In the nine point five years that Jeff and I have been together we’ve learned a lot about each other. I know that he always chooses dark chocolate over milk and that he prefers savory oatmeal to the sweet variety. I know the answers to his security questions and where his scars came from. Sometimes when we go out to eat I can figure out what he will order before he even decides and even if I’m wrong, my guess is usually at least his second choice. But it was only last year that I discovered his favorite cake.
That’s not to say I didn’t know his favorite dessert but when you’re as interested in food as the two of us are there is room for more categories of favorite than just breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. We were standing in line at a cafe waiting to order and I saw a beautiful black forest cake – decorated with plump cherries and a dusting of grated chocolate. Slices had been cut into it and you could see the stripes of cake, whipped cream, and cherries stacked in each piece. Black forest is my favorite cake and I mentioned it to him as I debated what to order with my cup of tea. Cake isn’t usually my choice when it comes to dessert and he turned to me in surprise when I mentioned it. It took us more than eight years to figure out that we both have the same favorite cake.
In our defense, black forest cake doesn’t come up very often. It isn’t particularly popular on restaurant dessert menus, although I can’t see why the combination of dark chocolate cake, sour cherry jam, and barely-sweetened whipped cream would be so roundly dismissed. More often it comes as a disappointing slice of slightly stale cake with sugary icing and not enough cherry flavor to make it anything more than an ordinary chocolate cake. I made my own version of it that year for his birthday and spent the last few months refining the recipe. I tweaked the amount of chocolate and cherry, found a vegetarian way to stabilize whipped cream so the cake could be kept in the fridge for a few days, and came up with something particularly special. Which is just as well, since we’ll be serving it at our wedding a few weeks. But you can have some now.
Black Forest Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Cake
Makes 1 triple layer 8-inch round cake or 18 1-cup jar cakes with room for whipped cream on top
3 cups (600 grams) sugar
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (aprox. 130 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 oz (85 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, grated
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) hot brewed coffee
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 oz) vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon kirsch
PREHEAT the oven to 300 F and grease three 9-inch cake rounds or 18 1-cup glass jars. If using the jars, line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the jars on the sheet.
COMBINE sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir and set aside.
POUR hot coffee over grated chocolate and set aside, stirring occasionally, to let the chocolate melt.
BEAT eggs, in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Then add oil and buttermilk and beat to combine. Add vanilla and kirsch, then chocolate/coffee mixture and beat for a few more minutes. Slowly sift in dry goods and beat until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans or jars
BAKE at 300 F for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clear. Let cool to room temperature.
For the filling:
1 12-oz jar of sour cherries in water, juice, or light syrup
1 tsp cornstarch
⅓ cup sugar
pinch of salt
MIX 1 tsp of the cherry liquid and combine with 1 tsp cornstarch, stir to combine and set aside.
COMBINE cherries and remaining juice, sugar, and salt in a pot over medium heat and let cook for 30-40 minutes, until concentrated and well broken down. Use an immersion blender to blend into a smooth jam.
ADD cornstarch/juice mix, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes until thick. Let cool until room temperature
For the whipped cream and to assemble:
2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp agar agar
2-4 tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
About 1 ounce of chocolate, grated
SPRINKLE agar over cream and let soften for a few minutes.Then beat to fluffy peaks, adding sugar and vanilla when it is mostly done.
REMOVE cakes from their pans or jars. If making a layer cake, spread some cherry filling on the top of two of the cakes, using half for each, and stack them so there is cherry between each layer. Then spread the whipped cream on the top and down the sides. You can also instead put both cherry and cream between each layer and then put some of both on the top as well. Sprinkle the top with shaved chocolate as well. If you’re making individual cakes, slice them in half and place the bottom half back in the jar. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the cherry filling and then add the top half of the cake. Spread whipped cream on top and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.
You can serve these immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Then bring it back to room temperature before serving.