What I had for dinner:
Well, it wasn't just my dinner: a recently graduated student is leaving tomorrow, so there was a little party in her bare-to-the-walls studio. I made a variation on my Scrumptious Cake, even though summer is not the right time for it.
It is essentially a variation on the Torta Cavour: meringue layers with various fillings.
The meringue follows the classic recipe: For 3 circles use 8 egg whites (frozen is OK; egg whites keep forever in the freezer), a pinch of cream of tartar, and 2 cups of superfine sugar. The egg whites are whipped with the tartar until firm, then the sugar is added and whipped further until a stiff mixture is obtained. At this point, one may add 2-4 oz of finely grated cooking chocolate (use a well chilled rotary hand grater and frozen unsweetened chocolate. Keep in the fridge until ready to use).
The meringue is formed into three 8 1/2 inch circles with a pastry bag, going in concentric circles or a spiral from the outside in, and baked (or more precisely dried) at less than 180 F for several hours (or overnight) in an oven kept ajar with a cork stuck in the opening. This is the tricky bit: when the air is humid, it is difficult to dry the meringue properly.
One of the fillings is chestnut cream, which can be bought in cans, or just as easily made at home: 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water make a syrup that is cooked a few minutes, and is then blended into 1 can of chestnut purée (1 lb), preferably mechanically in a food processor. This is then cooked a few minutes, and a tbsp of vanilla extract is added at the very end. Chestnut cream (aka chestnut spread) is essentially a preserve that can be used just like any other.
The other filling was raspberry. (It could have been whipped cream, or many other things.) I used 2 bags of frozen raspberries (much cheaper than fresh ones) that I thawed and crushed by hand in the bags. The seeds were strained out, and 1 cup of superfine sugar and 1/2 envelop of freezing powder was blended in at about 100 F. The freezing powder is a kind of pectin that does not require boiling, but sets at near-freezing temperature, so that one can gelify fresh berry juice without cooking, which would be deleterious to the taste. I use a brand made in Sweden, where fresh berries are of course much more common than in New York, but I think that a similar product does exist in the US.
The icing was a chocolate ganache. For 1/2 lb of bittersweet chocolate, melted at room temperature (overnight on top of the fridge is ideal for that), one needs one stick of sweet butter (similarly at room temperature), 3 egg yolks, and 3 tbsp of rum. These are blended in, in that order, and left to cool slightly, for instance in front of an air conditioner.
To assemble the cake, place the first meringue circle on a platter, and layer it with the chestnut. Place the second circle on top, and cover it with the raspberry mixture, which should be preserve-thick. Finish with the third circle, and cover sides and top with the chocolate mixture. Press toasted almond or hazelnut pieces to the sides and top, and refrigerate before serving.
Accompany with a classy Belgian Trappist ales such as Corsendonk pale ale or Chimay Cinq Cents, or one of those concentrated white German wines from very late harvests (spätausläse?).
There are many possible variations on this theme, but frankly it is an absolute pain to try them in the summer, because the meringue sucks up humidity from the air as fast as one can dry it. It is definitely best in dry weather.