Meringue Cradle Cake

Last year a reader found an old Bake-Off book at a tag sale and sent it to me knowing I’d use it. I do. And when I’m not cooking from it, I read it.

Pillsbury Bake-Off Book

The other day I was flipping through pages and found a recipe called “Meringue Cradle Cake” from 1953. It wasn’t one I’d seen on the web and it sounded delicious —  a light yellow cake with a flakey meringue crust which you make by lining a tube pan with meringue, filling with cake batter, then baking.  I had to try it.

Rather than buy a tube pan, I decided to make half the cake and bake it in a loaf pan.  Before starting, I searched the Internet to see if anyone else had made this cake. Sure enough, Rose Levy Beranbaum wrote her version of Cradle Cake in her book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. She’d also baked it in a loaf pan.

Serious Eats had permission to print Rose’s cradle cake recipe verbatim. Her directions are meticulously detailed, she uses buttermilk in place of regular milk and a different mixing technique. Since I’d found the recipe in the Bake-Off book, I decided to use the original Bake-Off recipe.   It was one of the tastiest and most interesting cakes I’ve made in a while.

I’ve put more notes at the bottom and typed the recipe as I made it, plus a (very slightly) adapted version of the original tube pan version. Since it’s a unique cake, I took a few pictures along the way.

Basically, you start by lining a greased pan with meringue. I went crazy with the cooking spray because I worried the meringue would stick, but getting it out of the pan was easy.

Meringue Cradle

Next, you fill the meringue cradle with batter.

Cradle With Batter

After baking the cake for about 50 minutes, you loosen with a spatula before cooling.

loosen with spatula

Cool for 20 to 30 minutes, then invert. For this cake, a rectangular shaped platter really comes in handly. Too bad I don’t have one.

Cradle Cake

Here’s a cut shot…

Cradle Cake

…and another shot.

And here’s my version of the recipe.

Loaf Pan Meringue Cradle Cake — Anna’s Version

2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 oz unsweetened grated chocolate (see note)

1 cup cake flour (4 oz) or 1 cup “measured-after-sifting” bleached flour (4 oz)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven.

Spray a 9×5 inch metal loaf pan with flour-added cooking spray, then line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper (or wax paper).

Measure out all ingredients, line them up and have them ready to go so the meringue doesn’t have to sit for too long.

Make Meringue First:
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. Beat in vanilla, then fold in nut/chocolate mixture. Spread mixture over bottom and a little over halfway up the sides of the loaf pan, doing your best to make a nice cradle. Set it aside.

Sift the flour, then stir it together with the baking powder and salt; set aside.

Wipe out the mixing bowl, then cream the butter and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla and beat on high for a couple of minutes, scraping bowl often. Stir in flour mixture alternatively with milk until well blended (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour). Pour cake mixture into pan so it goes right down the center of the meringue cradle.

Bake in lower third of the oven for 45-50 minutes. Meringue will look golden. Do not invert pan yet. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then loosen with a spatula and set pan on a rack for 25 minutes. Invert on a serving plate. Peel off parchment paper; cool completely.
More Notes

Chocolate — Rather than grate the chocolate, I used a Pampered Chef handy chopper which I pulled out of a box I’d socked away for the past 8 years. It really did the trick on the chocolate and the nuts. Rose Levy Beranbaum uses another method. She chills the chocolate then puts it in a food processor with the pecans and a tablespoon of the sugar that goes into the meringue. If you’ve got a processor, this seems like a good method. Or you could just grate the chocolate and chop the nuts.

chopped chocolate in pampered chef chopper

Flour — Bleached all purpose flour works well for lots of cakes, but I think cake flour is even better. I used 4 oz (1 cup) cake flour. The original recipe uses sifted bleached all purpose, which probably weighs around 4 oz after being sifted.

Salt — 1/4 teaspoon of salt was plenty. The old Bake-Off version uses 1 teaspoon. Maybe baking powder wasn’t as salty then? Hmmm probably not. But if I made the tube pan version I’d use only 1/2 teaspoon.

Here’s the slightly adapted Bake-Off book version. I put it in a format similar to my old book.

Meringue Cradle Cake Adapted from 1953 Bake-Off
Senior Third Prize Winner by Mrs. Stephen A. Hornung, NY, NY

Beat — 4 large egg whites until soft mounds form. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating constantly until stiff glossy peaks form.

Fold — in 1 cup pecans, finely chopped (don’t forget to toast first!) and 1 oz grated unsweetened chocolate.

Spread — meringue evenly over bottom and about three-fourths up sides of a 10 inch tube pan which has been greased and lined with waxed paper on the bottom (parchment).

Sift — together 2 cups SIFTED Pillsbury’s Best all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt (seems like too much) and 2 ½ teaspoons double acting baking powder.

Cream — 4 oz butter (I used unsalted), gradually add 1 cup sugar, creaming well. Add 4 unbeaten egg yolks; beat well

Combine — 1 cup milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add alternately with the dry ingredients. Blend well after each addition.

Turn onto the meringue lined pan.

Bake at 325 for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Do not underbake. Cool 20 minutes. Loosen cake with spatula. Cool 30 minutes longer before removing from pan. Decorate top of cakes with pecan halves dipped in chocolate if desired.

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  1. says

    That’s a really interesting recipe! I’d love to experience the contrast of the meringue cradle and the cake.

  2. Karen says

    I also have that book! I bought it in a used bookstore in St. Louis MO when I was driving across the country in 1989. That started me collecting Bake-Off related stuff for a few years, but I lost interest. I have it all packed away now somewhere. What I loved about that book (in addition to some neat old-fashioned recipes like this one) was how frumpy and matronly the teenage contestants looked back in the 50s.

  3. CindyD says

    That’s a really interesting recipe! I’m thinking about variations, like leaving the chocolate and nuts out of the meringue and serving the finished cake with strawberries. Or adding mint extract to the meringue and making the cake chocolate… too bad it’s already too hot to bake here.

  4. says

    Nigella has a strawberry meringue layer cake and a lemon meringue cake that is kind of the reverse (meringue baked over a small amount of sponge cake).
    You sandwich the two layers together with cream and lemon curd or strawberries.
    I think this is just a riff on the traditional blitz torte (king arthur has a recipe for this: vanilla cake baked with almond sprinkled meringue on top; layers sandwiched with pastry cream studded with berries).

  5. says

    I love old cookbooks and so does my husband. We can’t resist buying them when we see them at yard sales and thrift stores. The cake is really unique! It sounds delicious Anna!

  6. says

    That’s an awesome recipe! I’ve never seen anything like it! If I didn’t botch up almost everything I bake, I might give it a try.

    I’m sure BigSis will be happy to read that you like the book she sent you and that you actually bake from it! 🙂

  7. ggh says

    I have part of the original 1953 book. What I have is the pages numbered 7 to 90. I thought Cradle Cake (a picture of the cake and Hornung,New york,NY) was the name of the booklet. Probably Pillsbury has the rest of the pages in the vault – I didn’t even know it was from 1953. What a dope – Cradle Cake for a title on page 7.

  8. Tricia says

    Mary Hornung was my aunt and Godmother. She and my mother were sisters. She was a terrific baker.

  9. Sharron Yetman says

    Had this cake at a Birthday party .It is wonderful.They served it a slightly warmed butterscotch sauce.I could not remember what they had called it until today.I will be making that is for sure.

  10. says

    Sharron, that’s neat that someone actually made this old favorite! It’s kind of dated so you don’t see it often, but people try this and are enamored.

  11. says

    This looks ambitious. I don’t understand how the meringue holds up when put in a greased pan.

    I have my grandmother’s cookbook from the 30’s. She got it, probably for free, from the Detroit Press and it’s probably the only cookbook she ever owned.

    What cracks me up about old cookbooks is the ingredients that we don’t use anymore. Sometimes it’s hard to adapt it to modern day ingredients. It’s fun to use those old recipes though to attempt to recapture how food used to taste. Or maybe the food just tasted better back then because it was made by Mom or Grandma … or because of our younger tastebuds…

  12. Kym Snell says

    This cake is delicious. My mother made it all the time back in the day and it just occurred to me to google the title (which she always said was Cradle Merangue Cake) to get what I believed was a lost recipe! Now that I have it, so will my friends….in the edible version! Do it just as the recipe says and absolutely decorate with chocolate dipped pecan halves with the chocolate dripping down the sides. yum

  13. Bonnie says

    My mother used to make this cake for me for my birthday for many years, from the original recipe, and it’s in her old cookbook (she’s been gone 31 years). My daughter made it for my birthday a few years ago but said it was a real pain to make! I guess I’ll have to make it myself if I want it again. It is delicious and is really interesting looking. My mom used a tube pan but the flat way looks like it might be easier. Still my favorite!

  14. mary ann says

    our mom made this for her bridge club. we always hoped the ladies were not having too much dessert that night. there were nine of us to share what might be left and we loved it!!

  15. Phyl says

    I made this yesterday from a yellowed newspaper clipping probably from the Pittsburgh Press(no longer published). It was titled Mrs. Baldwin’s prize-winning cradle cake. I made it in a tube pan and it was outstanding, Decided to google it today, and was happy to find more info on it,

  16. says

    I tried with Rose’ recipe yesterday.. She asked to use Silicon pan, which I did.. the cake instead of rising, when side ways (since the pan does not hold its shape).. And the merique and the cake didn’t ‘stick’ together.

    It came out horribly ugly.. no one wanted to eat it. 🙁

    I should have use a tin pan instead. It’s good to see that you have successfully created one so I can try this again next time.

  17. Lenore says

    My mom used to make this for me when I was young. It is really delicious. She used the tube cake pan. I asked for it each year for my birthday until I grew up and moved away. I will try to make this for myself, now that I have the recipe.

  18. Chris says

    This is the best cake ever. I just turned 62, and I have had this for my birthday almost every year since I was about 8 years old. My mother used to make it for me, then my first wife, then my second wife, and now my daughter. They’ve always made it in a tube pan. Wonderfully delicious.

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