As a kid, cooking my way through the Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series, I was dazzled by the photograph of the Schwarzwald Kirschtorte or Black Forest Cherry Cake. It is a grand dreamy cake of four layers of chocolate cake, brandied cherries, clouds of whipped cream, and an excessive coating of shaved chocolate. Unfortunately, the most familiar these days are the commercially available versions on view in supermarket bakery sections. The problems with these cakes are numerous: artificial whipped topping, low quality chocolate shavings, horribly sweet, artificially colored cherries, a base cake of not much chocolate taste, and no subtle tang of kirsch.
Bonne Maman Cherry Preserves, and Clear Creek Cherry Brandy, Old Label
My best cherry recommendation, however, is Royal Harvest brand Bordeaux Maraschino Cherries with stems. Made with cherries and water as the first ingredients, they are much less sweet than traditional glowing red Maraschino cherries and are a pleasing natural cherry color. I’ve introduced both Maraschino lovers and haters to these cherries and so far, 100% have fallen in love with them and demanded to know where to get them. I found them in a northern California supermarket chain for about five dollars a jar. I’ve since seen them for around eight dollars in other stores and online.
You’ll use more or less ingredients depending on the size cake and number of layers used as well as how generous you are with the ingredients.
- A cake pedestal or plate
- Three or four cake layers, either 8” or 9” rounds
- Kirsch, about ½ cup
- Cherry preserves, about ½ a jar
- Pitted cherries (frozen tart, canned tart, or my favorite bottled Morello) about 1-2 jars, drained
- Whipped cream, sweetened to taste, from about a pint of cream
- Maraschino cherries or fresh cherries, with stems attached for decoration, about 12
- Chocolate shavings or curls, for garnish, if desired
Place one layer cake on the pedestal. Begin adding the cherry flavor by sprinkling kirsch over the bottom layer. Next, spread some cherry jam. Then place a good amount of drained, bottled cherries over the cake layer. Spread sweetened whipped cream over the cherries. Center the next cake layer over the whipped cream and repeat layering. Top with the final cake layer, sprinkle with kirsch, spread on whipped cream, and place maraschino cherries with stems decoratively around the top. Shower the top with chocolate shavings, if desired. If your cake is four layers high, you may want to secure the layers from sliding off with three bamboo skewers, trimmed to fit. (Remember to remove the skewers before serving.) Chill until serving time.
Why am I not talking about fresh cherries? Isn’t fresh fruit better than canned, frozen or dried? In the case of cherries, the answer is no. Fresh cherries in season here on the west coast are all meant to be eaten fresh, right out of hand. They don’t really have the fruit acid, the natural tartness that’s needed for a great cherry pie. In Michigan, it’s possible to purchase fresh tart cherries in their brief season, and I would encourage bakers to seek them out. But better substitutes for most of us are canned or frozen tart cherries. If I have wonderful fresh cherries, I’m most likely just to eat them out of hand
with Royal Harvest brand Bordeaux Maraschino Cherries on top