My mother's whiskey cake was served at every holiday meal. This dense cake, soaked liberally with whiskey, filled with a delicious vanilla custard, and covered all over in a cloud of fluffy meringue, won the acclaim of all who were privileged to sample it. Make the filling a day ahead, so you won't have so many steps when you assemble the cake.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
4 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla
1½ cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
¼ cup water
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon bourbon whiskey
½ cup sugar
To make the filling, in a small bowl, mix the sugar and cornstarch. In the top of a double boiler, bring the milk to just under a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add ¼ cup of the hot milk to the sugar and cornstarch mixture, and stir to make a paste. Stir the paste into the milk in the double boiler, raise the heat to medium high, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks until pale and thick. Beat in ¼ cup of the warm milk mixture and return to the double boiler; cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the vanilla. Cover the bowl with a sheet of buttered wax paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
To make the cake, sift the flour 3 times and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow in color. Gradually beat in the water, then the vanilla. With a spatula, fold in the sifted flour 2 tablespoons at a time. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the egg yolk mixture and pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Invert the cake pan over the neck of a wine or soft drink bottle and let the cake cool completely.
Run a knife around the sides of the pan to release the cake and turn it out onto a plate. With a serrated knife, cut the cake into ¼-inch slices.
Line a 9- by 12-inch ovenproof platter or baking sheet with a layer of cake slices. Fill in any spaces with pieces of cake. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the whiskey evenly over the cake slices. Spread the cake slices with half of the custard filling. Place a second layer of cake on top of the custard filling, filling in any gaps with pieces of cake. Sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons of the whiskey. Make a second custard layer and top with a third layer of cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 2 tablespoons whiskey. Refrigerate the cake while you make the meringue.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
To make the meringue, in a small saucepan, dissolve the cornstarch in the water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until well blended, but still liquid. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the whiskey and beat for 1 minute. Beat in the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Slowly beat in the cornstarch mixture and beat for 3 minutes more.
Frost the cake with the meringue, making sure to spread the meringue all around the bottom of the cake to seal the edges. Bake until the meringue is golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes; be careful, as it will brown quickly. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours before serving.
To serve, cut into small squares.
Note: This cake will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
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