Meringue d’Automne: A Pierre Hermé Recipe Made (kind of) Easy

I’m one of those who believe you need to be both obssesive-compulsive and bored to tackle a Pierre Hermé recipe. It’s the precision and attention to details that would drive many people crazy, it’s the whole aesthetic thing . I also believe that if you can pull it off – not only you’ll come to realize the true meaning of the word sublime – but you’ll be one step closer from having hordes of Japanese groupies waiting at your front door, just like Monsieur Hermé does. THAT’s what i call real success, damned!

In essence, the concept for this ‘Meringue d’automne’ is very simple. A few disks of a meringue masked with chocolate mousse and covered with a dark chocolate glaze which – to quote one of my dear friend – should be as shiny as John Travolta’s hair in Saturday Night fever. That’s when you tell yourself with confidence: I can do this too! (the cake, not the hair)… Mass-hysteria, here i cooome!

Not so fast!

That’s when the evil genius starts throwing curveballs at ya’.. chocolate at 104’F.. fold half the sugar in the meringue by hand to help caramelization… and yes, a few of you will denounce this techniques as ‘zee bullshit’ or ‘snobby’ as i did once or twice… [cough].. before failing miserably. When Pierre Hermé tell you to do something, you do it. Why would you want to change a recipe that’s already perfect anyway?

This cake is a real crowd pleaser, each elements are at their best, and eaten together… Ah!.. well, i let you imagine what a meringue that’s crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside can do for you… especially when it’s sandwiched with a rich Valrhona chocolate mousse and covered with the shiniest chocolate goo, ever.

Autumn Meringue Cake
(adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme)
(serves 8)

For the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the mousse:

  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 6 1/2 oz Valrhona Noir Gastronomie and 2 1/2 oz Valrhona Guanaja), finely chopped
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate sauce (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For the chocolate sauce:

  • 4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Guanaja), finely chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche, or heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Guanaja), very finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, softened
  • 7 tablespoons chocolate sauce, warm or room temperature

For the meringue disks:

  • Preheat the oven to 250’F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Pencil the outline of a three 9-inch disks on the parchment papers. Fit a pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip.
  • In a dry, clean mixer bowl with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on high speed until they turn opaque and form soft peaks. Still whipping on high, gradually add half of the sugar and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold firm peaks. Beat in the vanilla.
  • Working with a large rubber spatula, gradually fold in the remaining sugar. Work as quickly and delicately as you can to incorporate the sugar without deflating the whites.
  • Fill the pastry bag with the meringue and begin piping the batter at the center of a circle. Work your way in a spiral and pipe with light, consistent pressure and try to keep the disks thin – they shouldn’t be more than 1/3 inch high. Pipe the remaining disks.
  • Place the baking sheets in the oven and insert a wooden spoon into the oven to keep the door slightly ajar. Bake the disks for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until firm and very lightly caramel color, rotating the pans as necessary. Turn off the oven and continue to dry the meringues for another 8 hours (or overnight) with the door closed.

For the chocolate sauce:

  • Place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens very slightly and coats the back of a spoon. This can take about 10 to 15 minutes and shouldn’t be rushed.

For the chocolate mousse:

  • Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over, but not touching, simmering water. Set the chocolate aside to cool to 104’F, as measured on an instant-read thermometer.
  • Put the butter in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until it is light and fluffy. Lower the speed and add the chocolate in three additions, increasing the speed and beating well after each addition. You want to beat as much air as possible into this butter-chocolate mixture. Whisk the yolks together with the chocolate sauce and add this mixture to the bowl, beating it in well.
  • In a clean dry bowl, start whipping the egg whites, then add the sugar and whip until the whites hold soft peaks. Working with a large flexible spatula, fold a quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then, working with a light hand, fold in the rest of the whites. The mousse is now ready to use.

For the chocolate glaze:

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and, little by little, add the chocolate, stirring the mixture gently with a spatula. Start at the center of the pan and stir gently in a circular fashion, gradually increasing the size of the circle. Measure the temperature of the mixture and warm it over simmering water until it reach 140’F.
  • Stirring gently, blend in the butter and the chocolate sauce. To get the best coverage, the glaze should be about 114’F. Warm over simmering water until it reaches that temperature before glazing the cake.

To assemble:

  • Place one meringue disk, flat side down, on a cardboard circle. Spread 2/5 of the mousse evenly over the disk. Cover with the second disk, then another 2/5 of the mousse. Spread the rest of the mousse over the top and the sides of the cake, striving for an even coating but not fussing too much – it will be covered by the glaze.

To finish:

  • Place the cake on a cooling rack and put a sheet of wax paper underneath to catch the drips. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Using a flexible metal, smooth the glaze. You can serve the cake now or allow the glaze to set in the refrigerator. Best enjoyed at room temperature.

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  • Astrid

    Lovely post, thanks for all the process photos! I love this recipe, it’s the one I pull out every time I baptize a daughter (I have 3). It is indeed a little fussy (have to make a chocolate sauce to add to the chocolate glaze, ugh), and what upsets me is that in the Larousse du Chocolate it’s classified in the “gateaux tout simples” section! I have trouble making a lovely shiny glaze such as yours, so I often decorate it with chocolate ruffles to turn it into a “feuille d’automnne”.

  • Manggy

    Omigosh, Zenman, are we on the same wavelength? Well, not quite… I’ve only been *eyeing* this recipe on the book for a while now but not making it! You did a great job of it, the only thing missing now is the backlit backdrop like in the book!
    Hmm, no fireplaces in these parts. Never had an au naturel meal before but if you say it’s a nice feeling…

  • Peter M the new moniker for you…ZEEMAN!

    I bet the chocolat’s texture (smooth, glossy) had everything thing to do with the 104 deg. temperature.

    I’m sure you feel a sense of triumph and perhaps, even a little like a snotty Parisian! LOL

  • Uncle Dee

    you the man, man.

  • We Are Never Full

    you really would think i didn’t know how to cook when i read amazing dessert posts like this one. this just intimidates me, but that doesn’t mean i would try and eat it all up! i know you’re saying it’s easy but not to me. maybe i should just give it a try and stop whining!

  • Darius T. Williams

    Looks good – but you already know this is waaaay to complicated for a little bitty ol’ home cook like me – lol. Looks good though!


  • doggybloggy

    I was worried this was not going to be rated PG it seems so lusty and decadent…

  • Giff

    this is the best kind of insanity :)

  • Stacey Snacks

    I had no idea that you were a baker too!

  • Ginny

    wow! send me a slice! I could use some chocolate !:) Looks great!

  • Colloquial Cook

    I came, I tasted, I [was] won [over].

    John Travolta is nowhere near as glam as your cake mon petit chat.

  • Kirstin

    I feel the same way about Thomas Keller recipes. But once completed, they also shine like John Travolta’s hair in Saturday Night Live. I like I’d sip some tawny port with this Herme’s creation. I’m trying it!

  • My Sweet & Saucy

    I love your dessert posts!!! Simply divine looking!

  • Anali

    That’s one beautiful cake! One that would be very nice to have prepared FOR me. : )

  • Claude-Olivier

    cela a presque l’air d’etre simple quand c’est toi qui le fait…les photos sont top, bravo l’artiste! ciao

  • Mandi

    Hmmmmmm, reading through this post and seeing the pictures took me back to the movie Chocolate – so I get the whole fireplace comment!!!!

    There just something really sexy about really good chocolate…….


  • foodhuntress79

    Thank you for making my cake. I’m a Japanese groupie. I really can’t hold a candle to you.

  • Gloria

    Nice pictures dear Zen Chef, and I love this recipes, I enjoy Pierre hermè Recipes, look really nice, xxxGloria

  • The Caked Crusader

    Wouldn’t the fire melt the chocolate? Sorry, but if it’s a question of romantic moment or eating the cake at the best temperature there’s no contest!!!

  • Anonymous

    Wow man, you work is amazing!

    You just got yourself a new reader, one all the way across the world! 😉


  • Marc @ NoRecipes

    Wow, gorgeous! It reminds me of an opera cake I once made for a daring bakers challenge. Well done:-)

  • Heather

    I can’t believe you would call this easy. It involves piping! Piping

  • Olga

    I think this is the same cake Daring Bakers (I’m one of them) did in July. It was my first challenge and the butter frosting totally failed me…or I failed it.

    Any leftover slices?

  • glamah16

    I so want to take a crack at making this. It looks so beautiful.

  • Nina Timm

    Are you taking on “The naked chef” ? I know what you mean by achieving the unachievable….there is definitely a sense of triumph and accomplishment in there! Well done, Zenman!

  • Chef Dennis Wasko

    Nice Job!

  • Manger La Ville

    This sounds amazing. I believe their is a reason they tell you to do it a certain way. It looks amazing. I could go for a slice right now.

  • TavoLini

    oh goodness. I don’t think my patience is at that level yet.

    BUT both Tavo and I excel at sitting by the fire, naked, eating cake. We are superb at it!

    As always, I’m impressed that you managed to work in a reference to John Travolta’s hair 😉

  • farida

    You make this cake sound easy to whip up! Looks so good!

  • jesse

    That recipe is SO not easy! I’d rather sit here and have you whip me up a batch…

  • Emily

    The cake sounds magnificent!

    I would be scared to attempt this, but you’re awesome.

  • Tartelette

    One of my favorite desserts to make and eat. I am a meringue girl… :)

  • dirtykitchensecrets

    Great post! Thanks for making it look so easy… I’ll have to give it a try!

  • Hilda

    I love this cake and made it for a friend for her wedding (square, double tier for a lego theme). I thought like you it might be a crazy undertaking, but it’s really not very hard at all. Yours looks great and way to go with the process pictures.

  • Catherine Wilkinson

    Just when I thought I’d try and start to post again, along comes Mr. Zen-Cooking-Like-A-Freaking-Genius making me feel all…dried up. ‘Kind of’ easy, my ass!

    But I…*sigh*…love it of course. You the ZEEEEEEMAAANNNN!

  • Chicken And Waffles

    Fireplace, naked. I am there.

    And well, that’s why chocolate will also help. You’ll need something to obscure the view.

  • Big Boys Oven

    An awesome delicious cake, you had commission it so well and with such a style too! I bow to you! well executed Zenman!

  • Chicopea

    oops, I just licked my screen!

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    Ok here’s the thing. This was posted the day we met, so WHY wasn’t I presented with this??? And most of all, WHY weren’t you naked???

  • cook eat FRET

    i’m sure it was wonderful and labor intensive to say the least.

    i would now like to order a gateau st. honore cake. for me. thank you.

  • Sandra Avital

    “I know it sounds kinda’ kinky, but this cake is best enjoyed by the fireplace, naked.”
    Hahem.. made this cake for my son’s 2d was the end of summer but noone was naked!!

  • Jackie

    I just wanted to say thank you for turning me onto the wonderful world of food blogging! I stumbled across your blog 2.5 years ago while preparing a menu for a food and wine pairing party I was hosting; I chose this cake and the 10-spice rack of lamb from here and they were both a total hit! Now I’m addicted and even though I’ve come across many more wonderful blogs, yours is still my go-to when I’m not feeling very creative. Merci beaucoup!

    Grases et bises,

  • Francine Godoy

    I would love to check those pictures….. could you please, one of these days try to put them back???? This cake sounds fantastic I will try to make it for SURE!

    Thanks for sharing your amazing work!