It’s May, which means CHERRIES, and this makes me splendidly happy! All year I dream about cherry season– the day that those sweet, red, stemmed delights appear at the farmer’s market! And every year I squeal with glee when I finally see them in early May; it never gets old. I was so glad that Baked Sunday Mornings was making these Black Forest Cupcakes from Baked Occasions during cherry season. The last time we made a cherry recipe was for President’s Day in February a couple of years ago, and the only fresh cherries I could find (which were imported from somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere) were just… regrettable. Incidentally, while I could inhale a pound of fresh cherries with no problem, I don’t usually care for cherry-flavored things, and I don’t actually like chocolate-fruit desserts much, so I wasn’t too sure about this one. But at the very least, the cherries would be fresh! Those who enjoy the chocolate-cherry combination will really enjoy these, and they are very pretty.
This recipe celebrates the springtime Black Forest Cake Festival in the town of Todtnauberg, Germany, known in German as the Schwarzwälder Kirschtortenfestival. (Say that 5 times fast.) As the recipe intro says, the origins of Black Forest Cake are unclear, but these people seem to have some ideas, though Wikipedia says there’s no evidence. Regardless of who first made it, it seems to date to the early 1900’s in its current incarnation. (There’s also a whole outfit dedicated to the Black Forest Cake that I wish I could unsee.) The Black Forest region of Germany is known for producing a double-distilled liqueur made from tart Morello cherries called kirschwasser, which was eventually married with chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and maraschino cherries on top to make what we now know as Black Forest Cake. In fact, German law apparently requires that a cake contain kirschwasser in order to be labeled a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte! (This literally means Black Forest Cherry Torte– as usual, the German language says what it means.)
Normally, I would not be interested in basically anything with maraschino cherries in it, but BAKED has a special knack for improving on classics. Aside from converting the cake to cupcakes, they swapped out fresh cherries on top for the maraschinos, meringue frosting for the whipped cream, and chocolate sprinkles for the chocolate shavings. I definitely liked the cupcake makeover a lot better than I would like a traditional Black Forest Cake! It was not without its problems, however…
The chocolate cupcake batter came out pretty tasty in the end, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to turn out well initially. The first step in making it is combining chocolate and cocoa powder with hot coffee and milk to make a thick chocolate liquid mixture. You’ll then cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer, then add eggs and vanilla. When I added the third egg, the mixture started to separate a bit, and even adding the flour and chocolate didn’t really bring it back together into a smooth batter.
Still, it was functional and baked up into cupcakes, albeit not the prettiest ones. Also, the recipe says to fill the cupcake wells ¾ of the way– I would not fill them beyond ⅔, maybe even just halfway. Any more than that results in unsightly muffin-top cupcakes that flatten out, and since these are very delicate (or at least mine were), it’s easy for the top edges to tear. Also, the first batch sunk quite a bit in the centers after baking for 18 minutes, so I left the second batch in for an extra minute, which was slightly better. My cupcakes were light and dainty– I prefer them denser, but these are supposed to resemble light sponge cake, so I suppose they were the right texture. The chocolate flavor was terrific.
The cupcakes get filled with cherry preserves mixed with kirsch liqueur, but I chose to omit it because I didn’t have any (and didn’t want to buy a bottle for a few spoons worth), and because since I’m not a fan of cherry-flavored things, I didn’t think it would enhance the cupcakes for me. (Although I didn’t read about the importance of kirsch in this cake until after I’d made them, so in retrospect I’d probably use it for the sake of authenticity. My cupcakes are essentially posers.)
The meringue frosting is made by boiling a sugar syrup to almost 235°F (then let the carryover heat bring it fully to temperature) and slowly pouring this into a stand mixer bowl of beating egg whites, which cooks the egg whites. The book left out one little step: You need to get the egg whites whipping to soft peaks while the sugar is heating up. Otherwise, if you take the sugar syrup off the heat and it sits there while you whip the egg whites, it will cool. I whipped them while the sugar boiled, pulled the pot off the stove, added the rest of the granulated sugar and mixed for just a few seconds, then immediately added the hot syrup. Within a couple of minutes, it ballooned into a shiny white cloud of marshmallow, and I kept mixing for close to 7 minutes until it had cooled to nearly room temperature.
Unfortunately… I messed it up, and it was 100% my fault. I made that gorgeous, satiny meringue, and it was perfect, but because I was simultaneously working on another baking project (frantically trying to beat sunset for a photo session!), I let the frosting sit for a few minutes… and when I came back to it, it had started to set. This meant that the frosting’s smooth texture was marred by the slightest disturbance… and I still had to get it into a piping bag, ughhhh. I had to abort my other project and swiftly transfer the frosting, core and fill the cupcakes, then pipe swirls of frosting on top. Well, the first half that I did turned out okay– the frosting just looked a little… textured. The rest of them looked as though I had over-beaten the frosting, and by the morning the frosting on these ones had sort of shrunken into itself under the weight of the cherries on top; I guess the meringue had been destabilized by over-agitating it. The moral of the meringue story is: Use the frosting immediately!
Fortunately the ones I photographed weren’t hideous, and even though the frosting wasn’t quite smooth, it didn’t collapse like the other ones. As for the toppings, somehow I didn’t realize that I was out of chocolate sprinkles! It’s one of those things that I take for granted are always in my baking pantry, but I searched high and low with no success. Ironically, what I did have were chocolate curls! Not the cheesy old-school “shavings” kind (that were purposely replaced in this recipe), but pretty marbled ones that I scattered over the frosting. However, the main attraction is the sexy red cherries nestled onto their meringue nests– the ideal way to crown these cupcakes!
My tasters loved them, frosting woes and all. They were light and airy, from the cake to the filling, which is an appropriate way to be if you happen to be a Black Forest Cupcake. Given that I don’t like the whole chocolate-cherry situation with the jam filling, I thought they were okay– I would’ve enjoyed them more without the jam personally. In fact, if I were to make them again, maybe I would brush the cupcakes with kirsch as instructed and forgo the cherry filling. Yessss, that’s it.
If you want to pay homage to Black Forest Cake, this is a lovely way to do so! Find the recipe for Black Forest Cupcakes at Baked Sunday Mornings, and take a look at the other bakers’ cherry-topped treats while you’re there. 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.