After fiddling with a few different recipes, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Nick Malgieri’s cardinal slice formula provides the best combination of results and ease-of-use. I’ve run it four times now, and it’s delivered for me consistently. Try it and I think you’ll like it. You’ll need:
For the Meringue
8 ounces (1 cup or about 7) egg whites at room temperature
7 ounces (1 cup) sugar
For the Ladyfinger Batter
Remaining meringue batter after first piping is done
3 egg yolks
1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
2.75 ounces (generous 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
For the Filling
Begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees and positioning two racks in the center. Cut three parchment paper strips, 3 inches wide and 16 inches long (about the length of a jelly roll or half sheet pan). Grease two sheet pans pan and lay two strips onto one, the last strip on the other. Grease the parchment.
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip. Turn the mixer on medium-high and whip the whites until foamy, then steadily add the sugar. Turn the mixer up to medium high and whip to soft peaks. Transfer the meringue to a piping bad fitted with a 1/2″ plain tip and pipe meringue along the long edge of each parchment strip, then pipe a line of meringue down the middle of each, for a total of three lines per sheet.
Once that’s done, promptly prepare the ladyfinger batter. Add the eggs, yolks, vanilla and sugar to the mixer bowl (no need to wash it). Attach the whisk and whip the mixture on medium-high for about 3 1/2 minutes, until ribbons — but not extremely thick ribbons — fall from the whip when it’s lifted out of the batter. Remove the bowl from the machine and sift the flour onto the batter. Gently fold it in. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe two lines down each paper strip, between the lines of meringue.
Put the pans into the oven on separate racks — the pan with two strips on top — and bake for 10 minutes, until the ladyfinger batter is puffed. Rotate the pans top to bottom and turn the heat down to 300. Bake about another ten minutes but don’t let the meringue get very brown (a little is OK). If the strip on the top pan is still looking underdone when the bottom pan is ready, leave it in the oven for a few more minutes, turning the heat back up to 375 (check it often). Cool the pastry strips on a wire rack, then gently free them from the pan with a spatula and freeze them. If your freezer is big enough, freeze them right on the pans.
To assemble, remove your best layer from the freezer and dust it with powdered sugar. With a sharp knife, slice it into serving-size pieces (you’ll need to wipe the blade between cuts). Return it to the freezer. Remove the other two layers from the freezer and peel off the parchment from the bottom. Place the bottom layer on a fresh parchment strip. Spread on about an inch of the espresso whipped cream. Place the second layer on top, and spread on another inch of filling, spreading whipped cream all around the out surface. Lastly, remove the sliced top layer from the freezer. Gently free the slices from the parchment and place them on top of the cake.
Freeze the whole thing for at least four hours before slicing. Dust the top once again with powdered sugar. Use a very sharp knife, and slice straight down through the cake in a swift motion. Remove the slices to a serving platter and place the platter in the refrigerator. Slices will hold there for a full day before serving.
VARIATION: Two-layer cardinal slices can be made by simply stacking two layers on top of one another, then cutting the last layer in half and making another half “sandwich.” Or, to make a broader two-layer slice, use a pastry bag with no collar with a one-inch opening at the end, and pipe the meringue and ladyfinger batter onto two five-inch-wide parchment strips (instead of three three-inch-wide strips). Two-layer cardinal slices can be filled with espresso cream as well, or with a mixture of fresh raspberries and raspberry preserves…in which case there’s no need for all the freezing and filling.