Cook With San Diego County Library: The Perfect Cake

With the holidays around the corner, our staff are busy trying out new recipes from our cookbook collections. Cassie has one perfect cake for you:

One of my all-time favorite cakes is Black Forest Gateau. In its simplest form, it's a rich chocolate cake with cherries and fresh whipped cream. If you too enjoy this classic, check out The Perfect Cake by America's Test Kitchen's recipe, which keeps things simple enough for a home baker to make in an afternoon, while delivering a lovely presentation and deliciously fresh flavor. The book also includes well-illustrated guides for crafting the perfect layer cake, including how to prep your pans and make shaved chocolate curls.

Sadly, cherry season is long over, and I couldn't find jarred cherries, but I was able to use frozen, defrosted cherries, which made this possible as a holiday season creation. Make sure to save the juice as your cherries thaw. Black Forest cake also generally features a little kirsch, a cherry-flavored brandy, to ramp up the cherry flavor; alas, I couldn't find kirsch at our local stores, either, so I settled for a Maraschino liqueur. Of course, if you'd prefer to make this cake sans alcohol, just substitute the liqueur with a little extra cherry juice or syrup.

These substitutions and the fact that this cake is soaked, prove this is a very forgiving recipe. No one will complain of it being too dry or not cherry-flavored enough! The soaking syrup also means the cake is even better after a few hours, as it absorbs the juicy cherry syrup. Make it the night before and wait to decorate and it will be perfectly moist and delicious. It was certainly a hit amongst my family and friends! Be warned, though, the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate shavings make this a true chocolate-lover’s treat.


Black Forest Cake

serves 10 to 12

2 cups jarred sour cherries in light syrup, drained with 1 cup syrup reserved
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
½ cup kirsch or other cherry-flavored liqueur

3 (8-inch) Devil's Food Cake Layers

Whipped cream
¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 cups heavy cream, chilled
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Shaved semisweet chocolate

1. For the cherries: Reserve 8 prettiest cherries for garnish in small bowl. Slice remaining cherries in half and place in second bowl. Bring reserved cherry syrup and sugar to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat and cook until syrup is thickened and measures about ½ cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in kirsch. Toss 1 tablespoon syrup with cherries reserved for garnish. Toss 3 tablespoons more syrup with halved cherries.

2. For the cake: Poke top of cake layers thoroughly with wooden skewer and brush with remaining syrup.

3. For the whipped cream: Whisk sugar and cornstarch together in small saucepan and slowly whisk in ½ cup cream. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Let mixture cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. Using stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip remaining 2 ½ cups cream and vanilla on low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to whip until mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Slowly add cooled sugar mixture and continue to whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.

5. Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips of parchment paper to keep platter clean. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread ½ cup whipped cream over top, right to edge of cake, then cover with half of sliced cherries. Repeat with 1 more cake layer, ½ cup more whipped cream, and remaining sliced cherries. Top with remaining cake layer, pressing lightly to adhere. Spread remaining whipped cream evenly over top and sides of cake.

6. Refrigerate cake so it absorbs soaking syrup, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Before serving, let cake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, then gently press shaved chocolate into sides of cake. Evenly space 8 small piles shaved chocolate around top of cake and top each with cherry. Carefully remove parchment strips before serving.

Devil’s Food Cake
½ cup (1½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, plus extra for pan 1½ cups (7½ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups boiling water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces and softened
1½ cups packed (10½ ounces) light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, then dust with cocoa powder and line bottoms with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in bowl. Whisk boiling water, chocolate, cocoa, and espresso powder in second bowl until smooth.

3. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in sour cream and vanilla until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, scraping down bowl as needed. Give batter final stir by hand.

4. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula. Gently tap pans on counter to settle batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few crumbs attached, 18 to 22 minutes, switching and rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 2 hours. (Cake layers can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours or frozen for up to 1 month; defrost at room temperature.)

Bon Appetit!