The holidays are a baker’s favorite time of the year.  This is the season when you can flash your creativity and pull out all of the stops.  I am so excited to partner with Whole Foods in Portland, Oregon, to showcase one of my favorite holiday treats:  the Black Forest Cake.  This is a decadent, three-layer chocolate cake soaked in kirsch, covered with luscious whipped cream frosting and finished with sweet cherries and thick chocolate shavings.  Needless to say, there is a huge “wow factor” in the presentation and it looks beautiful on any holiday table.

Whole Foods is my go-to grocery store for everything from basic to special dietary ingredients to hard-to-find products.  Two ingredients in particular that I love from Whole Foods are their high-quality chocolate sold in blocks (perfect for chocolate shavings, but block form can be hard to locate) and jarred sour cherries without artificial colors or flavors.  Quality ingredients make a big difference in this cake.20161209_135939img_20161210_160900

I admit that this cake is a project, but completely doable if you map out your time well.  I prefer to make this cake in stages.  You can bake and freeze the plain chocolate cake layers in advance.  Frost the layers and finish the decorating the morning of or night before you plan to serve it.

Take deep breaths, visualize the oohs and ahhs from your holiday guests, and start baking!

Black Forest Cake

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen “Family Baking Book”

Cherries and syrup
2 cups jarred sour cherries in light syrup, drained with 1 cup syrup reserved
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz) kirsch or other cherry flavored liqueur

Whipped cream
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups (24 oz) heavy cream, chilled
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

7 ounces bittersweet or milk chocolate for the shavings to decorate the sides and top of the cake.  Buy a large block of chocolate, if available, and peel shavings using a vegetable peeler.

1 recipe Devil’s Food Layer Cake, baked and cooled, but unfrosted (see recipe below)

Method:
1. FOR THE CHERRIES AND SYRUP: Reserve 8 of the prettiest cherries for garnish in a small bowl. Slice the remaining cherries in half and place in a medium bowl. Simmer the reserved cherry syrup and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until mixture is thickened and measure about 1/2 cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the kirsch.
2. Toss 1 tbsp of the syrup with the cherries reserved for garnish. Toss 3 tbsp more syrup with the halved cherries. Poke the top of the cake layers thoroughly with a wooden skewer and brush with the remaining syrup.
1. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Whisk the sugar and the cornstarch together in a small saucepan and slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2-3 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whip the remaining 2 1/2 cups cream and the vanilla together with an electric mixer on low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue to whip the mixture until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Slowly add the cooled cornstarch mixture and continue to whip until the mixture forms soft peak, 1-3 minutes.
3. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one of the cake layers on the platter. Spread 1/2 cup of the whipped cream over the top, right to the edge of the cake, then cover with half of the sliced cherries. Repeat with another cake layer, 1/2 cup more whipped cream, and the remaining sliced cherries. Place the remaining cake layer on top and press lightly to adhere. Frost the cake with the remaining whipped cream.
4. Refrigerate the cake until it absorbs the soaking syrup, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.  Before serving, let the cake sit at room temperature, 30-60 minutes, then gently press the chocolate shavings into the sides of the cake. Evenly space 8 small pile of chocolate shavings around the top of the cake and top each with a cherry. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

DEVIL’S FOOD LAYER CAKE

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tsp instant espresso or instant coffee
10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 (4 oz) cup sour cream, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:
1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 9-inch round cake pans, then dust with cocoa powder and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Dusting with cocoa powder, not flour, with chocolate cakes ensures there is no white flour all over baked cakes.  Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the boiling water, chocolate, 1/2 cup of the cocoa powder, and instant espresso together until smooth.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla until incorporated.
3. Reduced the speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining chocolate mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just incorporated.
4. Give the batter the final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15-20 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway thorough baking.
5. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto the wire racks. Peel off parchment paper, flip the cakes side up, let cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours.

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