Some recipes are just too good not to share, and this is one of them. This Black Forest Gateau was made for a dinner party I threw for some friends last night. It was such a hit that my siblings, who are usually only mildly interested in my baked goods, actually squabbled over the left overs.
Black Forest has long been my favourite type of layer cake. And what's not to like? Cherries soaked in kirsch (or some other liquer), sandwiched between layers of intensely chocolatey sponge cake, and the whole thing smothered with freshly whipped cream. The contrast of textures and flavours - plump, juicy cherries against soft, yielding cake, the dulcet creaminess of the fresh cream against the bite from the alcohol - makes a well-made Black Forest a true pleasure to eat.
The key, as always, is to use the best base ingredients possible. In this case, the chocolate cake involved copious amounts of insanely expensive Ecuadorian cacao powder. A slight overkill? Perhaps. But these were very good friends that were coming over, and I like feeding the people I love the real deal in edibles. And also because this was the only cocoa powder I had lying around. Just avoid the nasty cheap stuff that doesn't even smell like chocolate (which, embarrassingly, I have used before in thriftier times) and you should be fine.
Just so you don't end up broke by the time you're done making this cake, you can cut some corners when it comes to the cherries and opt for fresh ones soaked in a liqueur of your choice instead of going out of your way to acquire maraschino cherries. I know it's not traditional, and some people would argue that it's not Black Forest unless it's soaked in kirsch (a cherry liqueur), but as long as it tastes good, right? I myself used a mixture of vodka, schnapps and rum. Add the amount to taste. Drain the cherries when you're ready to assemble the cake, but don't throw away the liquid! You'll need that for brushing onto your cake layers.
A nicely assembled layer cake is a thing of beauty, but it takes a bit of fussing around with levelling the cake layers, and applying a crumb-coat (as seen in the picture above). Since this was to be served amongst friends, I didn't go nutso on the decorating. Just a bit of piping, and going around the edge with a comb tool. You can see bits of the cake showing through the cream frosting, but I quite like the effect.
For the cake itself, I consulted my beloved copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes and went with the chocolate cake recipe used in her German chocolate cake. True to her word, this chocolate cake does indeed remain soft when chilled in the fridge, but has enough structural integrity to lend itself well to carving. The texture is a thing to marvel at - fudgy, almost like mudcake, yet the recipe requires only cocoa powder, not melted chocolate. I think I've found a winner in this recipe, and can see it becoming my default choice for future birthday cake bases.
Recipe for Black Forest Gateau
Makes two cake layers, around 23cm (9 inch) in diameter
For the chocolate cake:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (66 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (118g) boiling water
1/2 cup (108g) canola oil
4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 whites
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (75g) cake flour
2/3 cup (75g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (300g) caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the liqueur-soaked cherries
Around 30 medium-sized sweet cherries
5 tablespoons liqueur of your choice
For the whipped cream filling and frosting
600ml thickened cream, suitable for whipping, chilled
6 tablespoons confectioner's (icing) sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 medium-sized cherries, with stem attached
Chocolate block at room temperature
1. A day before baking the cakes, remove the stones from the cherries. (I used a specialty cherry de-stoner which allowed me to keep the cherries whole, but you can also cut the cherries in half and pry the stones out that way.) Douse the destoned cherries with the liqueur and toss everything around. Place in an airtight container, and keep in the fridge overnight.
To make the cakes:
2. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the baking rack close to the bottom of the oven. Grease two round cake pans, both 22cm in diameter and 8cm high.
3. Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water in a bowl until a smooth paste forms. Cover with cling film to prevent the mixture from drying out. Set aside to cool slightly. Add in the oil and egg yolks to the paste, and beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until it becomes the consistency of a soft buttercream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the vanilla. Beat for another 30 seconds.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the cake and all-purpose flours, sugar, salt and baking soda. Add half of this dry mixture to the cocoa mixture from step 3. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Add in the rest of the dry mixture and beat on low speed until everything is moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat for 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Turn down mixer speed to low, and add in the egg whites. Gradually raise speed back up to medium, and beat until mixture resembles a thick soup. Scrape half the batter into one pan and the rest in the other.
5. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Take out of oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan, before unmolding and letting the cakes cool completely on cooling racks.
To make the whipped cream filling/frosting:
6. Pour the chilled thickened cream into a a bowl which has been chilled in the fridge. Add vanilla extract and sifted icing sugar. Beat with a whisk or electric beaters until soft peaks form.
To assemble the cake:
7. Drain the liqueur-soaked cherries, reserving the liquid. Set aside.
8. Divide the whipped cream into two portions. One portion will be used to fill and crumb-coat the cake, and the other for decoration.
9. Using a cake-leveller, (or just a serrated knife if you've got a good eye and steady hand), slice off the domed tops of the cake layers. Brush the bottom layer with the liquid from the cherries, then top with a layer of cream, the cherries, and another layer of cream. Brush the other cake layer with the cherry liquid, then place on top of the filling, brushed-side down. Brush the very top of the cake with some more cherry liquid.
10. Using a spatula, crumb-coat the cake with whipped cream. Chill the crumb-coated cake in the fridge for at least four hours, before using the remaining cream to decorate the outside of the cake. Complete the decorating with the chocolate curls (made by scraping the chocolate block with a potato peeler) and fresh cherries-with-stems-attached.
11. Return to fridge to chill. Take out from the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving.