This combination of chocolate sponge cake, cherries and whipped cream may be a familiar one, but too often Black Forest Torte is a disappointment due to its pre-fab, poor quality copy that seems to dominate many groceries or buffet tables.
In order to sparkle things up, this recipe has a few improvements made to it. In place of an often-dry chocolate Genoise sponge, a chocolate chiffon cake base offers the same airiness, but it is also moist and rich. And a little cream cheese worked into the whipping cream frosting makes it stable and easy to work with, in addition to being tasty.
Whipped Cream Frosting
Preheat the oven to 325 °F (160 °C). Line the bottom of three 8-inch (20 cm) pans with parchment paper, but do not grease the pan at all.
In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, sift the flour, icing sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add the coffee, oil and egg yolks and whip on high speed until the mixture is thick and glossy (it will look almost like chocolate pudding).
In a separate or clean bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they are foamy, then slowly pour in the sugar and continue whipping until the whites hold a stiff peak when the beaters are lifted. Fold a third of the whites into the chocolate batter, and then fold in the remaining two-thirds.
Pour the batter (it will be fluid) into the prepared pans and bake for about 30 minutes, until the centre of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Out from the oven, turn the cakes upside down to cool (if you have new or non-stick pans, the cakes may pop out, but that is OK).
For the cherries, simmer the cherries with the sugar, water and cinnamon sticks over medium heat for 10 minutes, then remove the cinnamon sticks. Stir the cornstarch and kirsch (or brandy, if using) together and add to the cherries, stirring until the cherry juices have thickened and are bubbling. Remove from the heat, cool and then chill completely.
For the whipped ganache, bring the cream up to a full simmer, then pour this over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for a minute, then whisk gently until it is smooth. Cool the ganache and then chill completely. When you are ready to assemble the torte, whip the ganache by hand until it holds peaks when the whisk is lifted (or if using beaters, beat on medium-low speed). Spoon all of the whipped ganache into a piping bag fitted with a large star or plain tip.
For the whipped cream frosting, whip the cream until it holds medium peaks. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add about a cup of the whipped cream and beat well until smooth (don’t worry if the cream deflates a little. Fold in the remaining cream and the kirsch (or brandy, if using), then fold in the skim milk powder.
To assemble, place a cake layer on a platter. Pipe an edge around the outside of the top of the cake with the whipped ganache, as well as a little circle in the centre (this prevents the cake from collapsing as you slice it later). Spoon and spread half of the cherry filling over the cake within the piped ganache and top with a second cake layer. Repeat again with the whipped ganache and the remaining cherry filling (the remaining whipped ganache can be used for decorating). Frost the top and the sides of the cakes with the whipped cream frosting and pipe any details you wish on the top. Sprinkle the top of the cake with chocolate shavings and arrange candied or brandied cherries if you wish. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
The torte will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
** You can use frozen pitted cherries, since fresh tart cherries are tough to find and have a short season (and are a pain to pit). You can often find frozen cherries at European style groceries or deli’s. If impossible to source where you live, use tinned cherry pie filling as is, with a little kirsch stirred in.