Today I’m making my pumpkin carrot cake for a friend’s 70th birthday, and I decided to try something completely new. It worked beautifully, and I’m so excited I just had to tell someone!
Normally I make the cake batter first by creaming butter and sugar, adding the rest of the liquid ingredients, then the dry. Then I remove the batter from the mixer bowl, wash it thoroughly to remove all traces of fat (which interfere with beating egg whites), then I beat the whites to stiff peaks with just a few sprinkles of sugar. Then they get folded into the batter. This is the crux of the cake…the whites have to be perfectly beaten JUST to the point of stiff peaks, then quickly but carefully folded in before they lose all their air. If the whites sit for more than a minute or two, they start to “weep” water and separate. If you overbeat the whites, they will not provide the correct rise. If you underbeat them, the same thing happens. But knowing EXACTLY when the whites are at the perfect stage is difficult, especially for beginners.
Today I remembered how my friends in Perth, Australia make pavlova, a meringue dessert that is very popular over there. They never seemed to have the trouble we Americans have getting their meringue “just right” and they don’t even pay attention to it while it’s beating. They add ALL the sugar in the very beginning, rather than sprinkling it in a bit at a time while the whites beat, and their meringues turn out perfectly. And it seems like it’s impossible to over-beat them. (This is because sugar “stabilizes” the egg foam and makes it less prone to weeping and separating, and at the same time prevents so much air from beaten into them that they separate.)
So today I tried making my meringue first. I added 1 full cup of sugar (the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of sugar, so that remaining 1/2 cup got creamed into the butter later) along with the cream of tartar to 9 whites (which is what I currently use for my cake). Then I turned the mixer on full speed and forgot about them while I grated carrots and pureed pumpkin. A few minutes later when I returned to the mixer, I had strong, stable, opaque, shiny meringue at stiff peaks. (It would definitely have over-beaten had I not added the sugar all at once in the beginning.)
I scraped them out into a bowl. NOW would be the test…would they have wept or separated by the time I got the cake batter ready? Without even washing the bowl, I returned it to the mixer, added the butter and sugars, and proceeded with the recipe. 15 minutes later when it was time to fold in the meringue, it was still rock solid with NO weeping. It folded it much more easily, too. And the cakes rose higher. And they have a better texture.
Until I have the chance to re-make my instructional video, I will place this information as an optional step in my recipe. But this makes the cake SO much easier for first-timers that I can’t wait to permanently implement this into the recipe.
Merry Christmas everyone!