Will spring ever arrive? Paola Thomas rummages through her store cupboard and freezer to construct a decadent Emerald Forest Cake.
STORY AND PHOTO BY PAOLA THOMAS
At this time of year, a trip to the farmers market yields slim pickings for the seasonal cake baker, and for a time, this seasonal cake-recipe writer was similarly lacking in inspiration, until I turned my attention to all the wonderful local products in our store cupboards and freezers.
As thoughts of hand-crafted chocolate and succulent frozen cherries came to mind, I started mulling a Pacific Northwest version of a traditional Black Forest Cake – a dark chocolate cake filled and topped with boozy macerated cherries and whipped cream.
Kirsch is the traditional liquor of choice, but instead I substituted a local, small-batch bourbon. Its earthiness, combined with the caramel and spice of brown sugar and black pepper, brings out the sweetness of the cherries, and these woodsy notes only serve to enhance the forest theme. Add some Pacific Northwest hazelnuts and rich Seattle coffee to the chocolate cake batter, and you have a take on the cake that might be better than the original.
Nothing about this cake is hard, though it is a bit of a process. But as all our good resolutions fade into the rearview mirror, the decadent result of your labor will make for an indulgent treat at your Easter feast, while the cherries are a welcome reminder that the fresh fruit days of summer are now not too far away.
Emerald Forest Cake
Serves: 10-12| Active time: 1 hour + 2 hours baking and cooling time (Note that the timings given assume no overlap in duties, but many of the activities can overlap. For example, you can make the cake while the cherries are cooling.)
For the bourbon brown-sugar cherry filling
You could, of course, substitute pitted fresh cherries in the summer – just cook the compote down a little longer.
20–30 ounces frozen whole sweet cherries (quantity depends on how many you use to decorate the top)
1/2 cup bourbon (or substitute kirsch, rum, or orange juice)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the frozen cherries in a medium saucepan with the bourbon, sugars, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes until the cherries have softened but are not disintegrating.
Strain the cherries from the liquid (reserving the liquid) and set aside. Boil down the remaining juices until syrupy. Return the cherries to the syrup and set aside to cool for at least an hour to room temperature. I like to do this the night before so that the cherries can fully absorb the boozy flavors.
For the chocolate hazelnut cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or cake flour
2/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated or baker’s sugar
1 cup hazelnut flour (or substitute almond flour or all-purpose flour)
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup strong black coffee (either drip or espresso), mixed with 1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare three 7-inch layer cake pans by brushing the insides with oil and lining the bottoms with a circle of parchment paper.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and stir briefly to combine. Stir in the hazelnut flour.
Stir the eggs and sour cream together and pour into the dry ingredients. Using the whisk attachment, beat on a medium speed until fully combined.
Keep beating as you add the hot coffee and water in a steady stream until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Finally, pour in the melted butter and beat until fully amalgamated. You will end up with a thick, creamy and liquid batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans. Weighing the batter in the pans helps to ensure perfectly even layers.
Bake 30–35 minutes until firm and set in the center, and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
For the mascarpone cream
Adding mascarpone makes for a firmer cream that will hold its shape better and be easier to manage, but by all means, it’s fine to just whip 3 cups of heavy cream instead.
2 8-ounce tubs mascarpone cheese
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Using a stand mixer, beat the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar together until fluffy. Add the cream and whip until thickened and the cream holds stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whip so that the cream becomes grainy.
For the chocolate ganache topping (optional)
Your cake will be plenty decadent enough without a ganache topping, but it does add a spectacular extra dimension to the cake.
6 ounces dark chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
Break the chocolate into chunks and place into a bowl.
Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, taking care not to overboil. When it is gently bubbling, pour the hot cream onto the chocolate. Leave for a couple of minutes, and then stir with a spatula until fully amalgamated and chocolatey smooth. Set aside to cool while you assemble the cake. The ganache should be of pouring consistency, but not hot when you use it.
For decoration and assembly
2 tablespoons grated chocolate
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
Strain the macerated cherries, placing them in one bowl and the cherry bourbon syrup in another. Brush the cherry syrup over the cooled cakes, reserving a few tablespoons to swirl into the mascarpone cream.
Place the first cake layer on your serving dish. Spread a thick layer of the mascarpone cream evenly over the cake and swirl in a little cherry syrup. Place nearly half of the macerated cherries over the cream.
Place the second cake layer on top of the cherries and spread with cream and layer with cherries as before, reserving a few cherries for decorating the top.
Top with the third cake layer. Pour the ganache over the top and set aside to harden for about 15–20 minutes until fully set.
Decorate with any remaining mascarpone cream, reserved cherries, chopped hazelnuts, and grated chocolate. Chill slightly before serving.