BBBFC: Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes

I told you last time that dessert for my sister's graduation party didn't end with the epic cake, although in some people's opinions, it might as well have. This is because that raspberry and chocolate ganache cake stole the spotlight away from these subtle little gems. The dense richness of a black forest dessert can't compete with the layered perfection of that cake, and putting them up against each other wasn't fair. Over the course of the week, I gave them second, third, and fourth chances, ignoring the cake and just trying them on their own. And I have to say, these "Black Bottom" Black Forest Cupcakes are solid desserts.

That being said, I fudged up the recipe. You see, when checking my ingredients before going food shopping, I looked in my cabinet and saw a container of cocoa powder, and said, "Oh, good, I won't need to pick any up." Lesson learned: before deciding that you have an ingredient, open it up and check how much of it is left. While the recipe called for 1/2 C, I had a meager 1/4, something I did not realize until spooning it out into my measuring cup to use. Oops.

There were a few areas of these recipe in which I took chances. First, before even getting to the cocoa powder mishap, this recipe is for a cake. A big, whole cake. And as much as I would love for it to be as easy as pouring the cake batter into a muffin pan instead of a cake tin and cooking it for a shorter period of time, I'm developing the sneaking suspicion that some recipes just don't work like that. I took a chance, assuming that this would be fine. For all I know, it would have been if that were the only chance I took.

Then, there was the cocoa powder. It calls for Dutch Process, I didn't have it and neither did the store. I remember reading an article a little while back about the differences between them, but heck if I can recall exactly what it said. So I used my Hershey's powder. All 1/4 C of it. And then, I let out a groan, and had to figure out what to do with the empty space in my 1/2 C measuring cup.

I shaved chocolate down as fine as I could. So, in addition to my cocoa powder, I added 1/4 C of the best shaved 100% dark chocolate I could manage, and added it to the sifter to be double sifted. Clearly, many of my chocolate shavings did not go through. So I dumped them in after. Why not?

Finally, there is no leavening agent in this recipe. Rewind: there is no baking soda or powder (or yeast for that matter, of course). There are eggs, whipped up to be 3x their original volume. This should be enough. It should be enough, but not if you sit there and over fold them, which I presumably - though not definitely - did.

Needless to say, the combination of potentially overzealous egg mixture folding and adding denser chocolate than is called for resulted in a, well, dense little "cupcake." And by cupcake, I mean it was more of a brownie masquerading in cupcake attire. The cupcakes not only failed to rise, but fell in the center a little bit, leaving a little divet in the middle; additionally, you could see a clear division between the top 2/3 of the cupcake and the bottom 1/3, which was much darker. Three guesses as to where my 100% chocolate shavings wound up.

The original recipe is not called a Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcake. However, that is a much more accurate description of what I produced. As it turns out, I could play the layered effect off as intentional, and the well in the center of the cupcakes turned out to be a perfect holder for the poached cherry component. And, once you add a big (artistically piped) blog of homemade whipped cream on top, the fact that they're much more like brownies than light and fluffy cupcakes becomes significantly less of an issue. The verdict? I kind of liked my mess up this time. Because of this, I'm going to give you both versions of the recipe - I have the sneaking suspicion that the original is much more appetizing, in a soft, fluffy, moist, traditional-Black-Forest-flavors kind of way, but my changes didn't belly flop, either.

Black Forest Cake / Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma
Yield: 8-10 servings or roughly 15 cupcakes Ingredients - The Cake
1/2 C (2oz./60g) cake (soft wheat) flour (change: I used 1/2 C all-purpose, simply because I forgot I was supposed to use cake flour until it was too late)
1/2 C (2oz./60g) Dutch-process cocoa powder (change: 1/4 C non-Dutch process cocoa powder + 1/4 C finely shaved 100% chocolate)
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 C (5 1/2oz./155g) granulated sugar
1/2 C (4oz/110g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Ingredients - The Filling
2 1/2 C (20fl.oz./560mL) heavy cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. Kirsch (change: Kirsch is expensive and, as I found out, pretty hard to come by around these parts - I used 2 tsp. liquid from a jar of maraschino cherries instead.)
Sugar Syrup (recipe below)
Poached Cherries (recipe below) or approx. 1 C maraschino cherries, drained (I used the maraschinos since, come on, who can find cherries at this time of the year?)
Semi-sweet (plain) chocolate curls (change: I used 100% chocolate)

The Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9x3 in. round cake pan with parchment paper, or - if making cupcakes - grease and flour or line muffin tins with paper liners (I managed to get 18 cupcakes out of the recipe, however due to its lack of rising, I should have filled each one higher, resulting in fewer cupcakes total).
2. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together onto a sheet of waxed paper and set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla, and granulated sugar with the whisk on high speed until tripled in volume, about five minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
3. Sift the dry ingredients over the egg mixture in 2 additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula.
4. Fold a large dollop into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
5. Pour onto the prepared pan or muffin tins and smooth the top(s). Bake until the cake is puffed (or, in my case, a toothpick comes out clean), 30-35 min. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
6. Meanwhile, make the filling and frosting: Whip the cream and confectioners' sugar to medium-stiff peaks. In a small bowl, combine the kirsch and sugar syrup.
7a. For a cake, run a table knife around the edge of the pan and unmold the cake onto a work surface. Turn right side up, leaving the parchment paper in place. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers. Put the the top layer, cut side up, on a serving plate. Brush with some of the syrup, then spread with about 1/4 of the whipped cream. Strew the cherries over the cream (reserve one for garnish), leaving a 1/2-in. border of cream around the edge. Position the middle layer on the cream. Brush with some of the syrup and spread with another fourth of the cream. Position the third layer, cut side down, on the cream and peel off the paper. Brush with the remaining syrup. Spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake. Press the chocolate curls onto the top of the cake. Put the reserved cherry in the middle. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
7b. For cupcakes, brush a generous amount of syrup over the tops of the cupcakes. Top with poached or maraschino cherries, leaving a small border on the outside. Pipe or dollop the whipped cream frosting on top, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sugar Syrup
1/2 C (2oz./60g) granulated sugar
1/4 C (2fl.oz./60ml) water

The Method
1. Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
3. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. If a flavoring is indicated, stir it into the cooled syrup.

Poached Cherries
1 3/4 C (14fl.oz./390ml) water
1/3 C (2 1/2oz./70g) granulated sugar
1 C (6oz./170g) fresh pitted Bing or other dark sweet cherries

The Method
1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the cherries and reduce the heat to low. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and let the cherries cool, then drain; discard the syrup (reserving approx. 2tsp. if substituting for Kirsch).
Note: frozen or jarred cherries may also be used. Cook the frozen cherries as directed; jarred cherries have already been poached.

So, there you have it! The "opening act" to the star of graduation desserts, but nonetheless deserving of its own post. I will have to try these Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes as they were originally intended sometime - in cake form and everything - and then see if I can turn my mistakes into a fine-tuned new way of looking at this German classic.

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