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Cherries and chocolate. A classic duo for a reason, as the delicate bitterness of good chocolate is an almost perfect foil for the deep sweetness of a dark red cherry. Earlier this year I made a sour cherry pie with a chocolate crust, and these cookies are always a hit. Cherry Garcia is #2 on the list of bestselling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors after holding the top spot for a decade. And, of course, there is Black Forest cake. Luscious, brooding, decadent black forest cake; done traditionally, it features dark chocolate cake, boozy cherries to fill and barely sweetened whipped cream icing. I remember a birthday when my husband labored for two days (not straight, but still) to make me a Black Forest cake from scratch, only to have it collapse under the weight of the cherry filling. It was still delicious. That collapsed birthday cake, and the fact that it’s late June and heavy, complex cakes are not in my rotation, made me dream up this combination, a summery Black Forest cake.

When I think of berries and other juicy summer fruit in desserts, I often think of cobblers and buckles. When cake gets involved, my mind usually goes to angel food. So airy and yet substantial enough to soak up those tasty fruit juices without making an utter mess, angel food cake also gets points for being the easiest cake I know that feeds an army. You let the mixer do all the work, then take credit for the glory. To stay on the Black Forest theme, I made a chocolate angel food cake; the recipe was only very slightly changed from this one I found on allrecipes.com.  A tip about egg whites, since you’ll need a good amount here: they keep beautifully in the freezer. Whenever I need an egg yolk for a recipe, whether a custard or homemade mayonnaise, etc., I add the egg white to a container I keep in the freezer, marking the number in the container each time it changes. When I have a good amount saved up, I make meringues or frittata, or angel food cake, after thawing the egg whites in the refrigerator overnight. I can’t believe how many egg whites I used to waste before I started this system! Give it a try.

Store egg whites in the freezer! Just mark the top every time you add another.

Now let’s talk cherries. A few weeks ago I bought a 20 lb. box of sweet red Bing cherries and had quite a few left over after making my jam. We were happy to snack on them for a week, but I still had so many I started thinking about recipes that used a lot at one time. When the Black Forest dessert idea came to me, I researched some recipes for saucy cherries and found one from David Lebovitz for cherries in red wine syrup that I adapted for my cake. Now, if I was being traditional, I would have used kirsch as the boozy ingredient, and I could have probably used the beautiful red wine syrup as it was written, but another element I wanted to introduce to this dessert was almond. Cherries and almond go very well together, as do chocolate and almond, so I knew it would be a good fit, and it is! I used amaretto liqueur instead of almond extract for two reasons: it provides the almond flavor I wanted, as well as another dimension of sweetness, which can be cloying on its own but is tempered nicely by lemon juice and balsamic vinegar here. You could replace amaretto with an equal amount of kirsch (or even water if you don’t care for almond or cooking with alcohol) but I wouldn’t. The almond flavor rounds out the chocolate and cherries nicely. The saucy cherries would also be fantastic over ice cream or worked into a brownie sundae. (I’m totally stealing my own idea and doing that.)

To round out the Black Forest dessert, I made a simple whipped cream with just a little bit of sugar. Use any whipped cream or topping you like in its place, or a little vanilla ice cream. I thought about draping the entire cake in cherries and then slicing pieces; that would have been dramatic, indeed, but would have left me with a pretty decent amount of soggy leftovers. (If you’re serving a crowd and expect to eat most of the cake, double the filling recipe and give it a go!) Instead I decided to serve each wedge of cake with a generous portion of saucy cherries and a dollop of whipped cream– a perfect early summer dessert. It has the decadence of a Black Forest cake but felt light and summery, just as I imagined.

My husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary last weekend with a quick day trip to the beach, a nice dinner we cooked together and bowls of summery Black Forest cake. It was such a good weekend; my happy memories will forever include this dessert, and it may just become an annual tradition.

Summery Black Forest cake: chocolate angel food cake, saucy cherries and whipped cream

Summery Black Forest Cake

For the cake: 

  • 2 c. egg whites (from about 12-14 large eggs)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1 c. + 3 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

For the cherries:

  • 1 lb. pitted sweet red cherries, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c. + 1 T. water
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 T. amaretto liqueur

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 T. sugar

To make the cake, start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. Have ready a 10″ tube pan and DO NOT grease the pan. It will wreck your cake. You can put a ring of parchment in the bottom if you want to remove the cake from the pan to plate and serve.

To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat on high speed until stiff; this takes about 5 mins., maybe longer. With the mixer still running, add the sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

While the whites are beating, sift together the powdered sugar, cornstarch, flour and cocoa powder. After adding the sugar, turn the machine off, remove the bowl and find the largest flat spatula or wooden spoon you have. Add about 1/4 c. of the sifted mixture to the egg whites and fold in the dry ingredients: hold the spatula straight up and down, stab it to the bottom of the bowl, turn it sideways and lift the egg whites up and over the dry ingredients. This preserves all the volume you just beat in with the mixer. Keep doing that until all the dry ingredients are mixed in, a little at a time. Scoop the mixed batter into the pan and use your spatula to even the top. Bake for about one hour, until the cake springs back when touched instead of leaving the imprint of your finger.

cooling the cake, upside down, on three jars of jam

To cool the cake without losing volume, find three items of the same height and space them in a rough triangle on a flat surface. I use jars of jam; my Nana always used those metal rectangular boxes spices used to come in. Carefully invert the cake pan onto your risers and leave it alone to cool completely, at least an hour. Run a butter knife around the edge of the cake and then push the cake and metal insert out of the pan. I serve from there, but you can also run the knife around the center spire and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Do the latter especially if you’re planning to cover the cake in cherries and serve.

chocolate angel food cake

While the cake cools, make your saucy cherries. To a 3 qt. saucepan, add the pitted cherries, sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit for about 20 mins. to macerate. Add the balsamic vinegar and 1 c. water to the pan, stir, and place over medium high heat. Bring to a light simmer while stirring frequently. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1 T. water. When the fruit begins to simmer, add the cornstarch mixture and salt and stir. Bring the cherries back to a simmering boil, lower the heat and stir for about 3 mins. The cherries should thicken slightly and become glossy. Stir in the amaretto, then remove from the heat to cool. You can serve the cherries warm or at room temperature.

saucy cherries with amaretto

In a medium mixing bowl, whip the cream until it begins to thicken; add the sugar and continue whipping until it reaches the consistency you like. Be careful not to overwhip; you’ll have pieces of butter in your sweetened cream. To serve your summery Black Forest cake, place a slice of chocolate angel food cake into a bowl, top with a generous amount of saucy cherries and dollop with whipped cream. You will probably have some cake left over; double the recipe for the cherry sauce and whipped cream if you expect to serve the whole cake. Leftover chocolate angel food cake is also good plain or with fresh berries.