A Blonde Bombshell of a Cake: Rathaustorte (Town Hall Cake)

Our most recent cousins' brunch took place a few days after my cousin Cindy's birthday, so besides bringing maple bacon cinnamon rolls, I wanted to bring a birthday cake. Cindy loves nuts (last year I made a Pistachio Petit-Four Cake for her birthday, and the year before that it was an Aunt Sassy Cake), so I decided to try Nick Maglieri's Rathaustorte (Town Hall Cake). It includes layers of Japonais (almond meringue) and almond sponge cake filled with hazelnut buttercream.

The sponge cake includes only five ingredients. You whisk egg yolks with sugar until light and thick; fold the yolks into egg whites that have been beaten with salt and sugar to firm peaks; and then fold in cake flour and ground almonds. You pour the batter into a parchment-lined 9-inch cake pan and bake.

For the Japonais, you whip egg whites with sugar until they reach firm peaks and then fold in a mixture of ground almonds and powdered sugar. You spread the meringue into two 9.5-inch discs on parchment paper and bake.

To make the butercream, you whisk yolks and sugar over a double boiler until the mixture thickens (the recipe also calls for rum, which I left out); remove the mixture from the heat and beat until cooled; gradually beat in butter; and then beat in hazelnuts that have been processed with a little water until smooth (you can also use praline paste).
Before assembling the cake, you trim the meringues to the same size as the sponge cake and split the sponge cake into two layers. Then you put one of the meringues on a cake circle or serving platter; spread on some buttercream; stack on one of the sponge layers and brush it with sugar syrup (you're supposed to add rum to the soaking syrup, but I left it out here as well); spread on more buttercream; add the other sponge cake layer and brush it with syrup; and then follow with more buttercream and the second meringue layer. Then you frost the entire cake with the remaining buttercream and press chopped toasted hazelnuts around the outside.

You're supposed to cover the top of the cake with a chocolate glaze made from heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate, but I skipped it. Not only was I in a bit of a rush to bake and assemble this cake before brunch, but I didn't want the chocolate to overwhelm the flavor of the almonds and hazelnuts. As a result of skipping the chocolate, my cake was monochromatic. In the cookbook photo, the buttercream is a rich caramel color like dulce de leche that stands out from the cake and meringue, clearly delineating the four layers of the cake. My buttercream was blond and very close in color to the meringue and sponge cake -- so you can barely make out the different layers in the photo above.

This cake was quite special and absolutely worth the effort. I have never made a dacquoise or any type of cake with a meringue layer before (I'm not going to count this cake, since the meringue isn't baked as a separate dry layer), and my favorite part of the dessert was the crunchy texture from the meringue layers. Plus, the buttercream was wonderful -- it had a tiny bit of texture from the small bits of ground hazelnut, and the hazelnut flavor was so good. The sponge cake was moist and all of the different components and textures of the dessert combined to make a spectacular whole.

I didn't miss the chocolate at all, and most importantly, Cindy loved the cake as well. I am definitely going to make a point of trying out some other meringue cakes -- there's a whole chapter of them in Perfect Cakes. I've really been missing out!

Recipe: "Rathaustorte (Town Hall Cake)" from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.