When you’re in love, you do crazy things. Not that making your sweetheart’s favorite foods is crazy, mind you, but I do think it’s possible to push the envelope quite far, as I have done at times in my quest to tantalize my husband’s taste buds. This dessert might qualify, because not only did I make a homemade version of his favorite ice cream, I scooped that deliciousness right over a chocolate waffle and drizzled it with a homemade cherry syrup.
Les’s all-time favorite sweet flavor combination is chocolate with cherries, and I have mentioned this previously on Comfort du Jour, in these scrumptious posts:
All those desserts were delicious, but when it comes to cherry and chocolate, it is unquestionably ice cream that wins my man’s heart. One of his favorite grocery store ice creams is the Ben & Jerry’s classic flavor, Cherry Garcia, and though I made it back in October 2020 for the triple chocolate-cherry brownie bowls, I felt that it needed a little tweaking, so I didn’t share the recipe at the time. The color of my first batch was off, because I had used my go-to custard base that had a yellowish tint from the egg yolks. And the chocolate chunks were 70% cacao, which proved to be too bitter and a touch gritty in the mix of so much creaminess.
So, I did what I do best and gave the recipe a makeover. And I’m back to share it with you—a homemade version of “Cherry Garcia” ice cream—one that uses sweetened condensed milk in its base, for creamy sweetness without the yellow egg color, a ribbon of sweet-tart cherry syrup that is tinged with a surprise ingredient, and bits of semi-sweet chocolate that bring just the right balance to the sweet cream, vanilla and cherries.
And, in a bold move, I gave it a go with a recipe I’d been eyeing for years on King Arthur Baking’s website—sourdough chocolate malt waffles. This dessert was nothing short of spectacular.
Over the top? Obviously, but c’mon, we’re talking about Valentine’s Day!
Before I get into the making of this lovely dessert, let me acknowledge that a few of you may not be inclined to go this crazy, or maybe you don’t have an ice cream machine yet, or you don’t have sourdough starter to make the chocolate waffles. Please feel free to lift any single part of this dessert for your own celebration, even if it means just making the cherry syrup to drizzle over store-bought ice cream, or serving the ice cream with a store-bought chocolate cookie. I ended up making a second batch of the cherry syrup (with chunks of cherries), and it was fantastic over plain vanilla ice cream.
My ingredients and instructions are all included in a downloadable PDF at the end of the post. Enjoy!
Before we get into it, I’d like to issue my own disclaimer about the inauthenticity of this recipe as a “Black Forest” cake. Any purist would quickly point out that a true, German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte would be more of a spongy chocolate cake, soaked with kirsch (a clear cherry liqueur) and decorated with whipped cream, sour cherries and shavings of chocolate. But when is the last time you remember me sticking to tradition?
My version of this cake is a departure in almost every category, save for the chocolate and cherry flavors. Cake baking is not in my wheelhouse, so I went for a recipe that I knew I could count on—a sourdough chocolate cake from King Arthur Baking that has served me well before—and I adjusted the fillings to match it. My whipped cream filling is enhanced with mascarpone, making it more substantial to support the sturdy cake. The cake itself is not super sweet, so the cherries had to be. And kirsch liqueur (or any cherry liqueur, for that matter) is nowhere to be found in our liquor stores, so I reached straight for what’s plentiful at our house—bourbon, and that was a very good call.
The cake is not difficult to make, but it is fussy enough that it deserves a special occasion. I was going to save this until the week of Valentine’s Day, but my husband heard on his favorite sports talk show this morning that today is National Chocolate Cake Day, so, heck yeah! We might as well get a jump start on swooning over it. 😉
We splurged on this decadent, multi-layer dessert to finish our New Year’s Eve meal of White Clam Pizzaand our newest addition, the Oysters Rockefeller Pizza, and the cake was delicious for the occasion (and, remarkably, just as good later as leftovers straight from the fridge).
Frosting a cake requires patience that I do not have (especially at the holidays), so I went for a more rustic appearance, which also afforded us a glimpse of the yumminess that was to come, in the form of mascarpone cream and cherries hanging out the sides. There was no whipped cream wrapped around the outside of my cake and no shavings of chocolate, as one would find on a true Black Forest Cake. But it was delicious, with a capital D.
So, is it authentic Black Forest Cake? No, but “Sourdough Dark Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Soaked Cherry and Mascarpone Filling with Ganache Topping” is a mouthful. Plus, it didn’t fit in the title box. 😉
8 bourbon cherries or morello cherries, with stems (for decorating cake top)
Bake the cake as instructed on King Arthur website. I followed the instructions with one ingredient adjustment; I replaced half of the natural cocoa with KA’s Double Dark Dutch Cocoa. I am crazy about the deep, dark color and chocolate flavor! Also, I baked it in two buttered and cocoa-dusted 9-inch layer pans rather than the 9 x 13 that was suggested, and the cake was done in 30 minutes. Cool the cake layers completely before removing them from the pans.
Not riding the sourdough train? No problem; use any other dark chocolate cake recipe you like, provided the layers are sturdy.
For the cherry syrup, mascarpone filling and shiny ganache topping, I’ll provide a visual walkthrough, and you can scroll to the bottom of the post for a printable recipe if you want to give it a go in your kitchen. Happy Chocolate Cake Day! 🙂
The whole world seemed to be holding its breath this time last year, as health officials everywhere began sounding major alarms about the potential dangers of COVID-19. If I had known that Valentine’s Day would be one of the last opportunities for life as we knew it—well, I might have made an exception for my usual “let’s stay at home and celebrate” attitude.
Or maybe not. I’ve never quite appreciated the way the food service industry has dealt with Valentine’s Day—raising prices while simultaneously reducing menu options doesn’t seem terribly romantic, just opportunistic. I put this couple’s night out in the same category as New Year’s Eve. Why in the world would a restaurant place restrictions on a “special” occasion, as if they are not capable of handling a full house with their regular menu? It shouldn’t be much different from a typical busy Saturday night. I don’t get it.
Happily though, I love the anticipation of preparing a special dinner at home, and for Valentine’s Day, I pull out all the stops to make decadent dishes for the love of my life. ❤
I have mentioned previously that my husband, Les, is completely crazy over anything that combines chocolate and cherry, as with the triple chocolate-cherry brownie bowls I shared from his birthday last summer, and the entire Valentine’s meal I made for us last year, only a few weeks before I started Comfort du Jour. It was “all about the cherries” for that occasion, and I prepared duck breast with a cherry-pinot noir sauce (it’s what I was making in the “about me” photo in the section at the right, plus chocolate crepes filled with mascarpone and topped with cherry-chocolate sauce, and we began the evening with this candy-inspired cocktail—the Chocolate-Covered Cherry Old Fashioned. Les and I had made fast friends with the classic Old Fashioned, and I knew the cherry and chocolate would give it a perfect twist.
During the holidays this year, we were introduced by his daughter to the most incredible chocolate covered cherries of all time, sold by Trader Joe’s. These sweet little nuggets pack a lot of decadence into one bite, including a rich dark chocolate jacket and a silky, boozy liqueur floating around a candied cherry. It is not unusual for us to choose these little gems for satisfying our post-dinner sweet tooth. We will be bummed when the box is empty, as we will have to wait until next holiday season to get more of them.
This riff on a classic rocks drink replicates the decadent experience of that limited-edition treat, combining the sweetness of cherry and the romance of Valentine’s chocolate with the spirit of bourbon. At our house, we love the accent of almond with cherry and chocolate, so there’s a little splash of amaretto in the cocktail as well. Whether you’re staying home to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a loved one, or simply to enjoy the pleasure of your own company (as you absolutely should), I hope you’ll enjoy this special sweetheart of a cocktail.
Makes one cocktail; simply double ingredients if making for two.
1.5 oz. bourbon (Elijah Craig Small Batch is on my bar right now)
0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Godiva dark chocolate liqueur
0.5 oz. cherry juice (I used Trader Joe’s, but any brand is fine)
0.25 oz. (1 1/2 tsp.) amaretto
1 bar spoon (about 1/2 tsp.) syrup from Luxardo cocktail cherries* (see notes)
3 drops chocolate bitters*
Cocoa powder (for rimming the glass)
Premium cocktail cherry (such as Luxardo)
For the love of cocktails, please put away the artificial maraschino cherries! The Luxardo cherries mentioned here are the Ferrari of all cocktail garnishes, produced in Italy using real Marasca cherries that are macerated in Luxardo maraschino liqueur and packed in the resulting syrup. They are pricey, but completely worth it, and a jar will last a long time. Find these in gourmet shops, the cocktail mixers section of a high-end supermarket or online.
My chocolate bitters are produced by Woodford Reserve (the bourbon maker) and they add depth, not bitterness, to a cocktail. Find them in the cocktail mixers section, perhaps at Total Wine or online.
Prepare a double rocks cocktail glass by wetting the rim with a small amount of chocolate liqueur, holding the glass upside-down so that the liqueur doesn’t run down the sides. Then roll only the outside edge of the cocktail glass into a bit of the cocoa powder. This keeps the cocoa outside the drink, giving you an extra hint of chocolate on every sip. Do this a bit ahead of time so that the cocoa rim has time to dry and set up on the glass.
At cocktail time, combine bourbon, chocolate liqueur, amaretto, cherry juice, syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass. Add a cup of ice and stir about 20 seconds to chill down the cocktail mixture. Strain into the cocoa-rimmed glass over a giant ice cube. Garnish with a good cocktail cherry (or take it home by skewering an actual cordial cherry).
There’s dessert for the sake of a sweet tooth, and then there’s DESSERT, as is the case with this ultra-chocolate-y, cherry-infused brownie bowl, packed with “Cherry Garcia” vanilla ice cream, studded with sweet cherries and dark chocolate chunks. Oh, and I almost forgot, the cherry syrup. Over the top? Obviously! But this was a birthday dessert a few weeks ago for my husband, Les, who is himself a little “over the top” crazy about any and all chocolate and cherry combinations. And for such an occasion, during a year that has given us too much to worry about and not enough to celebrate, I went all in.
Well, almost. I did take one easy shortcut and I’m not ashamed to share my little secret with you—I never make brownies from scratch. I have a favorite box brownie mix that meets all my picky ingredient requirements, so why put forth the effort to make it “as good as” theirs, when they already have a product that is a winner every time? Ghirardelli dark chocolate is my go-to, and though the brownies are terrific as directed on the box, I sometimes can’t help but elevate them with my own “extras” to highlight certain aspects of the brownies’ personality. It’s easier than you might expect.
For these birthday brownie bowls, I’ve substituted cherry juice for the water called for on the package instructions, and I’ve added a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder plus a handful each of chocolate chunks and cut up dried cherries. That’s it. The simplest flavor swaps, resulting in the most decadent dessert my hubby could have ever asked for on his birthday (or any other occasion). Luckily, for our ever-expanding pandemic waistlines, it will be another year before we indulge to this degree. But it was kinda worth it. 🙂
These brownies are super-sized and shaped like a bowl, exactly right to hold a generous scoop of ice cream (which I did make from scratch, but don’t feel pressured to do so). The special shape is courtesy of a fancy-schmancy pan I bought from King Arthur Baking Company. At $30, it was a bit of a splurge, but in this most ridiculous year, I’ve been willing to invest a bit more in kitchen gadgets and ingredients to make our home meal experiences more memorable. Mark my word, it’ll pay for itself by the time the holidays get here, because I’m already dreaming up other ideas.
If you’re not feeling the love for a special pan to make bowl-shaped brownies, don’t stress about it. Make the brownies in a regular pan according to the mix instructions. You can still swap in the special flavor ingredients and have a spectacular dessert with minimal effort. Remember, stressed spelled backward = desserts, and I’m all about flipping things around! 🙂
Ingredients & Instructions
1 box of your favorite brownie mix (make according to package instructions, but adjust as noted below)
Substitute equal amount of cherry juice for the suggested amount of water
Add 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder to the dry mix (Hershey’s special dark will do, and it’s easy to find)
Add 1/2 cup dried dark cherries, cut into smaller pieces (fold in after mixing)
Add 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips (fold in after mixing)
Bake as directed on the package, but if you use the King Arthur brownie bowl pan, you’ll want to cut the time in half. My brownies were perfect after 25 minutes.
Fill ‘em up!
Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s (or whatever other ice cream rocks your world)
Top ‘em off!
Hot fudge topping, whipped cream, or (if you’re feeling inspired) my quick homemade cherry sauce.
2 cup frozen dark sweet cherries
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla or almond extract (or 1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur or chocolate liqueur)
1 Tbsp. dark chocolate balsamic vinegar* (optional)
2 Tbsp. corn starch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. ice cold water
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add frozen cherries and sprinkle sugar over the top. Stir and cook until cherries are softened and mixture is reduced and bubbly (about 15 minutes). Add extract or liqueur and stir. Blend corn starch and water until smooth, and slowly drizzle into the cherry sauce, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to come back up to full simmer, and continue to stir as it thickens further. Remove from heat. Use the sauce warm over dessert or keep in refrigerator up to two weeks.
*This time around, I strained the cherries from the sauce because they went into the ice cream. Half of the sauce was drizzled through the ice cream like a ribbon, and the rest was reserved for spooning over the brownie bowls. It was a delicious labor of love!
A great meal deserves a sweet, delicious ending, and this one showcases the plump and luscious dark red cherries that were everywhere this summer. The cake is moist and flavorful, rich with buttermilk, almond flour, eggs and real butter, and the buttery brown sugar topping is a little on the boozy side, plus the deep, dark sweet cherries. And the whole thing is elegantly draped with a dollop of amaretto-spiked whipped cream.
If you aren’t wild about cherries (or maybe you aren’t wild about knocking out the pits), substitute fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, blackberries—well, I think you get the idea. But these cherries!
To tackle the unenviable job of pitting the cherries, I purchased a nifty device that gets the job done, six cherries at a time! If you’ve ever tried pitting cherries without a tool, you know that it cannot be done without making a huge mess. In previous attempts, I’ve balanced the cherries—one at a time, of course—on the neck of an empty wine bottle, then held the cherry while shoving the end of a chopstick through it. It left holes in the cherries, the pits inside the bottle, and red juice stains all over everything else in the room, including me. It’s the reason that, for the most part, I’ve relied on frozen cherries whenever I wanted to make a cherry dessert. I adore fresh cherries, but I’d only bought them to snack on, and only when I was flying solo because the whole spitting-out-the-pits part conjured memories of the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. There’s just no way to do it gracefully.
Suffice to say, this $15 tool has changed the game for me. After rinsing the cherries and pulling off the stems, I loaded them into the tray and pressed the top down. Boom!
And just like that, the pits are pushed out the bottom and into a receptacle, leaving the cherries intact but devoid of pits. I finished the entire bowlful in about 8 minutes. I’m not prone to give kudos for “uni-task” tools, but this one really took the pain out of what would otherwise make me choose a different dessert. Besides, as I reminded my husband, Les, this will also come in handy when I need to pit whole olives (which I’ve never tried but now I can).
After the cherries were pitted, I got busy making the topping, which goes into the skillet first. This part of the recipe felt familiar because I’ve made a similar upside-down skillet cake with peaches. I start by melting butter with brown sugar, then adding amaretto to the mix for a subtle almond flavor that echoes what will be going on later in the cake batter. The cake is easy to make, too—cream together the sugar and butter, add the eggs and flavor enhancers, and then alternate the dry ingredients with buttermilk until it’s ready to spread over the topping. The rest of the delicious magic happens in the oven.
This cake has a dense, but not heavy texture, and the warm almond flavor permeates every layer while the soft, juicy cherries satisfy the sweet tooth. It keeps well, too, which is always a bonus in our empty nest household. As odd as it may sound, Les and I found that we enjoyed this cake even more a couple days after I baked it—ice-cold, straight from the refrigerator. The cake part remained moist (thank you, buttermilk!), and the cherry flavor was more pronounced.
Ready to make it?
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cane sugar
1.5 oz. amaretto* (see notes)
About 3 cups pitted fresh dark cherries
1 cup all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup almond flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened but not melted
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 Tbsp. amaretto (optional)*
1 cup buttermilk*
Whipped cream for serving, if desired
Amaretto is an Italian, almond-based liqueur. It is lower proof than whiskey or vodka, slightly sweet and plays very nicely with cherries. If you avoid alcohol, you can get close to this flavor with almond extract. Drizzle 1 teaspoon over the cherry mixture and increase to 2 teaspoons in the cake. Real almond extract, by the way, also usually contains alcohol as a suspension for the almond flavor, but the amount will be minimal.
Remember the rule for measuring flour? In baked goods such as this, using the correct amount will really make a difference. Dipping your measuring cup straight into the flour container is a sure-fire way to have a dry and crumbly cake. I trust a kitchen scale for most of my baking, but if you don’t have one, follow the simple “fluff, sprinkle, level” method—fluff the flour with a whisk or fork, sprinkle it over the dry measuring cup to overflowing, level it off with the back of a knife.
Don’t be tempted to substitute regular milk for the buttermilk in this recipe. The acidity in the buttermilk will lend a subtle tanginess to the cake, and it also reacts with the baking powder and soda for leavening.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Place a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture appears lightly foamy.
Pour in the amaretto and swirl gently to evenly distribute throughout the butter and sugar mixture. Remove from heat and arrange the cherries close together over the mixture.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon.
In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until it’s evenly combined and fluffy. Add one egg and beat until smooth, repeat with the second egg. Then, beat in vanilla and almond extracts, plus additional amaretto, if desired.
Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, blending only until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Beat in half the buttermilk until smooth. Repeat with flour and buttermilk, then the remaining flour.
Pour the batter evenly over the cherries in the skillet. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the thick batter.
Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before inverting it to a large serving platter. To do this successfully, first slide a butter knife around the edges of the cake, to loosen any areas where it might be sticking. Center the plate, face-side down, over the skillet, then carefully hold the skillet and plate together and turn them over. I’ve found this to be easy, as long as you don’t allow the cake to cool too long. If it sticks too much to release, turn the pan right side up again and briefly heat it over a low burner. This will melt and soften the butter again for easier release.
Allow the cake to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream (spike with amaretto, if you wish).
Store leftovers in the fridge, covered with foil or plastic wrap.