Sunday, November 20, 2011

Imperfect: Black Forest Cake

In years past, by this time in the season, I would already have at least several dozen cookies in my freezer waiting for the holiday open house I held for my students.  It's strange not to be preparing for that event this year.  I'm participating in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, though, which will be good motivation to inaugurate the holiday baking.

In the meantime, I've been busy with cake: last weekend I made two dozen chai tea latte and red velvet cupcakes for a birthday party, this past week I was asked to make a Black Forest cake, and this week I have an order for a red velvet cake for Thanksgiving delivery.  I'm not exactly rolling in profits, but cake makes people happy, and I like making people happy, so I like making cake.

Layer cakes are my nemesis.  Put a piping bag in my hands and I can serve up some drop-dead gorgeous cupcakes.  Pie crust?  A snap.  Layer cakes, though, refuse to unmold themselves from pans; layers become lopsided; crumbs leap out of the frosting despite my careful attempts at "crumb layers."  This week I learned that I clearly need to work on my whipped cream frosting; the cake has sort of a "stucco" look to it; charming, to be sure, but not quite what I was going for.  I stopped trying to smooth it out because I didn't want to ruin the sides entirely.  I wanted to post this cake today, and in a momentary lapse of sanity, I almost Photoshopped the side of it to make it look smooth and even.

Then I thought, what am I doing?

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately, it seems, about people's self-portrayal of perfection online, in Facebook and in blogs.  It's true that I am my father's daughter, and I am a perfectionist.  But it's also true that the blogs I like reading the most, and the people I feel closest to, are the ones who honestly portray flawed lives, who experience the range of human emotion, who meet adversity and have to figure out what the hell they're going to do next.  Because that's really what the adventure is about, isn't it?  Loving what is, even as it's falling down around your ears?

The holidays sometimes produce more stress than joy, because of expectations (yours, theirs) of perfection.  This week, I'm reminding you to go easy on yourself.  Life is not a Norman Rockwell picture or a Martha Stewart magazine layout.  And if you have to excuse yourself from the Thanksgiving table, pull up a chair over here.  There's a lopsided, but really delicious, piece of cake waiting for you.

Black Forest Cake 

Devil’s Food Cake (recipe below)
cherry preserves
cherry filling: 1 14.5-ounce can tart cherries (drained) + 1/4 cup cherry preserves + 1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
whipped cream: 2 pints heavy cream + 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch, divided
Maraschino cherries
1 ounce shaved, semisweet chocolate (use vegetable peeler on room temperature chocolate)

Bake and cool the Devil’s Food cake layers.

Prep the cherry filling.

To make the whipped cream: In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip cream and confectioner’s sugar until stiff. Place in the refrigerator.

To assemble the cake:

Place the first layer on your base.

Spread a very thin layer of cherry preserves on the cookie bottom.  Evenly spread 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream over the cherry preserves.

Carefully place the top layer of cake, top-side down, on the whipped cream. Brush the cake with 1 1/2 tablespoons of kirsch.

Spoon half (for a triple decker cake) of the cherry filling evenly on top of the cake.  Top with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whipped cream. Top with the remaining chocolate layer, bottom-side up. Brush the cake with the remaining kirsch.

If you have three 8 inch layers, repeat the steps above with your last layer.

Pile most of the rest of the whipped cream on top of the cake (save a cup or so), and gently spread the whipped cream to cover the top and sides of the cake. Fit a pastry bag with a large decorating tip, and fill the bag with whipped cream. Pipe a rosette on each eighth of the cake.

Place the maraschino cherries on a clean kitchen towel to drain, and pat them (as dry as possible) before placing one in the center of each rosette.  Decorate the top by piling the shaved chocolate in the center.
If you have any whipped cream left, pipe a border along the bottom edge of the cake.Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. Use a long, sharp knife, and wipe it off with a damp towel between slices.

(thanks, Mia, for sending photos of the sliced cake!)
Devil’s Food Cake

Adapted from Kathleen King’s “Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook”

Makes two 9-inch cakes or three 8-inch cakes

2 1/4 c. cake flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. salted butter
2 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 oz. good unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. boiling water
2 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour two 9-inch or three 8-inch springform pans or round cake pans (I used cocoa powder instead of flour).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Stir in the melted chocolate.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk in three stages, ending with the flour.  Add the boiling water and vanilla. Mix well, but don’t overmix. (The mixture will be VERY thin.)  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Place the pans on a wire rack, and let the cakes cool completely in the pans before unmolding. (If the middles dip a little, the cakes are still OK.)

Once the cakes are cool, you can wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator.
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  1. OMG that looks SO good!
    I must have been sensing your anti-perfection vibe, as I just posted on my lack thereof.
    Be good to you too!
    love, inB

  2. We should get together and bake a cake. It would still be imperfect, but I can show you how to get them out of the pans intact.

  3. What a beautiful cake! I think that portraying ourselves as perfect on blogs is an easy trap to fall into. Who wants to talk about the fact that they spent the evening binge-eating, or that they scream at their kids every morning? It can be a bit scary to put ourselves online, and I can definitely understand why people feel vulnerable doing it. (Case in point: in nearly a year, I have never - not once - posted a full length photo of myself on my blog.) I love blogs that are honest, that let me get to know the person behind the words. Shiny happy perfect blogs about shiny happy perfect people just leave me feeling inadequate.

  4. I'm a first time commenter, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post (cookies + blogging philosophy = good fodder). As a recently new blogger, I feel like I'm constantly checking in with myself, trying to find the balance between public and private, perfection and embarrassment, and so on and so forth :-)
    I found you through Stephanie (above) and I'll definitely be back for more!

  5. Wow! We are on the same wavelength! I've been OBSESSING about getting my house PERFECT for baby. I go to design blogs for nurserys and children's bedrooms and I berate myself for not being able to replicate their perfection. For not being better at interior design. For not having the vision to find great bargains. I've been working myself into a tizzy to create "the perfect nursery" for the baby that I worked so hard to have. Baby doesn't care. My son doesn't care what his room looks like. My husband would rather I not care (and he certainly doesn't). I've come to realize that I've been comparing myself to these PERFECT on-line standards. Which is NOT real life. MOST of my friends don't have perfectly appointed houses and they certainly don't care if I do (otherwise we wouldn't be friends). So, I need to let go of perfection. Of righting all the wrong in my life by creating the perfect IMAGE of my life. Anyway, life is messy. Cakes aren't perfect. Well, maybe SOME people can perfectly decorate and make cakes that are never lopsided, but I am NOT one of those people. So, let's accept our lumps, bumps, and decorating misteps as REAL people. Great post.

  6. I think your cake is beautiful. I have a major cake craving now! Thank you for the reminder that perfection is not a realistic goal.

  7. Your cake looks great. Any time you want to see photos of baked goods that aren't entirely perfect, visit my blog! I'm a great baker but not the world's best decorator. At least everything tastes good!

  8. Your cake looks amazing. My mom taught me to always mistrust a cake that looked perfect, because it often meant the baker cared more about appearance than taste. She was always right: the perfect cakes never tasted as good as the not-perfect ones. And somewhere in there is a metaphor for life ;)

  9. Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. That cake looks amazing to me!

  10. The cake looks wonderful!
    I agree---the draw toward blogs for me is the people who are kinda stumbling along through life with a positive outlook and honest stories (that, by human nature, are not "perfect.").

  11. I am a perfectionist, too! Why? Because I am my father's daughter, too. :) And oh, my gosh-- I wanted to lick my screen reading this post!

  12. Wow. I cannot stop salivating. They both look wonderful!

    I like what JJiraffe says.

    I'm so glad you visited Perfect Moment Mondays, and contrary to it's title, you don't have to be a perfectionist (or recovering one, like me) or post on Monday to join, so I hope you write about a delicious moment.

    Besides this one, of course :-)

    Oh, and thanks for the birthday wishes!

  13. Oh my goodness, this looks delicious! I’m definitely making this! thanks for sharing!

  14. These is the prettiest. And you dear, are a wonderful photographer!


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