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MOM FOOD : Remembering the women who shaped our tastes. The recipes are the least of it. : We Remember Mama : The House That Cake Built


"Don't make this on a rainy day," my mother said as I stood watching her whip up the billowy meringue for a cashew torte. "That's what they stressed in our cooking class."

The problem was, we had enough rain and humid weather in Manila to ruin any sort of meringue. Some days the meringue would get very sticky and adhere to the pans. Mom would patiently scrape off the layers, return the pan to the oven to soften the meringue a bit, then run back to remove them before they got brittle.

When the layers broke into pieces like a puzzle, we didn't care. They could be glued together with the richest vanilla butter cream in the world to make the torte called Le Gateau Sans Rival.

But hot days were a problem too. The meringue might be crisp in the sweltering heat, but the butter cream would melt. My mother solved this problem by leaving the gateau in the freezer.

Theft was a problem too. I can't count how many times my younger brothers sneaked off to gobble up the meringues before my mother could finish boiling the syrup for the butter cream.

Sans Rival is truly a labor of love. My mother taught me how to make it--and thanks to her recipe, I was able to raise money to buy my first California home. After work, I stayed up late to fill orders for Filipinos who craved the sweet taste of home.

The cake is easier to bake in California's drier climate. And I was thrilled to discover parchment paper and non-stick spray. These days, to please the cholesterol- and calorie-conscious, I make a thick meringue in a single layer, skimp on the butter cream and top it with fresh fruit slices.

Now my Mom wants my recipe.


6 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 (10 to 11.5-ounce) can cashews, finely chopped

Butter Cream

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until white and foamy. Slowly add sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Beat in vanilla. Gently fold in cashews, reserving about 1/4 cup for topping.

Divide into 4 greased and floured parchment-paper-lined 9-inch round baking pans, spreading evenly. Bake at 300 degrees 50 minutes. Turn off oven and leave meringues in oven until cool and dry.

Loosen sides carefully with knife or metal spatula and unmold meringue onto foil or wax paper. Peel off parchment paper.

Place one layer meringue on serving plate. Spread top lightly with some Butter Cream. Top with remaining layers, filling with more Butter Cream. Spread Butter Cream all over top and sides of torte. If desired, add food color to small batch Butter Cream and, using pastry bag with star or rose tip, decorate torte with small flowers. Garnish with reserved cashews. Chill until serving time. If desired, serve with sliced fruit. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: Torte may be prepared in advance, 1 to 5 days before serving, covered tightly and frozen. Thaw to cool temperature before serving.

Butter Cream

6 egg yolks

1/3 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 cups butter, preferably unsalted, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat egg yolks until light and creamy.

Meanwhile, combine water and sugar in small saucepan and boil gently until syrupy and thick (234 to 240 degrees on candy thermometer; do not allow to crystallize or caramelize). When yolks are pale, quickly add syrup, beating until thick and smooth. Cover and chill to cool.

Cream butter until light. Slowly beat in yolk mixture at medium speed. Add vanilla.


In place of vanilla, Butter Cream may be flavored with chocolate or coffee powder. Beat 2 ounces melted and slightly cooled semisweet chocolate into beaten egg yolks. Or dissolve 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder in hot syrup before adding to yolks.

Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane

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