine with fresh raspberries, but any berry will do, as would touches of banana, coconut, kiwi, peaches and other stone fruits, maybe even some spice and vanilla-poached pears...basically any fruit that would work with a pavlova, which, let's face it, is basically everything. So This cake is really a seasonal wonder. This one great recipe can make you look like a baking genius all year-round, is what I'm saying.
4.This is a cake is a liar. So impressive, yet so very simple. Something about any kind of layered dessert just screams COMPLICATED, but really all you're doing is making a sheet cake, breaking it in two, and stacking it. What's more, this cake is completely perfect in it's imperfection. The swoopier the meringue, the better. The more haphazardly it's stacked, the more oozing the cream, the more the fruit (if you choose to add it) peeks out and threatens to escape from the center, the more you'll want to put your face into it. It's a bit like a pavlova that way--except the piles of cream and crisp meringue sandwich a spongy sort of pound cake layer. HELLO.
World's Best Cake Adapted from Sweet Paul: Make and Eat
I've made this cake a couple of times, and have changed up the recipe a bit. My first attempt, I found the cake to be a little too flat and dense for my taste, and wondered if maybe it was because of the mixing method--the original recipe calls for the butter and sugar to be creamed, then the flour mixed in, then the egg yolks and milk. I tried a more traditional creaming method for the cake (butter and sugar creamed, then egg yolks, then alternated flour and milk, just until smooth to avoid overmixing), and got a noticeably lighter, spongier result, which I liked, so I'm including that method here.
In later tests, I also added salt and vanilla bean paste to the cake and whipped cream (I can't help myself, these are the pillars of my baking existence), and a good hit of lemon zest to the cake, which I think adds some nice dimension and was a great match with the raspberries I layered into the whole thing. Serves 10
For the cake:
1 1⁄3 cups (6 ounces/170 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 10 ½ tablespoons (5 1/4 ounces/150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature 2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces/132 grams) granulated sugar 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste 5 large egg yolks 1⁄3 cup (2 5/8 ounces/75 grams) whole milk, at room temperature
For the meringue and topping:
5 large eggs whites, at room temperature 1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt 1⁄4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup (8 1/2 ounces/240 grams) heavy cream, chilled 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste 6 ounces (170 grams) fresh organic raspberries, or other fresh fruit of your choosing
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, and line it with parchment paper.
Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, 2⁄3 cup of the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla bean paste on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and milk in five alternating additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Finish fold the batter by hand until well-blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.
In a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites and the remaining 1 cup sugar to stiff peaks. Spread on top of the cake layer. Sprinkle with the almond slices.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and puffed. Cool completely on a wire rack in the pan. Transfer to a cutting board.
To assemble the cake, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream with the vanilla bean paste to soft peaks.
Cut the cake in half crosswise with a serrated knife. Place one half of the cake on a serving tray and cover with the cream. Scatter the raspberries over the cream. Place the other cake half, meringue side up, on top.
Let the cake sit for 1 hour in the fridge before serving. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days.