the rabbit that ate the forest
Every summer at the Farmer’s Market, the luscious colors of cherries seduce me, even if I need to confront the messy inconvenience of pitting before and baking. For a certain recipe, however, it’s more than worth it.
In Hong Kong, as in most Chinatowns in America, you find “Western-Chinese” bakeries, which display rows and rows of individual-size sweet and savory treats. They offer a Chinese interpretation of Western items, plus updated versions of traditional Chinese pastries. Unlike the cakes of the West with a variety of different textures and densities, Asian cakes always start with a sponge cake base with either whipped cream or buttercream filling. Bakeries then add fruit to this base. As a child, I recall eating cakes made with cream filling and fruit from canned fruit cocktails—a shocking concept to an adult foodie, but a pretty good after-school treat for a kiddie palate.
For updated Chinese pastries, you’ll find such items as: egg tarts with either a pâte sucrée shell or a traditional flakey tart made from shortening; Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns) that are baked instead of steamed in a dough similar to challah; Pineapple Buns that have nothing to do with pineapple; and even white sandwich bread that is similar to Wonder Bread but actually has flavor. Except of the egg tart shells, you’ll walk away from these bakeries with the soft billowy textures that most Asians adore.
My favorite cake from these bakeries would have to be the Western-Chinese version of Black Forest Cake—a chocolate sponge cake with cherry filling and lots of whipped cream. Because it was so light, I could eat half a cake in one sitting, as a teenager. The texture was my least favorite part of the cake—it was the flavor combination of chocolate and cherries that drugged me. With cherry season here, I wanted to create a little morsel that encompassed this flavor profile, but instead of sponge cake, I add the cooked chopped cherries into an extra moist chocolate cake batter. This way, you can have both chocolate and cherries in every bite. As for the whipped cream frosting, I added mini marshmallows, which had been soaked overnight (you can probably do in a couple of hours). This process softens the marshmallows and when whipped—and it helps to stabilize the frosting.
With a little bit of patience and a good dose of chocolate, I was able to update childhood touch point to match grown-up expectations.
Mini Black Forest Cake
recipe by hungryrabbitnyc, 2010
make 12 mini cakes
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted and chopped
12 fresh cherries, stem on and washed, for garnish (optional)
1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons Maraschino Liqueur (optional) or water
1 tablespoon instant tapioca
1-1/2 teaspoon Brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1. Place cherries, sugar, cinnamon, salt and liqueur/water into medium size saucepan. Bring to a simmer under medium heat, about 5-7 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sugar from sticking to the bottom of pan.
2. Add instant tapioca, stir to combine. Turn heat down to low and continue to simmer until juices have reduced and thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. (You want the mixtures to be dryer than jam consistency .)
3. When filling reaches the desire consistency, remove from heat and stir in Brandy, vanilla and lemon zest. Set aside to cool completely.
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1½ ounces)
1 teaspoon instant espresso
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar (5-1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan with baking-cup liners.
Combine butter, chocolate, cocoa, and espresso in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan with simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted, whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.
Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.
Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt; whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk to combined. Sift about half of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick. Stir in Cherry Filling evenly.
Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.
Cool cakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 45 minutes.
Whipped Cream Frosting
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup superfine sugar (you may use granulated sugar)
Pinch table salt
1 teaspoon brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Add marshmallows to heavy cream, let soak in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to overnight.
1. Add heavy cream mixture to stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium hight speed until soft peak.
2. Slowly add sugar and salt, whisk until fully incorporated. Add vanilla and brandy, whisk until combined.
3. Put frosting into a piping bag with tip of your choice. (I used Ateco #806) Pipe frosting on each cake and top with cherry if use.
1. You can make Chocolate Cake ahead of time and store in air tight container for up to 3 days.
2. The use of marshmallow is to stabilize the structure of the frosting. Make sure you give enough time for the marshmallow to softened in heavy cream . If you are in a hurry, you can omit marshmallows all together, you just have to eat them fast. Enjoy!