I began this year strongly resolving to Get Things Done; specifically, to knuckle down and write. I have, at present, a little more time than usual to do so, and a long list of projects I want to get started on, a mad jumble of ideas in my head. Yet I appear to have emerged from the madly busy first nine months of my second child’s life to discover not only that I’m living in the epicentre of a very changed world (if you’ve just joined us, I moved in September to spend a year in Washington, DC), but also that I seem to have a rather solid case of writers’ block.
It’s usually the case that the more chaotic my life is, the more I achieve. It never ceases to amaze me how much I can get done when I’m under a bit of pressure; what I can accomplish when I only have an hour to do so each day. And so it follows that the more I have on my proverbial plate, the more I want to to spoon lavishly on top of it. I don’t mean just work wise, but of course, in the kitchen, too. Which is how I came to find myself baking a cake on Christmas morning, when I should have been prepping goose, cabbage and dumplings for lunch that same day. But what a good decision it turned out to be, to spend the morning moving happily around the kitchen in a cloud of flour, two cats snaking round my ankles and a small boy pressing plasticine into the butcher’s block beside me. The baking was hugely enjoyable; Christmas lunch became dinner instead.
I marked Luisa Weiss‘s dunkler Kirschkuchen (“dark cherry cake”) out as a prospective Christmas cake as soon as I laid my eyes on the recipe in her Classic German Baking book. It felt a little too extravagant to bake a whole cake for just my husband and I (and a small boy with a very sweet tooth), but on Christmas morning, I suddenly decided to make it for friends on Boxing Day, to share as dessert after their ham and collard greens. It was just as good as afters as it would be later on in the day with a cup of tea (or coffee, if we’re being German about it, which of course we should). It’s a deeply chocolatey, gently spiced cake with lovely sweet, wet bursts of cherry and an ever-so-slightly nutty crumb; a cake so good and simple to make that I’m baking it again, less than a month later, for visitors this weekend.
I tweaked Luisa’s recipe ever so slightly, using a gluten-free flour blend to accommodate requirements and adding grated orange peel instead of lemon because it felt a little more festive. The cherries being canned rather than fresh make this a cake for all seasons, but there’s nothing quite like a slice of dark chocolate cherry cake with a hot drink and a crackling, late afternoon fire.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Cake
150g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the tin
100g whole raw almonds
500g canned pitted sour cherries
100g dark chocolate (70% cacao), broken into pieces
150g granulated white sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 tsp salt
100g all-purpose flour (I used a gluten-free blend)
1 tsp baking powder (also gluten-free, if necessary)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Grated peel of 1 unwaxed orange
Whipped cream, to serve (Luisa suggests sweetening it slightly with vanilla sugar to make Schlagsahne).
Preheat your oven to 180ºc (350ºf), and butter a 23cm (9″) springform tin.
Empty the cherries into a sieve to drain. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant and golden brown. Remove them from the oven and, when they have cooled completely, grind in a food processor until fine – be careful not to overdo it and turn them into a paste.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring from time to time.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer with a flat beater attachment) before beating in the egg yolks one by one.
In a separate bowl, mix together the ground almonds, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, spices and grated orange peel. Add the butter mixture, and beat until just combined. Now add the melted chocolate and mix well.
In a clean bowl, add the salt to the egg whites and whisk into firm peaks. Fold around a third of them gently into the chocolate batter to loosen it slightly before adding the rest, continuing to fold the mixture carefully until all the white streaks from the eggs disappear.
Scrape the batter evenly into the tin and arrange the cherries on top, pressing them very gently into the batter once they’re all in.
Put the cake into the hot oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cake. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes or so before releasing the cake from the tin.
Serve at room temperature, in slices, with whipped cream.
P.s. If you’re a fan of cherries and chocolate, I’d also recommend trying a Black Forest trifle.