Cherry-Filled Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

I’m posting this cake recipe in hopes that you’ll trust me on this one and generously look over some of my more noticeable flaws here, like the fact that I obviously have very little experience frosting cakes (sad, but true)…the fact that the colors in the photos are a bit off (baking in the evening)…or perhaps the most glaring of all: there isn’t a single photo of a slice! How could I omit that?

Well, I did and we’ll both just have to live with it. I made this cake for one of my fellow grad students whose birthday it was last week. The cake was sliced up in the office and – I’m sorry – I must not be a true food blogger since I couldn’t bring myself to pause the celebration just so I could snap some photos for my website. You’ll have to take my word for it: it looked good!

I’ve needed some serious chocolate love recently, too. Classes are continuing to pick up and while I’m still loving them, I’m also starting to get frustrated with myself. You see, for the one class where we have significant homework assignments, I’ve yet to get any of the homework problems correct. Any. I’ve been able to work them out and get answers, sure, but in the end I’m always wrong.

I know I have a lot of ground to make up – I’ve been out of the Physics world for over 5 years now and this kind of thinking takes practice – but I’m starting to feel really guilty here. At the weekly study groups I have yet to contribute a single idea that amounts to anything. I guess I’ll have to keep baking so at least I can contribute something tasty if not cosmologically relevant.

Cherry-Filled Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

(Cake/frosting recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Spring Entertaining ’10)

Ingredients:

For the Cake…

12   T   unsalted butter, very soft plus extra for prep

1¾   C   unbleached AP flour (8¾ oz), plus extra for prep

4   oz.   unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼   C   Dutch-processed cocoa*

½   C   hot water

1¾   C   sugar

1½   t   baking soda

1   t   salt

1   C   buttermilk**

2   t   vanilla extract

4  large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks

*Note: If you have high-quality unsweetened cocoa on hand, you can sub it in for Dutch-processed powder using the following conversion: use 3 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder plus a pinch of baking soda for every 1 ounce of Dutch-Processed cocoa called for in a recipe. More information about it here.

**Note: Along with my cocoa substitution, I also never buy buttermilk. I mix 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice into 1 Cup of regular milk and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until it begins to curdle – super easy. 🙂

For the Frosting…

16  oz.  semisweet chocolate chips

8   T   unsalted butter (1 stick)

1/3   C   sugar

2   T   corn syrup

2   t   vanilla extract

¼   t   salt

1¼   C   cold heavy cream

an ice bath (see procedure)

For the Filling…

1  lb.  fresh cherries, pitted and halved – plus extra for decoration

½   C   water

1/3   C   sugar

1   T   cornstarch

2   t   alcohol-free almond extract*

*Note: I use this kind of almond flavoring (made with real almond oil but no alcohol) so I was able to add a generous amount. I’m sure you can use almond extract that’s made with alcohol, just start with a single teaspoon, taste, and add more as needed.

Procedure:

1) Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ round cake pans with butter then dust with flour and knock out excess – set aside. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in a medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over a saucepan containing 1″ simmering water and stir with a rubber spatula until chocolate has melted – about 2 minutes. Add ½ Cup of sugar to chocolate and stir until glossy, a couple minutes more. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

2) Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in another medium-sized bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a third small bowl. In bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment (or in a large bowl) whisk eggs and yolks on Medium-low speed for about 10 seconds or until combined. Add remaining 1¼ Cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color – 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment – if using stand mixer – and add the cooled chocolate mix to the egg-sugar blend. Mix on Medium speed  until thoroughly incorporated, 30-45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

3) Add softened butter to the batter mixture 1 Tablespoon at a time, mixing for about 10 seconds after each addition. Once butter has been incorporated, alternate adding about 1/3 of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk mix blending for about 15 seconds after each. Repeat alternating flour and buttermilk until both are fully incorporated into batter. The batter may appear separated, but don’t worry. Set aside electric mixer and use a spatula to scrape sides and fold in any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepped pans, smooth batter to the edges, and bake. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out with a few crumbs still attached – about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake completely before turning out of pans.

3) While cake is baking, prepare the Filling: mix cherries, water, and sugar together in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a simmer over Medium heat. Continue to cook cherries until they have softened and liquid has thickened slightly. Remove pan from heat and pour off about 1/3 Cup of the liquid into a separate small bowl. Add cornstarch to the hot liquid, whisk until fully dissolved, and add the cornstarch-liquid mixture back into the cherry pan. Using a potato-masher or two forks, break up the cherries a bit to make the filling more pulp-y and to fully blend in the cornstarch. Finally, add the almond extract, stir well, and taste. Add more sugar or extract as needed, then set filling aside to cool.

4) For the Frosting: melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a double-boiler, as in Part 1. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat butter in small saucepan over Medium-low heat until melted. Increase heat to Medium, add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and stir with a heatproof rubber spatula until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Place melted chocolate, butter mixture, and cream in clean bowl of stand mixer (or large metal bowl) and stir thoroughly to combine. Place mixer/metal bowl over an ice bath and stir mixture constantly with rubber spatula until frosting is thick and is just beginning to harden against the sides of the bowl (frosting should be 70°F). Place bowl back on stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on Medium speed for a few minutes or until frosting is light and fluffy. Stir with spatula until completely smooth.

5) When it’s time to assemble the cake, place the first layer on a cardboard round or serving plate. Spread cherry filling over the top – try to get as close to the sides as possible – and then layer with about 1½ Cups of frosting. Smooth the filling with a spatula before gently placing the top layer on the cake. Trim if needed so that the sides are even before applying the crumb layer to the cake. Place cake in freezer for a few minutes to help set the crumb layer before applying the rest of the frosting generously over the whole cake. Top with a few cherries if desired and serve.

**Note: I put my cake in the fridge overnight before bringing to the office. While it was still delicious, the frosting had hardened considerably and the texture turned from fluffy and silky to dense and slightly gritty. I highly suggest not refrigerating the assembled cake at all. You can make the cake layers beforehand and keep them in the fridge wrapped in cling-wrap, but please keep the frosting at room temp if you can!**


Beezer’s Notes:

To be honest, what with my lack of experience and the fact that I threw together the cherry filling on a whim at the last minute, I was prepared for the worst. Instead, the cake’s crumb was just as promised: incredibly light and spongy (in a good way) while still packing a wallop of dark chocolate flavor. The frosting was an adventure for me, but it too developed into something wonderful. If you long for the lightness of buttercream but with the richness of ganache you need to try this recipe! Finally, my cherry filling experiment turned out fine. Each bite of cake contained a juicy not-too-sweet cherry that added a nice break from the richness of the rest of the cake. With all that taken into account I would love to give this recipe 5 ‘s…except that it was a very time-consuming cake to make – at least with my experience. Since time is usually a big factor for me, I’ll have to subtract a heart for that, but don’t let that discourage you!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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