It took me a little time to decide which recipe to pick up for this edition of "Is my Blog Burning?" hosted by Renee. I was divided whether to take something I had tried before at least once, to avoid possible embarrassing failures, or try a completely new recipe, to make things a bit more interesting. I decided to go for both in a certain sense. I chose a cake I know well, cause it's one of my favourites, but had never baked myself before: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte better known as Black forest cake. There are loads of versions for this classical cake: the old-fashioned original German one, different modern versions, some with a French touch, some with an American touch... I've even seen a deconstructed one. In this case I stay true to the original German one. Maybe it's a question of being used to it, after all I've been eating this cake at least once a year for more or less the last 30, but I think it still has an edge on the modern versions. I usually got this cake from my parents for my birthday and what started as an almost-necessity, we were living in Germany back then, became a tradition. Finally, after all these years I'd give it a go myself.
The first thing that gave me problems was finding a recipe. Not that I had none. Exactly the opposite: I didn't know which one to chose! So I started comparing the ones I had plus one or two I find on the web directly from the Black Forest. All German recipes seemed quite similar, with a couple of possible changes appearing in ore than one recipe, so I decided that it was consistent enough for me to use them as I guideline to build my own. After having tried once, there are a few things I'd change and I'll mention them as I go on.
The recipe itself is divided in three phases: cake base making, sour cherry preparation and assembly (which I particularly dreaded). The cake base, a slightly modified genoise or classical sponge cake, should be baked the day before so that it has cooled properly once you slice it into layers. Since I had taken quite a bit of time to chose the recipe I ended up baking this at night and doing a silly mistake which didn't screw up the whole thing but made my life a bit more difficult. For the base I used:
175 g sugar (6 oz) (which I would slightly reduce next time, maybe 150 g)
120 g (4.2 oz) flour (next time reduced to 90 g plus 30 g finely ground hazelnuts)
40 g (1.4 oz) fine starch (as Maizena)
40 g (1.4 oz) cacao (50 g next time)
a pinch of ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon powder
40 g (1.4 oz) melted (and slightly cooled) butter
a pinch of salt
First I melted the butter and let it cool. I then started whisking the eggs and sugar on a water bath till lukewarm and slightly foamy. At this point I transferred the whole thing to my bench-top mixer which, in about 10 minutes, turned the mixture into a thick cream which had tripled in volume because of all the air "absorbed". BTW can someone explain this "first hot then cool" procedure? I can't really explain why one should use it, except maybe to better dissolve the sugar in the eggs. I then sifted and folded in the dry ingredients. Here some recipes call for ground hazelnuts and spices. I was tempted to use both. I couldn't use the hazelnuts which many recipes call for cause I had none at hand but it tastes better with than without. The spices are not always included but, if missing, are added to the sour cherries afterwards, so I just added them to the dough without worrying too much. To finish I folded the butter in and poured the mixture in a ring form, layered with baking parchment and I baked the cake 30 minutes in a 180C (350F) pre-heated oven. While turning the cake midway through baking, since my oven heats quite unevenly, I noticed my first stupid mistake and slightly burned my hand on the oven wall. Problems never come alone, as they say :-). I mixed up two recipes and so I baked my cake in a 26 cm ring instead of a 24 cm one. Two cm might seem little but they did matter: my base was quite flatter than it should have been and gave me problems once I had to slice it into layers. I left the base to cool overnight, put some cream on my hand and went to bed.
The next day I first grated some dark chocolate, which I'd need as decoration. After a while, some really dirty chocolate smeared fingers later, I started preparing the sour cherries. These are an essential (and classic) part of the recipe. I've tried this cake with normal cherries and to me it tastes flat, missing that contrast the sour cherries give. The sour cherries, sold here in 500 g (about 1 lb) glasses and stored in a light sirup, can be used plain or prepared in a sort of thickened sauce, which I like better. Essentially 250 ml (8.5 fl oz) of the cherries syrup are mixed with a little lemon juice and 3 or 4 Tbs sugar and brought to a boil. At this point 3 Tbs of cornstarch, dissolved in a little water, are added and everything is stirred till it boils again. The cherries (except 12-14 needed for final decoration) are added in and gently stirred to avoid breaking them up. Once the sauce cooks again it is finished. I left this to cool till it started setting.
To finish I first cut, veeeeery carefully, the cake in three layers. The middle one came out quite thin and a bit uneven, but none broke so I was happy. Next I whipped a little bit of cream till really stiff: Just 1 litre ;-) i.e. one quart plus 2 Tbs vanilla sugar. I thought that was way too much but no, it was just enough to fill and cover the cake. To stabilise the cream a bit, so it wouldn't melt too quick, I dissolved three sheets of gelatine in a little cream and added it to the rest before whipping. I'm not sure it helped as you'll see.
So, slightly insecure, I started to assemble the cake. The first layer of base got sprinkled with some Kirschwasser (cherry schnapps) and spread a thin layer of cream on that. On top of this layer I draw three rings of whipped cream using a pastry bag, and filled the space left free with the sour cherries mixture. In theory the cherries should have been just enough for the cake but instead I had at least a third left: no problem, it's perfect together with vanilla or yogurt ice cream. I layered the second "slice" of base on top, sprinkled again with Kirschwasser and covered with a thick layer of whipped cream. The last layer came on top and I covered all with whipped cream again, trying to be as even as possible. Than the real decoration begun. Easy, in principle, but still enough to give me some problems. I first drew some simple rosettes of whipped cream with my pastry bag all around the cake's top surface. Each rosette got a sour cherry on top. Easy till now. I then spread the grated chocolate in the middle. Also no problem. I then sprinkled the chocolate on the sides. Uh-oh. The chocolate flakes didn't seem to be intentioned in staying there. I first tried pressing them on but I was either too soft (no chocolate sticking) or too hard (removing the whipped cream layer). I tried tilting the cake a bit. It worked at first but then the cake started to slide...arghhh!!! Panic! I managed to stop the cake from falling to the ground with my chest (both hands were busy). After I repaired the damage made to the outer cream layer I decided to just sprinkle the stuff on and whatever would stick would be fine. Better a not-perfect cake than a smashed one on the kitchen floor. As you can see from the opening pic it's not exactly pretty.
After short it was coffee time so the cake, for purely research reasons got tested. It got approved from the assembled research committee... even a bit too enthusiastically. I wanted to take a photo of a slice but, ehm, ah, well... You know how it is when people are hungry, right? I really liked the contrast between sour cherries, sweet, spicy and chocolaty cake base and fluffy light (not in dietary sense!) cream. The only problem was that the gelatine addition didn't seem to really do the trick: the whipped cream, also because the day was quite hot, started to go soft after not too long. Well, another reason to eat another slice :-).