Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Forest Torte

Today is my birthday, and this is my birthday cake.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Torte, is a German classic, and one of my favorites. I made it this past weekend for my early birthday family dinner (yes, I made my own birthday cake).

It features layers of fluffy chocolate sponge cake, delicately sweet and light as air, soaked with kirsch (cherry brandy), filled with whipped cream and sour cherries, and finished with bittersweet chocolate shavings.

The cake itself is reminiscent of angel food cake in technique, but also includes the egg yolks whipped in after the whites reach a meringue consistency. A combination of sifted cake flour, cocoa powder, and cornstarch bind the mixture together, which is baked in a 9-inch springform pan. There is no butter or oil in this cake, and the only leavening comes from the expertly whipped egg whites.

There are a couple very important ingredients one must procure to make this cake. The most difficult believe it or not was the kirsch or kirschwasser. I've purchased this many years ago, but had run out recently and was not able to find another bottle after calling many local liquor stores. One finally offered to special order it for me. I didn't realize it would be this hard to source, but beware and plan ahead.

The jar of sour cherries was ordered through Amazon, however I later found an identical jar at my local whole foods for half the price (now I know for next time).

After thickening the cherries with cornstarch

This cake definitely requires a bit of planning not only to get some of the specialty ingredients, but also because the assembled cake must chill in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours to really soak in all the flavors. It's worth the wait, though!

Not only is it a beautiful creation, totally fitting for a birthday celebration, but it's light, airy, and not-too-sweet with bursts of sourness from the cherries.

Making your own birthday cake is totally worth it when you are making something as delightful as a Black Forest torte. Whether you make this for yourself or for a loved one, it's sure to impress!

Black Forest Torte (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)
Makes 1 (9-inch) torte
(From Classic German Baking)

6 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (180 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup, scooped and leveled, minus 1 tablespoon (100 grams) cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (50 grams) cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon (50 grams) cornstarch

Filling and Topping:
1 (24-ounce/680 gram) jar or can pitted sour cherries in sugar water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 cups (720 ml) whipped cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 to 6 tablespoons (45 to 90 ml) kirsch
Large chunk of bittersweet chocolate, chilled, for grating

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

To make the cake: Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the salt; begin whisking on medium speed, and then increase the speed. As the egg whites whip and froth, slowly add the sugar in small increments. Beat until the egg whites are thick and glossy and at least tripled in volume. The sugar should be fully dissolved (you can pinch a bit of the mixture between thumb and forefinger to see whether it's still grainy).

Lower the speed and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Turn off the machine.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and cornstarch. Gently shake this mixture over the whipped eggs. Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold together until the batter is smooth and creamy and no streaks remain. Scrape the batter gently into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake, then remove the springform ring. Turn the cake upside down, remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper, and let the cake cool completely.

To prepare the filling and topping: Drain the sour cherries over a bowl, reserving the juice. Set aside 13 to 15 cherries for the top of the cake. Pour the cherry juice into a measuring cup and add enough water to come up to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 ml) (you may have enough juice without needing to add water--it depends on the jar of cherries you buy). Pour 2 tablespoons of the juice into a separate bowl and stir in the cornstarch until no lumps remain. Set aside. Pour the remaining juice into a saucepan.

Bring the pan of juice to a boil. Add the drained cherries, bring to a boil again, and then immediately stir in the cornstarch mixture. Let cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let cool--the mixture will continue to chicken as it cools.

Whip the cream and sugar together until very thick. Set aside.

Cut the fully cooled chocolate cake horizontally into 3 equal layers (if your cake has domed a lot, you can carefully trim the top so it is a bit more level). Place the bottom third on a cake platter. Sprinkle evenly with 1 to 2 tablespoons of kirsch. Scrape some of the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe 3 concentric circles onto the cake round. Fill the rings with half of the sour cherry mixture. Gently place the second round of cake on top and repeat the process with the kirsch, whipped cream, and cherry mixture. Place the third round of the cake on top and sprinkle with the remaining kirsch. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream (you can reserve a bit to pipe rosettes on top of the cake at the end, after scattering the grated chocolate), and then arrange the reserved cherries on top of the cake.

Grate the bittersweet chocolate and scatter it over the top and sides of the cake. How much you use is up to you. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours before serving. If refrigerating for 4 hours, remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. If chilling for longer, remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. The cake will keep, lightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for several days.


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