Spiffed Up Black Forest Cake

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In a departure with tradition, this year Colin requested black forest cake for his birthday cake rather than his usual chocolate and peanut butter confection.  As coincidence would have it, I had recently watched the first episode of the most current season of Great British Bake Off on PBS and their showstopper challenge was black forest cake!  I watched it once, found out Colin wanted this cake, and then watched it again jotting down all sorts of ideas– everything from cherry flavored ganache to including cherry cake to making a decorative collar of chocolate to surround the entire cake.  I’m ambitious, but not quite THAT ambitious.

As always, I turned to KAF for inspiration and went for their basic black forest cake recipe (well, as basic as a fancy cake can be) but also looked into ideas for cherry cake.  Many that I found online involved some variation on including Maraschino cherries or cherry pudding or some such, so back to KAF and their cherry cupcake recipe.  I called the baker’s hotline for guidance on how to cook it as a layer cake (I believe I ended up with ~30 min on 350, but can’t recall for sure).

I followed instructions for both with a few exceptions:

Cherry Cake:

  • I couldn’t find cherry juice concentrate, so just used cherry juice– in hindsight I should’ve found a way to concentrate it more (maybe reducing it on the stove to a more syrupy consistency) because it didn’t lend as strong of a cherry flavor to the batter as was probably intended.
  • Obviously the one cake layer was made and I had some leftover batter that generated about 3-4 cupcakes.  This was great since this cake recipe was untested to me– I could see how it actually worked out before I served it to the group!

Chocolate Cake

  • I did the make your own buttermilk approach with lemon juice and regular milk, which seemed to work just fine.
  • I used a regular cherry pie filling can, but I noticed too late that it was labeled “no sugar added” which gave it a sort of artificial taste that I didn’t like.  No one else seemed to notice, but I would look for an alternative in the future.

Assembly and decorating is where I got a little more adventurous than usual.  My vision for the cake was layer of chocolate, cherry filling/whipped cream, layer of cherry cake cut in half with chocolate ganache in the middle, cherry filling/whipped cream, layer of chocolate, topped with ganache and with sides of whipped cream and tempered chocolate decorations and some chocolate-covered cherries on top.  But then as I got going I also decided to go ahead and cut the chocolate layers in half so I ended up with a total of 6 layers!

For ganache I used the whipped ganache recipe from this combo (Vanilla Layer Cake with Whipped Rum-Ganache Icing) but didn’t do the rum, more just wanted this as a way to apply some ganache that was less dense than it would be if I just made it in the saucepan and went with it.  I forgot to stir the ganache as it cooled and I think that made me end up with a little less smooth of an end result because when I whipped it it still looked a little chunky (and I didn’t want to over-whip), but it was still spreadable which was the goal.

While that was chilling in the fridge I started trying to temper chocolate using this guide.  After reading through it 3 or 4 times I felt like it was pretty straightforward, especially now that I have a instant read thermometer.  The one thing that was frustrating to me was that you sort of don’t know if it’s in temper until you’ve tried to let it dry and by that point it might be too late for the rest of the chocolate (well, not too late, but I didn’t want to have to worry about adjusting the temperature up and down continually).

So anyway, I heated the chocolate double boiler style until it got to the right temp, added the unmelted chocolate, removed from heat, and started stirring.  I was using Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips so cooled it to 86 per suggestion and then transferred some to my piping bag that I had fitted with a thin plain circle tip.  I did some free form trees that I figured I would stand up around the outside of the cake and then played around with writing some stuff and other little doodles as well as dipping some cherries in chocolate.  I let it sit for awhile, but it was hot out and clear that nothing was happening in the way of hardening so I moved it to the freezer.  So basically no, it wasn’t in temper.  But at least I got some decorations that, if I kept cool, would serve their purpose OK.

Assembly of the cake went smoothly to start because the black forest cake is one I’ve made before (though I still struggle with cutting the layers in half right down the middle).  The cherry layer was pretty dense so that was a little harder to cut, but it worked.  The ganache was spreadable as were the whipped cream and cherry filling (obviously), so the “hardest part” was really just making sure I was distributing fillings evenly enough to not run out for other layers.

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Once it was all done it looked pretty great (I think).

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So I applied my decorations and popped it in the fridge until party time!

In terms of how it tasted I’ve already alluded to one change I would make– the cherry pie filling tasted too artificial to me, so I would swap that out next time.  Also, the cherry cake was pretty dense and made me wonder if it was cooked properly.  This was my second time using my cake strips which I think impacts the baking time/completeness more than the instructions let on, so I wonder if that had something to do with it.  Since the strips seem to stop the cake from having that dome on top I wonder if that’s in the name of sacrificing some of the light/fluffyness.  But I’m not ready to give up on cake strips just yet!  Maybe next time I’ll just need to increase my recipe to get a test layer to make sure it cooks well.  And if I have to eat that extra layer well, that’s just the sacrifice I need to make in the name of science!

(Here’s a few shots of the inside to get a feel for the way the layers laid out.)

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You can see in this photo that the cherry layer is a little too dense.

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