Our local cherry season is over. At its height, I had promised my grandson a Black Forest cake. But one thing led to another and the promise just never got kept. Not to worry! Cherry season in the Northwest is still going strong, so I bought the cherries from the grocery store. Now, authentic recipes for Black Forest cake call for canned or preserved cherries, but to my mind fresh is always better. If you use fresh, just be sure to pit them. Authentic recipes also describe the chocolate cake as a “chocolate génoise”, but that is beyond my baking skills and requires more time than I had allotted to the project. Instead, I used my mother’s favorite recipe for chocolate cake.
There could not be an easier cake to bake nor a tastier one. You dump all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix them up with an electric beater, You can sift the dry ingredients to prevent tiny lumps of unbaked flour, but that added step still falls within my bounds for easy. I’m not certain where my mother got the recipe. Perhaps it was from a cookbook of the Great Depression, a newspaper clipping, or even a conference for school cafeteria workers. My mother was a “lunch lady” complete with hair net. Every week she turned out schoolhouse spaghetti, mac and cheese made from giant blocks of USDA surplus commodity cheese, and other hot lunches that the kids loved. On Fridays she always baked a batch of her wonderful pan rolls that the kids fought over and the teachers begged for. My mother also specialized in desserts – especially chocolate cake. I suspect she used this recipe.
Finally, I used whipped cream for the filling and canned whipped topping for the decorations on the top. Some recipes call for a more elaborate sauce based on crème anglaise. And canned whipped topping would be unheard of. In short, this was not an honest-to-goodness Black Forest cake and it was definitely not suitable for a cover shot for Bon Appetit, but it was close enough and good enough for both me and my grandson. He deemed it “delicious” and asked for a second slice.
Basting the cake layers with Kirsch syrup
Whipped cream to stiff peaks
Layer on the whipped cream
Next the pitted cherries
Building the cake
Great Grandma’s Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1¾ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ¾ cup neutral vegetable oil
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 eggs
- Sift the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda, into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the buttermilk, oil. hot water, and eggs. With an electric beater, either a stand mixer or hand-held, beat the mixture until well combined and smooth. Do not overbeat.
- Distribute the batter equally among three 8-inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake for 20 minutes in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F. Test for doneness with a toothpick, and when done , remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on the cooling rack.
Black Forest Cake
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup Kirsch
- chocolate cake baked in three layers (see above)
- 2 pounds (about) fresh Bing cherries, pitted
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 pounds (about) fresh Bing cherries, pitted
- canned whipped topping
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to the boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the Kirsch. Cool.
- With a pastry brush, brush the Kirsch syrup generously on the tops of the three cake layers.
- Whip the cream and sugar until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
- Arrange one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread generously with half of the whipped cream. Arrange pitted cherries on the whipped cream. Top with one of the remaining cake layers and repeat the whipped cream and cherries.
- Top with the remaining layer. Decorate with whipped cream rosettes using the canned whipped topping. Decorate with cherries. Chill until ready to serve.
Cook’s Note: The cake recipe can also be used for two 9-inch layers, cupcakes or sheet cake. Use a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan for the sheet cake and increase the baking time to 30 minutes.
A while back, I wrote about sweet cherry season and a request for cherries jubilee. I wound up making a cherry galette instead, with the promise that if there were cherries still around I would make cherries jubilee for the next Sunday family dinner. Cherries are still around at the market, so here’s cherries jubilee, flames and all. It is said that the dish was invented by the famous chef, Escoffier, for a dinner celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. That was in the era when flames at tableside were considered very fancy. Inventions of the time included Crepes Suzette and Baked (or Bombe) Alaska.
The next rush of flambéing was in the middle of the twentieth century with its epicenter in New York City and the restaurants favored by “cafe society”. Steak Diane made its appearance then, as did Bananas Foster (invented in New Orleans), After that, fashion moved on and the popularity of tableside service, especially with leaping flames, virtually disappeared. I am not certain, but I think there may be a resurgence of interest; at least in our family there has been a recurring request.
There are many recipes for cherries jubilee on the internet, and there are lots of variations: most call for fresh cherries, but you can make cherries jubilee with canned cherries, ready-made cherry pie filling or even cherry Jello. The best version that I could find, and the one that seemed most likely to be true to the original was that recorded by Ethan Becker in his revision of The Joy of Cooking. I used that recipe as a template with my own revisions. The result turned out to be a celebratory conclusion to our last family dinner. The good news is that no one was burned, and the smoke alarms did not go off. As an aside, to be fool-proof, you should heat the brandy before you try to light it, but be gentle with the heating to avoid burning yourself.
- 4 cups ripe sweet cherries
- ¼ cup Kirsch
- ¾ cup turbinado sugar
- juice of 1 lemon, strained
- ¼ cup brandy
- Wash and pit the cherries. In a large bowl, combine them with the Kirsch, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours, gently stirring occasionally.
- When you are ready to serve, transfer the Kirsch-soaked cherries to a chafing dish or large flat-bottomed pan along with the sugar and lemon juice. Over medium-low heat, heat the mixture until the cherries release their juices and the sugar is dissolved. Continue to simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened.
- In the meantime, heat the brandy in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not boil. Light the heated brandy by tilting the pan slightly over the flame or with a long match or fireplace lighter. Pour the flaming brandy over the cherries and allow the flames to extinguish themselves. After the flames have died down, stir the mixture gently.
- Serve immediately over individual bowls of vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.
Pitted cherries soaking in Kirsch
Cooking down the sauce before the flame
It is just at the end of the season for cherries at our local farmers’ market. My son-in-law and grandson love them – don’t we all – so Carol has been making a lot of things cherry, including a delicious cherry, hazelnut, mâche salad. One of our Sunday dinner conversations focused on all the different things you could do with cherries. Lots of recipes were discussed, but the conversation kept coming back to Cherries Jubilee. The dish has such a romantic name, and it conjures up images of elegance and maybe a little bit of indulgence. Especially for the younger members of the family the thought of leaping flames at table side is the most exciting aspect of the dish. The last Cherries Jubilee that I remember at home was nearly 40 years ago. The most memorable Cherries Jubilee was not even the real thing. Our ski patrol had an annual camping expedition, always held in the dead of winter. On a weekend, after the lifts had closed we gathered at the lift shack on the highest run on the mountain. Then we would ski off to an isolated spot in the woods, pitch our tents before dark, and prepare an evening meal. The first year, everyone brought freeze-dried stew or canned tuna. Everyone except Bob, who was the most experienced mountaineer. We thought he would bring some sort of dehydrated food from one of his expeditions. Instead, he brought an elaborate main dish and then prepared flaming canned cherries that he ladled over a handful of fresh snow in each camper’s dish. That set the mark, and each year thereafter (this being a highly competitive group) the challenge was on for who could make the most elaborate and exotic meal out in the winter wilderness.
With that story in mind, I decided to make Cherries Jubilee for the next Sunday family dinner. I bought a big bag of cherries – and then for various reasons our dinner was postponed. I still needed to do something with those cherries, so I decided to make a cherry pie, actually a cherry galette. I used a commercial pie crust to make it easy, and I added the Kirsch that would have gone into the flambé. It turned out to be simple to make and a good use for cherries before they spoiled. If, when our Sunday dinners resume, there are still cherries available, I’ll go back to my original plan. Otherwise, the family will have to be satisfied with Bananas Foster.
Sweet Cherry Galette
- 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon mint extract
- 2 tablespoons Kirsch (optional)
- 1 prepared pie crust
- 1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- turbinado sugar
- Place the pitted cherries in a large bowl. Gently stir in the brown sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, vanilla and mint extracts, and Kirsch. Let stand for 15 minutes.
- On a lightly-floured surface, roll the prepared pie crust into a circle about 11 inches across. Transfer the crust to a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment.
- Arrange the cherry mixture in the center of the pie crust, taking care to leave a two-inch space around the edge. Dot the cherry mixture with the butter pieces. Drape the edges of the pie crust over the cherry mixture, pressing the folds to seal the dough.
- Paint the turned-up pie crust with cream and sprinkle with turbinado.
- Bake in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 425°F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. A scoop of vanilla ice cream makes a good addition.
Cook’s Note: Carol has an electric cherry pitter which makes short work of the task. I have a little device that pits cherries one at a time. The job takes longer, but you can turn on the TV or pour a glass of wine or both to make things go faster.