There’s a Disaster at the End of this Post

What did that say? The headline up there? Did that say there will be a disaster at the end of this post? It did? Oh, I am so scared of disasters. Listen, I have an idea. If you don’t scroll down any further we will never get to the end of this post. And that is good, because there is a disaster at the end of this post. So please don’t scroll down any further.

You scrolled down! Here you can see that I’ve got all my ingredients laid out ahead of time for my cardinal slice layers. And that’s important because you need to move right along with a recipe like this. There’s no time for measuring or egg-cracking when you’re in the middle of making the batters. Oh, I also have my oven set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can see that you also need to get your pans & parchment sheets ready. Three 3-inch wide strips, greased with a little melted butter: two on one sheet pan one on the other. (All on one is too much because the layers can run together a little). But this is all immaterial anyway because you’re not scrolling down any further.

Hang on, what are you doing? You’re getting us closer to the disaster at the end of this post! On which note you can see here that I’ve put my egg whites and pinch of salt in a bowl, whipped the mixture into a froth and am adding the sugar in a steady stream.

I whipped them only to soft peaks. The foam drips off the whip but when it hits the mass the blobs pretty much stay where they are.

Next I grabbed a pastry bag with just the collar and no tip.

I loaded it with the meringue…

…and gently piped three lines of meringue down each piece of parchment.

Like so.

Then I promptly started the next batter. I put the eggs, yolks, vanilla and sugar in the mixer bowl — I didn’t bother to clean it — then started whipping.

I whipped for 3-4 minutes on medium high, just until fairly thick ribbons fell in the first few seconds after lifting the whip. I didn’t want to do any more than that, because over-whipping is lethal to this batter.

Then I…wait, are you scrolling down again? I told you I didn’t want to get any closer to the disaster at the end of this post, OK? Because there’s nothing I hate more than a baking disaster. It’s embarrassing, you know? I have my pride — so quit it!

In any event, I sifted on the flour…

Then folded it in, being careful to scrape down at the bottom of the bowl where much of the flour will always settle. Especially in a very light, foamy batter like this.

I folded for about 45 seconds or so, until the batter looked like this.

The batter was so light that it could literally be poured into the pastry bag (the same bag, not washed, just with the remaining meringue squeezed out). The liquidity, I must confess, alarmed me a little. The batter will drip everywhere if you aren’t careful. However it wasn’t terribly difficult piping it between the meringue stripes.

I wasn’t perfectly neat, but things turned out OK, see?

As for the baking, I inserted the pans on two racks in the center of the oven (the pan with two strips on the top). I baked them for 5-7 minutes, at which point I rotated the pans top-to-bottom, then turned down the heat to 300 for another 10-15 minutes. At that point the first pan was finished. See?

The second pan needed a touch of browning, so I turned the oven back up to 375 and let the layer bake for about another three minutes. At which point I allowed all the pans to cool. Then I gently pried up the strips (being careful of the meringue edges) and froze them.

So far so good though I can’t help but notice that you’re STILL SCROLLING DOWN! I asked you to stop that, and I confess I’m very disappointed. I’d have thought that by now you and I had developed the sort of relationship where you’d do me a favor if I asked you nicely. Now KNOCK IT OFF!!!

Once the layers were completely frozen it was time to shape. I took my best layer out of the freezer and dusted it with powdered sugar (which makes the meringue less sticky and easier to work with).

Using a very sharp knife I cut the top layer into serving-sized pieces. Then I put the pieces — still on the parchment — back in the freezer.

At that point I took the worst of my three layers out of the freezer, peeled the parchment from the underside and set it on a fresh strip of parchment or wax paper. I prepared, then slathered on, a good deal of espresso whipped cream. About 3/4″ inch.

I shaped it gently into a slab and evened the top and sides.

Then I put on the next layer.

I repeated the process with the whipped cream. I spread it on liberally…

…squared off the whole cake and added extra cream where needed.

At that point I took the tops out of the freezer, gently pried them off the paper and placed them atop the cake.

Grasping the piece of parchment beneath I slid the finished cake off the work surface onto a sheet pan and put the whole thing in the freezer for a good four hours.

At that point it was ready for slicing with a sharp knife that I’d run under hot water and quickly dried…using firm, downward strokes and HEY!!! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO STOP SCROLLING DOWN!!! WHY WON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME??? THERE’S A DISASTER AT THE END OF THIS POST!!! AND IF THERE’S ONE THING I HATE MORE THAN ANY THING IT’S A BAKING DISASTER!!! IT MAKES —

Hey. There isn’t a disaster at the end of this post after all. Just a delicious feather-light pastry. I guess these cardinal slices really did work out pretty well after all.

And YOU were so scared!

31 thoughts on “There’s a Disaster at the End of this Post”

  1. YES Triumph!!! Once the recipe is up, I am SO making this to impress my bf’s family (haha). Thanks for doing all the dirty work for us, Joe! 🙂

    1. Ya gotta try these, Ann. I’m still not satisfied with the presentation (more work to do there) but you definitely can’t argue with the taste and texture of these things. They’re amazingly light and delicate: foam on top of foam on top of foam. I can see why they’re a fixture of Viennese pastry shops. Try them and get back to me with a report!

      – Joe

  2. you punk!! you really had me going. i was envisioning something truly catastrophic and wondering what on earth could go wrong when it was all working so well… ahhhh you got me!

    1. Hehe…sorry to worry you, C.!

      Really I was the one who was worried. I really had to work for these things…and there’s still plenty of room to improve them. But they were well worth the time and effort. Thanks for the email!

      – Joe

  3. Great post!

    We loved that book. I’m sure I’d love the pastries, too.

    1. I read it to my girls at least twice a week. I practically have Monster at the End of This Book committed to memory!

      But try eye pastries. You’ll be pleased I promise.

      – Joe

  4. Brilliant. Fascinating recipe and spot on homage to The Monster at the End of this Book.

    1. Believed me, I screamed far worse things than that these last ten days. Thanks M!

      – Joe

  5. Joe, you really had me going there. I expected a total disaster, but of course, you pulled it off. Nicely done!

    1. Thanks, Erin! I hadn’t been flummoxed like this for a few months. Who knew a recipe from a Julia Child book could be so hard to pull off? It was a fun, if occasionally frustrating, project.

      Thanks for writing,

      – Joe

  6. Well Done! I knew you would pull through and make it! I had never heard of this pastry before–would love to try it, but I need samplers to eat it.

    1. Ha! Thanks for the faith, G.C.! But please do try it. You won’t have any trouble selling these to friends or coworkers. It goes down easy!

      – Joe

  7. The suspense was nerve-wracking! Maybe you can get a feature on a Halloween Food Network special!

    1. Fankly I was getting little scared that I wouldn’t be able to produce something presentable. But thing worked out well enough. This is something I’ll definitely try again.


      – Joe

  8. Bravo Bravo Bravissimo! I kept the faith as I kept scrolling. You are Joe Pastry the Conqueror of Cardinal Slices!

    1. Ha! Thanks Eva…I still have a phantasy about coming back and really perfecting the presentation, but I think I’ve had enough cardinal sices for now! 😉

      – Joe

  9. It looks amazing!

    however, I don’t know if I’m amused that I know the book, disturbed that I know the book after so many years or…just dreading the literary equivalent of an ‘earworm song’ rattling around my head for the next few days!!

    Grover rocks though!

    1. Thanks, Anne. These aren’t cardinal slices for the ages, but all in all they’re fine. This is a recipe that really takes some practice to perfect! RE: Grover, he’s still pretty much my hero.

      – Joe

  10. You had me going. You really did, you scoundrel. But I have what may be a couple silly questions. How about using a chocolate meringue? Would it hold up well having cocoa powder mixed-in? I just didn’t know if adding a heap of dry powder would mess with the consistency.

    As always, thanks a bunch!

    1. Sorry ’bout that, Helena! 😉

      The Baking with Julia meringue incorporated a fair amount of powdered sugar, which incorporated for more smoothly that I thought it would. So, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to add some cocoa powder. Try a couple of experiments perhaps with just the meringue. It’ll take you all of 20 minutes and cost you only a few whites and some cocoa powder. Why not?

      – Joe

  11. Now , now, this is the only thing i am in par with you, disasters, but still i am so motivated to keep on baking, just hoping that the baking fairy smiles at me..not always…:-)

  12. Joe…..
    WUNDERBAR! WUNDERBAR!! WUNDERBAR!!! I love the precision, the care, the obvious determination to produce a “Meisterwerk.” My hat’s off to you!!!


    1. Thanks, Sachermom! I couldn’t have gotten even this far without you. Sometime I may get this to the “masterwork” level, but for now I’m just happy to have completed it. This was a challenge no question. Gerhard was right about it. Thanks again for all your help!

      – Joe

  13. Your a sly one Joe! You had me going through my emotional
    roladex wondering, meringue?…ladyfingers?… oven blew up?
    I kept thinking, “If Joe can’t make this work, then what hope
    do I have!” You had me on the hook till the last frame. The
    only disaster here is that this dessert is on your table, and
    not on mine! All joking aside, your hard work and know
    really shows. A fine job! I hope I get the courage to try this
    pastry. I would be happy if it comes out half as good as

    1. Heh…thanks Ben! Do try it though. This formula does work quite well. The ultra-light meringue-layfinger whipped cream combo is startlingly good. Very different from anything else in the classic pastry universe. Let me know what happens!

      – Joe

  14. Beautiful texture — it looks so light and delicious. You got me with the title of the post, but now I think I’ll have to try this out.

    1. Cardinal slices are their own little wonders, Chloee. In these, the days of the all-butter double fudge blowout bomb-sicle, the Cardinal slice is a sweet and dainty form of protest. Please do try the recipe.

      – Joe

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