A Belgian dessert called Miserable brings joy to all who taste it
For several weeks, I have been thinking about sharing the recipe for a special dessert I often make at this time of year when I have my annual party.
It’s a dessert that is hard to explain if you have never had it or seen it. It is called “Miserable,” and it comes from the recipe collection of my friend Annie, who was an important part of my life in Belgium.
Her son, George, who is my age and with whom I grew up, asked her to make this dessert for his birthday. With her love of challenges and adventures, she somehow managed to get the recipe from a famous pastry shop in Brussels, where you see them lined up in the window display, artfully decorated and priced out of my range.
Annie’s grandfather was a pastry chef and I think she somehow inherited not only his recipes, but also his skill in the kitchen. Her kitchen was always very practical and complete.
Over the years, I enjoyed many a good dinner at her family’s table, the most memorable sharing a family Christmas with all the extended family. Annie’s warm personality made her a perfect hostess. Her laughter coupled with good food made me feel a part of the family at this fancy, yet low-key gathering.
Several years ago, when she made her last trek to Goshen to see friends, Annie brought along the recipe for “Miserable” and her goal was to teach me how to make it. So we spent one afternoon together at the bakery and she showed me the steps to making the meringue and the butter cream that form this incredible dessert.
As we worked side by side – each alternatively peering over the other’s shoulder as we whisked egg yolks over the flame and whipped the egg whites to a stiff peak – we caught up on each other’s lives. She told me stories about her children and her piano lessons. I shared my dreams and caught her up on my family’s doings.
At one point, engrossed as I was in talking, I inadvertently put an egg white where an egg yolk should have been. And I will never forget what she said to me in French: “Ah, miserable! You can’t do that!” I had to laugh when I realized that we were making just that!
Every year, when I throw my annual party, I think of Annie as I make this dessert. Now that she is no longer on this earth, I feel privileged to carry on her tradition. And every year, when people eat it, they say the same thing: “What was that dessert? I think it was the best thing here!” if they have never had it; or “Ah, that miserable!” if they are having it again.
So what is this Miserable? It’s a layer of coffee butter cream sandwiched between two layers of almond meringue and then lightly sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. You will be miserable until you have it and once you eat it, you will be miserable until you have it again!
For this recipe, you need a scale. We had to translate the French grams into weight.
- 6 or 7 egg whites (use egg yolks for butter cream below)
- 3.2 oz. white sugar
- 8½ oz. ground blanched almonds
- 8½ oz. white sugar
- 1.6 oz flour
- Beat egg whites, adding sugar slowly, until they form stiffer peaks.
- Mix ground almonds, sugar and flour together, then gently fold egg whites into the almonds until well incorporated.
- Prepare two loaf pans: grease and flour them and place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. Divide almond meringue between the two.
- Bake at 375 degrees for about a half an hour or until set and just starting to turn brown. Immediately, but gently, turn out of pan and remove the parchment paper. Let cool.
- 6½ oz. white sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup very strong coffee, cooled to room temperature
- ½ lb. butter at room temperature
- Put sugar and egg yolks in sauce pan. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks the colour of lemon. Slowly stir in the coffee.
- On a medium flame, whisk the mixture until small bubbles appear (temperature 165 or 170 degrees). Quickly remove from flame and immediately pour into a glass bowl. Let cool until it reaches room temperature.
- With a beater, beat the egg mixture with the butter until the mixture becomes creamy. It will take a little bit of time (5 minutes or so) for it to pass from the curdled stage to the creamy stage.
- Place a layer of meringue on a platter, fill with the butter cream. Place second layer on top. Lightly sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Keep refrigerated until needed. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour before serving.