Funny thing about Germany. I’ve been there, but I’ve never really gone there. Clear as cake batter? I agree. What I mean is that I’ve never gone on a “trip to Germany.” For me, visits to Deutschland have been—or at least felt like—quick dips in and out, like a Bavarian pretzel in cheese sauce. My first foray was when, as a teenage exchange student in Belgium, I was taken by my host family on a day trip to Cologne, where I learned firsthand about the existence of restroom attendants and the perils of using a public restroom without having Deutschemarks on you.
I next dipped into the country three decades later on a Rhine River-based Viking® Cruise that started in Amsterdam and ended in Basel, Switzerland. Though most of that trip was “in” Germany, there’s something about European riverboat travel that makes it feel like the countries themselves are the terra firma on either side, while the boat is in no man’s land.
In any case, we dipped into several German cities and towns on that cruise—as well as stopping in the Black Forest where I checked this very cake off my What To Eat Where List.
Interestingly, while the husband was working a summer job at a dessert factory in his younger years, Black Forest cake caused his downfall. Or, more accurately, Black Forest cake was the medium upon which the he expressed his boredom with assembly line work and his contempt for his iron-fisted shift supervisors. Each cake was to be topped with eight cherries—no more, no less—one on each dollop of cream atop the cake. On just one cake out of the thousands he decorated each day, in a tiny fit of teenage rebellion, the husband doubled it. Two hours later he was given his walking papers, thus ending his illustrious career as Line Worker 47 at Fleur de Lis Cake Factory.
Black Forest Cake
Recipe Adapted From: New York Times Cooking (cooking/nytimes.com). I managed to print it out just before my monthly allotment of free articles ran out.
Level of Difficulty: low
Time Consumption: medium
Kitchen Destruction: medium
Wow Factor: high—chocolate curls are inherently impressive, and four layers doesn’t hurt either
Note #1: Due to some unfortunate summer training my school required me to attend, I was forced to make this cake over three non-consecutive days. This turned out to be a good thing. Each separate part—the cherry jam/syrup, the cakes, and the frosting/chocolate curls—is a very manageable task on its own and doing it this way made both Time Consumption and Kitchen Destruction feel “low.” I highly recommend this route, and in that order.
FOR THE CAKE:
- 1 C vegetable oil
- 1½ C cocoa powder (NYT calls for the Dutch process variety, but my inferior local grocery store fails me every time)
- 1½ C boiling water
- 1 C buttermilk
- 4 large eggs
- 1½ C packed dark brown sugar
- 1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 C all-purpose flour
- 1 TBS baking powder
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- ¾ tsp baking soda
FOR THE CHERRY JAM/SYRUP:
- 4 C (about 20 oz) fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries, pitted (my neighbor gave me 6 cups, resulting in lots of leftover syrup that is just begging to be used in cocktails)
- ½ C granulated sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1-2 TBS Kirsch (I used 2, duh)
FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM & ASSEMBLY:
- 1/3 C confectioners’ sugar
- 1 TBS cornstarch
- 4 C heavy cream
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, shaved into curls
- 8 – 12 fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries (NYT says to pit them. I say don’t. You’ll have cherry juice staining your white frosting. Just warn your guests about the pits when serving. Or don’t if you’re feeling impish.)
Directions for CAKE:
1.Heat over to 350° F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line bottom with parchment paper.
2.To prepare the cake, whisk in a large bowl the cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth. Add the buttermilk and 1 cup vegetable oil and whisk to combine. Add the eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla extract, then whisk to combine.
3.In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to the wet, then whisk to combine. Divide batter evenly between the pans.
4.Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, then flip them out onto a rack to cool completely.
5. Flip cakes again, so domed portion is on top and trim dome off so each cake is flat. Carefully cut each layer in half horizontally, creating four layers.
Directions for CHERRY JAM:
1.In small saucepan, combine cherries and sugar over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking down cherries with wooden spoon or potato masher, until fruit has released its juices, about 6 minutes.
2. Pass cherry mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the syrup in a medium bowl and setting aside the cooked cherries. Measure out ½ cup of syrup (store remainder in refrigerator for another use . . . 🍸). Transfer 1 TBS syrup from the half cup to a small bowl, then stir Kirsch into remaining syrup. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Add 1 TBS cornstarch to the reserved 1 TBS cherry syrup in the small bowl. Stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a saucepan, add the cooked cherries and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture has thickened, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely.
Directions for the WHIPPED CREAM & ASSEMBLY:
1.In a small saucepan, whisk together confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and 1 cup heavy cream. Bring mixture to a low boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thickened to the consistency of thin pudding, reducing heat as necessary to prevent scorching. Transfer cream mixture to a large bowl to cool completely.
2. Once cooled, whisk cream mixture to loosen it, then add remaining 3 cups heavy cream. Using an electric mixer on medium, beat the mixture until you have medium-stiff peaks.
3. Set one cake layer on a serving plate, cut side up. Brush it with some of the cherry-Kirsch syrup. Spread 1 cup whipped cream on the top, then 1/3 of the cherry jam. Swirl the jam and cream together to spread it out evenly.
4. Repeat this process two more times and top it with the last cake layer, cut side down. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of whipped cream (the crumb coat). Refrigerate 30 minutes.
5. To finish, frost the cake with remaining whipped cream. Prepare the chocolate curls by warming the bar in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, then use a vegetable peeler to create curled chocolate shavings.
6. Press the chocolate shavings onto the side of the cake and over a 1-inch border on top. Top with 8-12 cherries (or more, or fewer, without fear of dismissal or reprisal). Store leftovers, well wrapped, in refrigerator for up to three days.
Confessions of an Imperfect Baker:
- I forgot to buy 9″ cake rounds, so I was stuck putting my cake on waxed paper that I’d cut into a circle. It worked, but transferring it from my revolving decorating stand to my final cake stand was a bit dicey.
- I didn’t know until I made this cake that heating the chocolate bar was the key to getting fabulous curls. While making previous cakes, I settled for the chocolate sawdust produced by grating room temperature bars.
Note: I like the NY Times, but it’s not infallible. The ingredients list called for ¼ tsp of almond extract in the cherry jam/syrup section, but I didn’t notice it while baking because nowhere in the actual directions does it mention the extract. If you want to go ahead and add it—either in the jam or the syrup—go for it.