My response to stress is to cook. I like to joke that my thesis may not have done much for my research or writing skills, but it did wonders for my baking. I spent senior year of college tinkering with scone recipes, fussing over shortbread, and experimenting with such mad inventions as salt caramel soufflé. (The idea has potential. The theory needs work.) Every time I had an upcoming deadline, I'd fetch another pound of butter from the freezer. I didn't thank Cabot or King Arthur in my acknowledgments, but it's quite possible that I should have.
Finals are looming, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I think about food even more than usual. Matt and I had another dinner with Bill tonight, so I took the opportunity to test out an idea that I've been ruminating upon for the past few months: Black Forest tiramisu.
My problem with Black Forest torte is that there's too much cake, not enough filling, and never enough cherries. It's also far too sweet and heavy. I like the essential concept, but not its usual incarnation. I set out to fashion a tiramisu with all the flavors of a Black Forest torte instead: deliciously sour cherries, lightly sweetened mascarpone cream, and thin slices of bitter chocolate cake, liberally drenched in alcohol-spiked cherry juice.
I had a hell of a time trying to find a recipe for the sort of chocolate cake I needed, probably because I needed the sort of cake that would be considered a serious failure if judged solely upon its own merits. The cake is in this recipe for two reasons: one, it adds the bitter note that contrasts with the sweet cream and the sour cherries, and two, the alcoholic cherry juice needs something to soak into. To satisfy these requirements, the cake should not be palatable on its own. In fact, it should be damn near inedible on its own.
I found a recipe for a basic chocolate cake, bumped up the cocoa content, and slashed the sugar content by three-quarters. It wasn't as dry as I would have liked (leaving it an extra day to turn stale would probably have helped), but it worked well enough for a first attempt.
The finished product was deemed a success. (It helps that Bill loves cherries.) The cake was not quite as bitter as I wanted, but all the other elements were right: the sourness of the cherries, the sweet, almost nutty quality of the marscapone cream, and the sharpness of the cherry-rum liquid. It wasn't bad for a first attempt. I promise that the photograph below does not do it justice.
Black Forest Tiramisu*
(I will err on the side of caution and say that this is a recipe not for one. My guess is that it will freeze successfully, but I have yet to test out the theory.)
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Grab a big mixing bowl, and sift together one and two-thirds of a cup of all-purpose flour, one cup bitter cocoa powder (the darker the better), one-and-a-half teaspoons of baking powder, and a half-teaspoon of salt. In a second mixing bowl, cream together one stick of butter and a quarter-cup of sugar. Beat in two eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir in the dry ingredients, thinning the mixture with one-and-a-half cups of milk, until well-incorporated. Divide the batter between two cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave to cool.
For the mascarpone cream: Whip together one tub of mascarpone, one pint of heavy whipping cream, and a quarter-cup sugar until the mixture becomes thick and stiff. (You can also add a touch of sweet liqueur, if you like.)
For the sour cherry mixture: Open two fourteen-ounce cans of pitted sour cherries (griottes) in water. Drain off the liquid into a small saucepan, and reserve the cherries in the bowl. Reduce the liquid in the saucepan to half its original volume over low heat, and add two or three tablespoons of sugar, just enough to sweeten it slightly. When the mixture has cooled, add a generous splash of light rum or kirschwasser. (Austrian recipes use rum, German recipes use kirschwasser. I had rum on hand, so I used rum.) You can add a splash of rum to the cherries too, if you like.
Now we come to the fun part: assembly. Take each cake round and slice it horizontally into three layers. Don't worry if they're not even. Get a large, deep dish (glass or ceramic) and place one of the cake layers in the bottom. Drench the cake with the cherry liquid - make sure it gets really soaked through - and cover with a layer of cherries. Top with a layer of cream. Repeat the process two or three more times with the remaining cake layers, cherries, and cream. You'll probably have leftover cake, which is fine. You can freeze it and use it to make more tiramisu later. Cover the tiramisu with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for several hours. It can be left overnight, if you want to make it the day before.
To serve: Decorate with grated chocolate. Carve out portions with a big serving spoon. If you were particularly generous with the alcohol in the cherry mixture, you may want to hold off on giving seconds to anyone who's driving home.
*This could arguably be called "Black Forest trifle," but a search on Google reveals that such a designation is reserved for an abomination involving chocolate cake mix, chocolate pudding mix, and cherry pie filling from a can. Besides, it doesn't quite satisfy the definition of trifle, because it contains no custard.