I was at the market the other day to buy vegetables. I was looking for my usual suspects – my pushy spinach guy who always tries to trick me into buying other things along with spinach, my-sweet-talker-salad-guy, who sweet talks me into spending a few hundred bucks on him, my big-hearted tomato-onion guy, who for some reason always gives me onions and tomatoes at a cheaper price (I don’t bargain)and then I also have my exotic fruits guy; if I am looking to buy seasonal fruits, he’s the man I count on.
So, as I was ambling my way through the market, the weight of my grocery bag increasing one stop after the other and something caught my attention. I was wheedled by these beautiful dark cherries, little rubicund jewels blemished by smidgens of black on their fleshy curves. It is in these moments I really want to reenact a scene right out of an 80’s film – slip a plump cherry into my mouth, make a little pout and pluck the stem off suggestively. But I didn’t, so you can relax.
Instead, I bought a box of black cherries, not knowing what to do with them, purely out of downright lust; yes I lust after food, surprise, surprise! So, I had cherries drying in a colander on one end, a bottle of kirshwasser (cherry brandy) on the other and several bars of dark chocolate on the kitchen platform waiting to be used. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to make of them. Black Forest Gâteau was the obvious, delicious option.
I don’t mean to be a snob but ironically, Black Forest is one of those legendary cakes whose sheer popularity has besmirched its quality in an attempt to duplicate it several times, everywhere in the world, by using substandard ingredients. Today it is a pedestrian slice of cake that lies in the shelf of almost every bakery and I want to show you what the cake actually is and is not.
I have done my bit of research on Black Forest recipes and this is my inference – it is a German, chocolate based cake, yes. The cake is not about mounds of whipped cream and shaved Cadbury’s chocolate, please no. If you don’t have access to fresh black cherries buy the normal ones but please don’t use glacé cherries. If you really want to make the cake and have no other option, you can buy tinned cherries. And more importantly, use good dark chocolate, couverture if you can.
I understand the omission of alcohol if you are making the cake keeping your kids in mind, if not, please use a good quality cherry brandy. If you don’t have cherry brandy, infuse some slit cherries in a couple of ounces of vodka overnight; that should do the trick. It’s a beautiful cake, packed with flavours in every single morsel. Whichever version you choose to recreate, pay the cake the respect it deserves by using authentic ingredients.
For chocolate sponge
- 37.5 g (1/3 cup) cake flour (1/3 cup packed plain flour + 1 tbsp corn flour)
- 10 g ( 1 ¼ tbsp) cocoa powder
- 37.5 g egg yolks (2-3 eggs)
- 22.5 g (1.5 tbsp) caster sugar
- 55 g egg whites (2 eggs)
- 30 g (2 tbsp) caster sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
For cherries in syrup
- 285 g dark cherries, pitted
- 100 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
- 2/3 cup cherry juice
- 1 tsp kirshwasser
For vanilla custard sauce
- ½ cup + ½ tbsp whole milk
- ½ cup + ½ tbsp heavy cream
- 34 g (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) caster sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 75 g egg yolks (4-5 eggs)
- 34 g (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) caster sugar
For chocolate mousse
- 105 g dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp heavy cream
- 22 g (1 tbsp scant) light corn syrup
- 22 g (1 tbsp scant) honey
For cherry soaking jelly
- ½ tsp gelatin
- 1 tsp cherry juice
- 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp cherry juice (from the cherries in syrup)
- 2 tsp kirshwasser
For Bavarian Cream
- ½ cup whipping cream (if you are using nondairy like Rich’s then ¼ cup)
- 1 tsp gelatin
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tsp kirshwasser
- 150 g vanilla custard sauce
- 50 g dark chocolate
- Confectioner’s sugar, to dust
Note: This is a 2-day recipe for sure. Do not get alarmed by the elements and the length of the recipe. If you spread it over two days and organize yourselves, it’s not a difficult task.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line a 7 inch round baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Sift cake flour and cocoa powder into a bowl. Set aside.
- Beat egg yolks and sugar (1.5 tbsp) in medium speed for 3 minutes until pale and frothy. Scrape the sides using a rubber spatula and beat further for 3 minutes.
- Add a pinch of sea salt, remaining sugar (2 tbsp) to egg whites. Beat on medium until you obtain soft peaks.
- Fold the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Alternatively, fold 1/3 of the egg whites mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Fold gently to combine. Add the remaining egg whites and fold till the colour of the batter becomes even.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin carefully and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Once baked, umould the cake onto a wire rack and cool for an hour. Wrap the cake in cling film and place in refrigerator.
- For the cherry syrup, combine the pitted cherries, sugar and cherry juice in a saucepan. Place on medium heat and bring to boil. Once the cherries are cooked, remove from heat and add kirshwasser. Immediately cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
- Set a large vessel with ice cubes. Place a bowl on top with a strainer.
- For the vanilla custard sauce, pour ¼ cup of milk, 34 g of caster sugar, scrapped vanilla bean and pods into a saucepan set over medium heat. Beat egg yolks and remaining 24 g of sugar for 30 seconds. Pour the remaining ¼ cup of milk to the egg yolks. Whisk to combine. Once the milk comes to the boil, remove the vanilla pod and pour half the milk into the egg yolks mixture while continuously whisking. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan set over medium heat and continue to whisk. Clip a candy thermometer to the saucepan and whisk until the sauce reaches 75 – 85 C.
- Once the desired temperature is reached, pour the sauce into the bowl set over the ice bath through a strainer. Keep whisking the sauce until it cools down. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
- For the chocolate mousse, bring cream, corn syrup and honey to the boil in a saucepan set over medium heat. Pour half the cream over the chopped chocolate. Cover with cling film and leave undisturbed for 1 minute. Unwrap and stir the mixture gently. Pour remaining cream and stir until the mixture emulsifies. Let it cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the cherry syrup from the refrigerator. Strain the cherries. Set the strained liquid aside.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator.
- For the cherry soaking syrup, combine add gelatin to 1 tsp cherry juice. Let it sit for 2 minutes until the gelatin blooms. Place the gelatin mixture on a double boiler and simmer till the gelatin dissolves.
- Add kirshwasser to 1/3 cup of the strained liquid. Add prepared gelatin to this mixture.
- Douse the entire syrup, little at a time, over the cake using a pastry brush in 5 minutes interval. Stack the cherries on top of the cake.
- For the Bavarian cream, set aside 250 g of vanilla custard sauce. Whip ½ cup of whipping cream to stiff peaks. Refrigerate. Combine gelatin and water and let it sit. Place the gelatin over a double boiler and stir until it melts. Add kirshwasser to the reserved vanilla custard sauce. Pour the prepared gelatin into the sauce and mix to combine. Add the remaining vanilla custard sauce.
- Fold the whipped cream into the prepared custard sauce until combined. Spread the Bavarian cream on the cake, on top of the cherries.
- Leave the cake in the freezer to set for 1-2 hours.
- Meanwhile, remove the chocolate mousse from the fridge. Whip the mousse in high speed till it becomes mousse like (3 minutes). Once the cake has set in the freezer, remove it and spread the chocolate mousse on top and sides.
- Decorate the cake with chocolate shavings, whole cherries and icing sugar.
- Refrigerate until serving.
Recipe source: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer