Black Cocoa Black Forest Cake
Hello, and welcome to the Milkmoon Kitchen blog! I'm Aline (read more about me here), and for this first post I'll walk you through my process for making my take on the wintry Black Forest cake. And it most certainly has been feeling wintry lately here in NYC; last week we found icicles forming on our bathroom window and the wind was so bad that a state of emergency was declared by Governor Cuomo. The past few days have been a bit less brutal, but I'm still very much in the winter spirit, which I expressed via a cake that's basically a pine tree version of those adorable unicorn and reindeer cakes the internet has been obsessed with for the past few years!
The pinecone and pine branch decorations are all piped with royal icing, which lended some easy finesse to the design without the need to do a lot of complicated hand-modeling or invest in any moulds (we keep it cheap over here). The branch structure on top was piped directly onto a framework I rigged up with sugar flower wire and a thin dowel, as you can see in the photo below to the right.
My cake and meringue buttercream recipes feature black cocoa, a super neat product that you can add to your chocolate bakes to deepen the color and impart a dark chocolatey, almost coffee-like flavor. It's awesome, pick some up if you can (you can easily find it online, just google it)! I used King Arthur brand, which I got on Amazon. It is worth noting that you can make any of these recipes without black cocoa, just replace it with regular cocoa. I also layered in some kirsch-soaked cherries to keep things authentic, although I candied them with orange to give a little extra old-school holiday oomph. My grandmother was German, so I did feel the need to keep it real. I'd like to think she would've been proud of my updated Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte!
These recipes are listed in the order that I made them for easier planning on your part. Even if you're not planning to make this cake, just read the recipes; you'll learn stuff, and sometimes I make them fun.
Black Forest Cherries
*Complete at least 1 day or up to 2 weeks before*
1 lb cherries (about 230g pitted)
2 large oranges
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) water
1 cup (230g) sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) lime juice (from about six limes)
1 cup (240 ml) kirsch
Put on some opera, maybe The Magic Flute. Feel German af. Ten minutes later, realize that Mozart was Austrian. Quietly acknowledge that you are a fraud.
Wash the cherries. Weigh out 1 lb cherries and reserve for the recipe. Immediately stuff any leftover cherries into your face. Eat enough cherries to ensure a challenging time for your tummy tomorrow morning, or perhaps even in the night. Worry your fiancé with how many cherries you are eating, to the point where he reminds you about “what happened last time.” Disregard him.
Use a vegetable peeler to peel strips of skin off of one orange. Don’t wait to do this until after you squeeze the orange, because then the peel is all shapeless and flexible and trying to handle it with a peeler is basically a nightmare and will make you feel like an idiot. Squeeze both oranges into a bowl, strain, and measure out 1/2 cup. Drink whatever is leftover, because fresh OJ tastes like sunshine.
Combine the orange peel, orange juice, water, sugar, lime juice, and salt in a pan and set over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a simmer, then reduce the heat to keep the simmer going slowly and continue to stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
While the sugar mixture is coming to a simmer, pit the cherries. I do this in a bowl filled with water, using a fork. I push the first two or three tines of the fork into the cherry at the point where I removed the stem and slide it in alongside the pit. Then I wiggle the fork out, pulling the pit out with it. It takes a little getting used to and usually does not result in perfect-looking cherries, but that’s cool because these are getting chopped up. The water in the bowl keeps things like, slightly less messy? It’s still kind of messy, so wear an apron.
Add the cherries to the liquid and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then add the kirsch and place the whole thing in a glass container and stick it in the fridge. Let your cherries soak overnight before using them in the cake, and if you don't plan to use them right away they can sit in there for quite some time, a couple weeks max though.
Spiced Black Forest Sponge
(that happens to be dairy-free, woo)
2 1/2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50g) cocoa powder
1/3 cup (35g) black cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine salt
7 eggs at room temperature, separated
1 3/4 (380g) cups sugar
1 scant cup (200 ml) water
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Set the oven to 325° F. Prep three 6”x3” pans by greasing them (I use shortening), adding a parchment paper circle to the bottom, greasing that, and coating the pans with flour. This may seem like a lot, but I do it every single time I bake a cake and I neva, eva have trouble removing my cakes from their pans once they’re baked. Not eva! Totally worth the effort.
Sift the flour, cocoa powders, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
Combine the egg yolks, two thirds of the sugar, the water, vegetable oil, and vanilla in a bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients thoroughly, just until any remaining chunks of flour are very small, and reserve this thick batter.
Beat the egg whites in a very clean bowl on low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar and raise the speed to medium for about 15 seconds until volume starts to build. Add in half of the remaining sugar and turn up the speed to high for 30 seconds. Add in the last of the sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.
Add one third of the meringue to the batter and fold it in gently. Add the remaining meringue and take your time working it into the batter just until the streaks of egg white are gone.
Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 45 minutes, check for doneness with a skewer or toothpick (it’ll come out clean when the cake is done, maybe with just a few crumbs sticking to it), and if necessary bake for an additional 5 minutes, as needed.
Marshmallowy Meringue Buttercream
This recipe follows the same procedure as Italian Meringue Buttercream but ups the proportion of meringue to butter for extra fluffiness!
3 1/3 cups (750g) sugar
3/4 cups (170 ml) water
8 (240g) egg whites, at room temp
1 tsp cream of tartar
8 sticks (2 lbs) butter, at room temp
2 Tbsp vanilla
Put the sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally as it comes to a boil. Once boiling, stop stirring, reduce heat to medium-low, and use a candy thermometer to take the syrup to 248°-250° F. Keep an eye on it while you move to the next step.
While the syrup is cooking, start the egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk attachment on medium-low, add the cream of tartar as the whites get frothy, and raise the speed to high. Whip the whites until soft peaks form, then lower the speed to the lowest setting while the sugar syrup reaches 248°.
Once the syrup is ready, increase the speed of the mixer as high as it will go and then slowly pour the syrup into the egg whites, allowing the syrup to flow down the side of the bowl into the whites to avoid any splatter on the whisk attachment. Keep whipping until the mixture dramatically increases in volume and the bowl is no longer hot to the touch. Pro tip: Sometimes no matter how long I whip that meringue, the bowl will not cool down. In this case, it does not pay to cut corners and just add the butter while the meringue is still hot, because it melts the butter and makes it less likely that you'll achieve the same level of fluffiness in your buttercream. If my meringue isn't cooling down I'll stop the mixer and check for stiff peaks , and then just stick the bowl in the freezer for 5-10 mins until the meringue is cool to the touch.
At this point you can opt to switch to the beater attachment if you want to get more of the bubbles out of your buttercream. However, for the purpose of achieving the texture I did on this cake, I used the whisk to maximize bubbleage/fluffiness. Up to you! Beat the room temperature butter into the meringue slowly, a few tablespoons as a time. Add the vanilla and salt, then turn the speed all the way up and whip until the consistency of the buttercream is super light and fluffy.
For the Chocolate Buttercream:
4 cups (700g) Marshmallowy Meringue Buttercream
2/3 cups (65g) cocoa powder
2 Tbsp (20g) black chocolate
Additional pinch salt if you feel like it (I always feel like additional salt, especially when chocolate is involved)
Beat or fold the cocoa powders and salt into the buttercream. It will taste like sophisticated hot cocoa with marshmallows in it!
Instructions for Layering the Cake:
My cake was 15 layers, which was as many as I could squeeze out of my three cakes. Do not feel like you need to torte out 15 layers. You can easily torte each of the three cakes in half and have a super impressive cake! I torte my layers by putting my cake on a turntable and, holding my hand very still while I spin the table, I trace a shallow groove all the way around. Then I use that groove to guide my knife as I spin and slice deeper, spin and slice deeper, until I break through!
Prep Cherry Filling
Strain out the cherries from the soaking liquid, reserving 1 cup of the liquid for soaking the cake. There will be a bunch left over. Use the rest in cocktails! Yum. Chop the cherries into quarter-inch pieces; you can be rough about it, I like some tiny pieces and some bigger chunks for visual appeal.
I use a spatula to lay down layers of buttercream, so that's what I did for the plain buttercream layers. However, layering buttercream with the cherries is a little complicated because you want to keep the cherries touching cake on the bottom so it soaks up any extra juice that leaks out, but it is soooo hard to cleanly spread buttercream on top of these squishy cherry bits. So I laid down the cherry bits and piped a swirl of buttercream on top, and did not try to spread it out before adding the next layer of cake. It wasn't pretty at first, but once the cake was assembled it did the trick as you can see by my nice-lookin' cake slice up above.
My cake was layered in a pattern of:
two layers of plain buttercream
one layer with cherries
two layers plain
one with cherries
starting and ending with plain layers. If you're doing a six-layer cake, just do plain-cherry-plain-cherry-plain. Or go full cherry! Do it however you like. Regardless, I used the soaking syrup as a soak for each layer of cake, giving it a pop of cherry-kirsch-orange flavor in every bite!
Crumb Coat Notes
I aaaaalways trim my cakes to help me achieve a cleaner, straighter side, and I always always crumb coat and make sure that bad boy goes in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before the final coat is applied because I am paranoid and perhaps low-key OCD. If I were a professional baker and needed to churn cakes out at high speed I probably wouldn't crumb coat, but I am a home baker who would rather take the extra 7 minutes to crumb coat than have to deal with the mortifying devastation of a crumb showing up on the outside of my finished cake. Back, foul crumbs, in the name of a clean finish I rebuke thee!!
Hot Tip: I had two cups of vanilla buttercream left over after layering, and I just added it to the chocolate buttercream I'd already mixed up. If you feel like that dilutes the chocolate flavor at all, just add more cocoa powder. I like to have as much buttercream to play around with as possible for putting on that final coat.
Final Coat Notes
So this super fluffy buttercream is very tasty and has the most pillowy texture at room temp, but it is not quite as easy to work with as a buttercream with a higher proportion of butter to meringue. When you apply your final coat of marshmallowy buttercream, rather than getting a perfectly smooth finish, your cake surface will be lightly pocked with texture caused by bubbles in the icing. This becomes an asset for this particular cake design, where I wanted both a super light filling and more of a naturalistic, woody texture for the outside. I iced the cake and then put it in the fridge for an hour to really harden up that final coat, and then used a fan brush that I wasn't heartbroken at sacrificing to the cause to brush black cocoa over the entire surface.
I used Wilton Meringue Powder, so the recipe is pretty easy:
3 Tbsp Wilton Meringue Powder
4 cups (1 lb) powdered sugar
5-6 Tbsp lukewarm water
Sift the dry ingredients into a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Reflect aloud to yourself that inhaling this amount of airborne powdered sugar from all the sifting can’t possibly be good for your lungs. Decide not to look into whether or not that's a real thing.
Add the water to the mixer and begin mixing on low. Cover the mixer with a damp towel because wtf, now you’ve really scared yourself about the powdered sugar inhalation thing, and billows of it are coming out of the bowl. Notice that when you try googling “is inhaling powdered sugar bad,” when you get to the “po” part the first suggestion Google gives you is “is inhaling poop bad.” Wonder about the state of the world.
Once most of the dry mixture is moistened, scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn up to medium-low, and let the mixer run for 7-10 minutes, until the icing starts to look dull, losing its sheen. You’re mixing low 'n' slow because you’re trying to avoid mixing too much air into the icing. Unlike with our textured buttercream above, you don’t want a fluffy royal icing pocked with large bubbles, you want a somewhat dense icing more like concrete, which will be way easier to pipe elegantly and will firm up much harder.
I colored my icing brown and green with gel colors so as to preserve the consistency, and used the Ateco 34 tip to pipe the pinecones (basically a series of messy shells) and branches (I piped these directly onto the wire framework you can see in my pictures earlier in the post), and the Ateco 15 tip to pipe the pine needles onto non-stick parchment paper in groupings of four or five needles to a cluster. These sat overnight to harden, and then I applied the needle clusters to the branches in the morning and allowed to harden up for several hours before placing the whole contraption on the cake.
Phew! Alright, time for some totally gratuitous additional pictures:
And that's my first post! FYI, they are not all going to be this involved. In fact, most of them won't be, because homegirl works a full-time office job! But I wanted to start off with a bang, so.... bang. Stick around, there's going to be plenty more action soon as I get into the swing of this blogging thing!
Welcome to Milkmoon Kitchen!