5 Ingredients or Fewer

Nigella Lawson’s Meringue Gelato Cake with Chocolate Sauce

July 31, 2018
11 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 8 hours 15 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Much of the wonder of this dessert may lie in its semihomemade ease—you’re doing little more than bashing up store-bought meringues and folding them into whipped cream. But this gelato cake comes from quite literary roots, reminding us that we should be open to finding cooking inspiration in all sorts of places: dusty books at estate sales, our elders’ recipe boxes, or the yellowed clippings that flutter out of an old birthday card. In this case, it did help that Nigella Lawson could read Italian.

Lawson is a self-proclaimed lover of languages (you can sense this as you read her lyrical recipe writing and occasional invented words). She found the basic notion of this recipe in an Italian book from 1986 by chef and culinary philosopher Gioacchino Scognamiglio. It called for an obscure liqueur, which she tracked down and studied; her version is modified for boozes we can more easily find. The frozen cake is downy, like a more weightless icebox cake, with gentle crackles of meringue and chocolate that melt away quickly on your tongue. Recipe adapted slightly from Genius Desserts (Ten Speed Press, September 2018). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
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Nigella Lawson’s Meringue Gelato Cake with Chocolate Sauce
  • Gelato Cake
  • 1 1/4 cups (295g) heavy cream
  • 1 ounce (30g) bittersweet chocolate (62% cacao or higher)
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or rum, or better yet, a mix of the two
  • 4 ounces (110g) crumbled store-bought or homemade meringue cookies (about 2 cups)
  • Chocolate Sauce
  • 1 cup (235g) heavy cream
  • 5 ounces (125g) dark chocolate (62% cacao or higher), finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur or rum, or better yet, a mix of the two
  1. To make the gelato cake, line a 9 by 5-inch (23 by 13cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch (7.5cm) overhang on the long sides so the plastic can cover the cake when freezing.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using a handheld mixer in a large bowl, whip the cream until thick but still soft. Very finely chop the chocolate into splinters and fold them into the cream, followed by the liqueur and crumbled meringues.
  3. Scrape the mixture into the loaf pan, packing it down as you go, and smooth the top. Pull the plastic wrap up and over to seal the top, then wrap more plastic wrap around the whole pan. Freeze until solid, at least 8 hours or overnight.
  4. To make the chocolate sauce, pour the cream into a saucepan and add the chocolate. Gently heat over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the chocolate is almost all melted. Remove from the heat. (If the mixture gets too hot, the chocolate will seize, but it will continue melting nicely in the warm cream even off the heat.)
  5. Add the liqueur, still off the heat, and whisk again until smooth. Pour the sauce into a pitcher, whisking occasionally, until it cools to just warm.
  6. To serve, unwrap the outer layer of plastic wrap, then uncover the top, lift up the overhanging ends of the plastic, and flip the frozen cake onto a cutting board or platter, peeling away and discarding the rest of the plastic. Pour some of the chocolate sauce over the top and cut into thick slabs. Serve immediately with the rest of the chocolate sauce on the side. Rewrap up any leftovers to freeze airtight.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    Kristen Miglore
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

18 Reviews

Denise S. March 8, 2024
I've made this a bunch of times as written and it is always a hit. Today I'm going to substitute strawberries for the chocolate and make a strawberry sauce. See how that works.
cookbabycook January 8, 2023
Nice do-ahead dessert, especially considering how easy it is. Combination of Kahlua and Myers's gave nuance to the dark chocolate sauce, without being sweet. Light and refreshing.
Shelley R. January 21, 2021
Is ‘double cream’ the same as ‘whipping cream’? And I note it doesn’t need to be stirred half-way through the setting period - does this mean the end result is crystallised instead of a smooth consistency? Thanks!
Renée R. June 9, 2019
I just got around to making this. I doubled the recipe and it is perfect. Wow. What an elegant, easy and deeply satisfying dessert. I didn't realize I was out of coffee liquor until the last minute, so I substituted Frangelico in the cake and the sauce. This recipe will go into rotation in my home. Perfect for entertaining. Delicious.
Tarah T. February 20, 2019
what brand of coffee liqueur are you using?
Libby S. December 19, 2018
Absolutely a brilliant desssert that everyone loves and SUPER EASY! It is light, unique and rich. I have served it many times and people always come back for more!
I bought the genius baking book too!
Donna O. November 14, 2018
Is there gelato? How much?
Kristen M. November 14, 2018
No, the gelato in the title is a reference to how this turns out like an ice cream cake (or gelato cake). The recipe above should have everything you need!
KSDB August 1, 2018
This is more or less a quickie semifreddo that substitutes crumbled meringue cookies for the usual whipped egg whites and zabaglione. I'm thinking of trying it will amaretti and amaretto.
Cordobesa August 1, 2018
This is one of the most popular desserts in Argentina since my grandmother’s time! A variation is layering the merengue and cream with macerated strawberries or canned peach slices. Delightful.
Kristen M. August 1, 2018
Love hearing this, Cordobesa—thank you for sharing! I know that there's a substantial Italian community in Argentina (in fact, some of my family lineage comes through there)—do you think there's any connection?
Cordobesa August 1, 2018
Definitely the Italian heritage!
Judy August 1, 2018
Can other types of cookies be used instead of meringue cookies? Thanks!
Kristen M. August 1, 2018
Hi Judy, definitely—it's basically a frozen variation on an icebox cake, which can combine any type of dry, crunchy cookies with whipped cream. Meringues are special because they're based on egg whites and sugar (so therefore very light and incidentally gluten-free), so if you wanted a similar light, fluffy texture, you should aim for a similarly-textured cookie—I'm thinking something wafery like this: http://www.plummarket.com/store/julian-s-recipe-vanilla-waffle-thins-5oz.html
Cordobesa August 1, 2018
Lady fingers are ideal!
susan August 1, 2018
Do you have any suggestions for a chocolate sauce that does not have heavy cream?
Kristen M. August 1, 2018
Hi Susan, you could go for a Magic Shell-style chocolate sauce—it will firm up more when it gets cold, which is delicious! https://food52.com/recipes/22873-magic-shell Also, just FYI, there will be 2 dairy-free chocolate sauces and lots of other vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free surprises in the Genius Desserts cookbook: https://food52.com/shop/products/4699-presale-signed-copy-genius-desserts-by-kristen-miglore
susan August 1, 2018
Thanks, Kristen! I was just hoping to partially lighten things up if possible (LOL) considering the fat content of the cake : )