LC Je Ne Sais Quoi Note
We’re going to be a little more specific and go beyond “je ne sais quoi” so you can be clear about what to expect from this lovely spiced nut cake called mirliton. Despite being ethereally light from its meringue-like base, it’s also ungodly rich thanks to the nuts and spices. Chances are it’s unlike any other spice cake—pain d’épices or otherwise—that you’ve ever encountered. That is to say, in a good way. A very, very good way.
Spiced Nut Cake | Mirliton
- Quick Glance
- Quick Glance
- 25 M
- 1 H
- Makes 1 10-inch round cake
Special Equipment: 10-inch (25-centimeter) round cake pan
Set the eggs out on your counter about 1 hour ahead of time to come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust the oven rack to the center position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (25-centimeter) round cake pan, cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan, and press the paper in the pan. Cut a second piece of parchment paper into a strip 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide to line the side of the pan and press it in the pan.
Spread the hazelnut and almond flours on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the flours are a light golden brown and the aroma fills the room. Let cool to room temperature.
When the nut flours are cool, sift them along with the cornstarch, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves into a large bowl.
Put the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, orange zest, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip at high speed until the mixture triples in size. (This can take as long as 15 minutes. Be sure your eggs are at room temperature when you start, as cold eggs will reach only half the volume needed.)
Reduce the mixer to low speed and gently mix in the flour-cornstarch mixture, combining just until everything comes together. Take care not to overmix the batter or it will deflate. Gently scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, filling it 2/3 full. (If you have excess batter, pour it into a smaller pan that you’ve prepared in the same way as you did the first pan.)
Bake the cake for 10 minutes, or until a light golden brown crust forms on the top and the cake begins to visibly rise. Rotate the pan 180°, being sure not to open the oven door until you see that your cake has risen properly and has a very light golden layer at the top. If you try to rotate the pan while the cake is still raw, it could deflate.) Bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown, the sides are pulling away from the pan, the surface bounces back when lightly touched with your fingertips. Also, a paring knife inserted straight into the center of the cake should come out clean and hot to the touch. (The baking time will vary greatly from oven to oven and depending on how frothy your batter is, but figure close to 30 minutes total baking time.)
When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. When the cake is cool to the touch, use an offset spatula to loosen the outside of the paper lining from the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate or a baking sheet and then gently shake to release the cake from the pan. Remove the paper lining from the cake and invert it again onto a plate or baking sheet so that the cake is right side up.
The cake is best enjoyed right then, still warm to the touch, for the full nutty, spicy flavor, although it can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 3 days.
Recipe Testers' Tips
I'm not one to casually toss around Oh My Gods, but OMG, is this spiced nut cake recipe good! Rich with eggs and nut flours, yet light due to the serious whipping of the meringue, this simple spiced spin on a French dacquoise is a total winner. Do yourself a favor and buy the almond and hazelnut meal (I always have some in my fridge) rather than grind it yourself. That allows you to have the mirliton in the oven in just 15 minutes. It’ll be the fastest—and easiest—fancy cake you'll ever make. The only caveat I have to share is this: It could be that I overwhipped my meringue (zut alors!) or the fact that I had a slightly smaller pan than called for (a 9-inch rather than a 10-inch round), but when I had filled the pan about 2/3 full I still had LOTS of batter left. I quickly prepped a 2nd pan and baked a smaller cake. I’m so glad I did because it would have been a shame to waste any of this deliciousness. The original cake filled to about 2/3 of a 9-inch cake pan cooked in exactly 20 minutes. I served it to rave reviews with a topping I made of equal parts mascarpone and dulce de leche, which I then lightened with an unsweetened chantilly—just a dollop did the trick with a few fresh raspberries for color. Any leftovers are brilliant straight-up the next morning with coffee or tea. I will make this cake again and again and again…and you should, too.
This spiced nut cake recipe is light and deliciously...spicy. In spite of all the steps, it's actually easy to make. I found that my mirliton was darkening on the sides before the center was lightly golden, so I used an aluminum foil circle with the center cut out to cover the edges during the rest of baking. Although I followed the recipe in terms of ingredients and process, I used nonstick spray and parchment paper along with a springform pan rather than a regular pan, which allowed me to take the cake out of the pan without having to pass it back and forth. There was no deflation of the cake. One potential issue is that the texture is extremely crumbly and made a huge mess when it was cut. I served the cake with macerated fresh berries. There are many other types of nut flours and I could see varying the flavor of the cake based on the flavor of the nut flours or flavorings (i.e., switching out the vanilla and citrus).
I looked at this spiced nut cake recipe and decided there was no way it would work. I mean, 10 eggs, spices, and ground nuts could not be good, in my mind…but I had to try it, just to see. I alway seem to need a gluten-free or lower-carb recipe for a friend, so I decided it to give it a try….and I am so glad I did! I was only able to find almond flour at the store, so I made my own hazelnut flour using my food processor. I toasted the flours, and they took a full 6 minutes to turn golden. When I tried to sift the nut flours, I found my ground hazelnuts, which looked about the texture of cornmeal, were just large enough to not go through the tiny holes of my old sifter easily. I think next time I will just whisk them together. After 10 minutes in the oven, the top of the mirliton had a light brown texture, so I gently rotated the pan. After 8 minutes more, I tested the cake and it wasn’t even close to done. I tested several more times over the next 15 minutes until finally the knife came out clean. But after cooling the cake and trying it, amazingly it had the perfect cake texture and was a little nutty with a great spice flavor—like really great spice cake but gluten free. I loved the author's serving suggestions—so many options!—but I served mine simply with just whipped cream, and it was perfect. We will definitely make this again!
Funnily enough, I thought the mirliton in the name referred to actual mirlitons, or chayote squash, and fully expected the recipe to use them—kind of like a carrot cake. Well, this spiced nut cake recipe has no mirlitons in it. In any case, the cake has a fantastic texture and a great spicy, nutty flavor. I do not particularly look for “gluten-free" recipes, but it's cool to know that this tasty number gets all its flavor and texture from a lot of nuts, eggs, and butter. Another plus is that the cake has a long shelf life. We snacked on this for a week and the flavor mellowed a bit but remained equally delicious. The spices work great, especially when the fall season rolls around, but I do think a little less cloves would be more to my liking. We served the cake with a cold crème anglaise sauce one time and with vanilla ice cream another time. Both worked very well. I think some poached pears or quince would be awesome with the cake come fall.
I am a beginner when it comes to cakes. I very much appreciate the weights of the ingredients. Heeding the warnings to not open the oven to turn it until it had risen, and was lightly golden, I gave the mirliton 11 minutes in the oven and then I very gently turned it. After 8 minutes more it was still quite wobbly, so I gave it another 4 minutes, then another 4 minutes and checked the center with a Thermapen, and it read 151℉. After an additional 5 minutes, it read 161℉, and after 5 minutes more it reached 181℉ but was still wet and starting to sink although it looked a bit done on top. Another 4 minutes and it was at 197℉ and the sides were slightly pulling away. It was the color of very light cocoa powder when I took it out. It started to crack as it cooled and slumped a bit more. It smelled lovely while cooling—the cardamon comes through, as does the citrus. The cake released PERFECTLY from the pan and tastes delicious. The spices are unusual enough in this cake to make it a special occasion torte. This is a great recipe and really kicks up your game in terms of a gluten-free dessert that you can offer your wheat-sensitive guests. Actually, it doesn’t even need that qualifier. Like a financier made with almonds, this is a very sophisticated cake. We served it with a peach sauce and a bit of Greek yogurt, and for guests I would serve it with ice cream.