I was researching the old Black Forest Gateau recently as a friend of mine - who was celebrating her birthday yesterday - told me it was her favourite cake. Chocolate, cherries and cream: what's not to like? I always thought it was more finicky and complex than chocolate cake, cherry jam and sweetened cream, but I was wrong, it seems. But in my research I came across loads of recipes that quoted the Black Forest Gateau as a 'retro classic', which I thought was odd. Surely, people still eat Black Forest Gateau, it's not like a by-gone thing: my corner shop's bakery makes a mean Black Forest Gateau, and has several on display every day; in fact most bakeries do. Am I missing something?
Anyway! I decided to bundle together the ingredients needed for the cake, but it turns out that Lidl, who used to sell cherry jam, has realised people don't like it and has stopped selling it. If a shop near you sells cherry jam, by all means use it instead of the cherry filling I've devised.
For cherry filling:
- 2 x 15 ounce (425 gramme) cans of black cherries in light syrup (or Morello cherries, if you can get them)
- 2 teaspoons cornflour
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- Optional: 1 tablespoon lemon juice
For two 9 inch (23 centimeter) round sandwich cakes
- 5 ounces (140 grammes) spelt flour
- 3 ounces (85 grammes) cornflour
- 2 ounces (55 grammes) cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 5 medium eggs, at room temperature
- 2½ ounces (70 grammes) soft brown sugar
- 5 ounces (140 grammes) caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 2½ ounces (70 grammes) sunflower oil
- 2½ ounces (70 grammes) butter or block margarine
For cream icing/filling:
- 15½ fluid ounces (445 milliliters) whipping cream
- 4 ounces (115 grammes) soft cream cheese
- 3 tablespoons icing sugar
- Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
For ganache topping:
- 2 fluid ounces (55 milliliters) whipping cream
- 2½ ounces (70 grammes) dark chocolate
For assembly (optional):
- 1 tablespoon kirsch
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon icing sugar
First, prepare the cherry filling (it's best to do this the day before):
- In a saucepan, empty one of the cans of cherries. Bring to the boil, then allow to cook for 10 minutes. If you could only find black cherries, but like the tartness of Morello cherries, add the lemon juice here. If you like the syrupy sweetness of black cherries, leave it out.
- Using a potato masher or fork, gently squish the cherries. You want this to be like jam, so make sure it still has a little texture.
- Take about 1 tablespoon of the cooking liquid and put into a glass. Add the cornflour and sugar and mix into a paste.
- Add the cornflour and sugar mixture back into the saucepan and cook the jam until thickened, about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl; allow to cool.
- Once cooled cover with cling film, making sure the cling film touches the surface of the jam, and put in the fridge until set for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Second, prepare the cakes:
- Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mk.4, or moderate).
- Prepare the cake mixture as per the basic sponge recipe, and pour into two greased and floured 9 inch (23 centimeter) cake tins. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes until ready. Allow to cool complete in tins.
- Once cold, cut each cake in half horizontally, and cut the dome off one of them. Decide how you will assemble the layers, making sure the top-with-the-dome-left-on is always the top layer.
Then, prepare the cream icing/filling:
- A note on whipping the cream: to make sure the cream whips nicely and doesn't split, put the mixing bowl, preferably made of glass, and whatever you will be beating the cream with - whether it be a balloon whisk or the beaters of an electric hand mixer - into the fridge for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.
- Put the whipping cream, cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla essence into the chilled bowl and whisk together until the mixture holds stiff peaks. This is the ideal spreading consistency.
- Put one third of this mixture into a bowl and set aside for decorating.
Next, prepare the ganache:
- In a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the chocolate (broken up, of course) and the cream. Whisk together until smooth and shiny, then allow to cool to spreading consistency while you assemble the cake.
Assemble the masterpiece:
- Take the cake layers: put the bottom one on the plate you intend to serve the gateau on, set aside the top one for later, and put the middle two on their own plates. This makes the assembling easier, as each piece will be filled and iced individually.
- Take the remaining can of cherries and drain the liquid into a bowl, keeping the cherries in the sieve to drain fully. Take half of the cherries (keeping the rest for another time) and cut each of them in half, bar 12 for decoration.
- Take 9 tablespoons cherry liquid (reserving the rest for another time). If you want, you can mix the kirsch with the cherry liquid, but I don't take alcohol so I leave it out. Sprinkle the liquid evenly across the three cake layers and watch the sponge drink it right up.
- Divide the cherry jam across the three cake pieces and spread in an even thin layer.
- Divide the remaining two-thirds of cream mixture across each cake, spreading around to about an inch (2 centimeters) away from the edge of each cake. This stops the filling squidging out the sides when you put all the layers together.
- Divide the sliced cherries across the three cakes and sprinkle them over the cream.
- Now, here's where you need to take care. Take the two middle cakes cakes and stack them on the bottom cake on the serving platter. Take the topmost layer, which you set aside, and put it on top of all the cakes. Gently press down to cement all the layers together, put not so hard as to squeeze all the filling out of the sides. And there, pretty much, is your Black Forest Gateau, the next steps are for frills.
Decorate the masterpiece:
- Spread the cooled ganache over the top of the cake with a palette knife. You can make swirls if you want, but I like to make streaks.
- Take the cream you set aside and put into a large piping bag fitted with a large closed-star nozzle. Pipe rosettes along the top of the cake, between the layers, and where the cake meets the serving platter, as shown in the photo. Or, you could decorate it whatever which way you want.
- Use the cherries you kept earlier and put between the rosettes. For that extra element of kitch, you could use red glacé cherries instead of the canned black cherries for this bit.
- Dust the sides with cocoa powder, and the top with icing sugar.
And there she is, in all her glory. Of course, you can choose to decorate it however you like, and you may elect to use just plain whipped cream, without the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla, and you could use shop-bought cherry jam if you can get your hands on it. This is just how I've made it, and dayum... it tastes delicious!
This is an awful lot of effort, in fairness, but it really pays off in the end because it looks and tastes amazing! I don't have any photos of the inside because a) I'm not the best at slicing cakes, and b) I didn't bring a camera to the birthday party, like a big silly. Next time!