The following recipe was shared by Jennifer Blakeslee, co-owner/chef with Eric Patterson of The Cooks’ House in Traverse City.
In her words: “My Gramma Kilbourn would be thrilled that I am sharing this recipe. She was an amazing woman and a wonderful cook, always cooking up a storm. She added delight to our holidays and to every other family gathering with her personality and culinary treats. Gramma K lived to be 100 years old. We found this old magazine picture with her recipe cards after she passed away — that’s what this cake looked like when she made it. My cousin Cassy, who lives in Colorado, and I have been reminiscing about her even more with the holidays coming up, and this special recipe is always part of the conversation. It’s a bit of a project to make but totally worth it!”
- 1¾ cups walnut pieces
- ¾ cups maple syrup, divided (we prefer any of the maple syrups from BLiS Gourmet)
- 4 large egg whites at room temperature, to ensure proper whipping (source the eggs locally if possible)
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cups light brown sugar, packed
- 2½ cups whipping cream (we think the cream from Hilhof Dairy is the best in the area)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Bourbon or whiskey to taste (we really like the whiskeys from Iron Fish, Ethanology, or Mammoth Distilleries here in northern Michigan)
Toss walnut pieces with ¼ cup maple syrup and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in a 350-degree oven until browned; this will take 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool down, and chop finely with a knife. Turn the oven down to 275 degrees.
In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy. Once they are foamy, start to pour the sugars into egg whites while whipping on medium-high speed. Once the sugars have all been added, continue to whip until stiff peaks form. (You have just made meringue - congratulations!) Set aside.
Draw three 9-inch circles on a piece of parchment paper. Put the parchment paper onto a sheet pan. Fill a pastry bag with a plain tip with some of the meringue. Starting about ½ inch inside of the first circle, pipe a nice fat spiral around the circle until you reach the middle. Continue to do this until all three circles have spirals in them. If you don’t have a pastry bag, just spread the meringue using a spatula.
Put the sheet pan into the oven and bake for one hour. Depending on your oven, the meringue may get a little brown; don’t panic, it will be fine. Let the baked meringue rest on a wire rack on the counter until completely cool, and I mean completely cool. If they are even a little warm, the whipped cream you will be placing on top of them in the next step will melt and make a big mess.
Whip the cream until just a wee bit past medium peaks, and then fold in the remaining ½ cup of the maple syrup, the vanilla, and all but about ⅓ cup of the finely chopped walnuts (the reserved ⅓ cup walnuts will be sprinkled on top of the cake when finished).
Place a circle of meringue on a plate. Sprinkle some whiskey on the meringue and spoon ⅓ of the whipped cream on top. Spread the cream up to about ½ inch from the edge. Place the next meringue on top, press gently to help seal it, and top with more whiskey and whipped cream. Repeat for the last layer. Once the last bit of whipped cream has been added to the top of the cake, gently smooth it out with a spatula. Sprinkle the reserved walnuts on top.
Put the cake into the refrigerator for at least one hour or ideally, overnight. The reason for this is the meringue will need to soften to make it easier to slice.