Thursday, June 7, 2012

Black Forest Brownies

As a kid, I always judged a restaurant by the quality of its dessert cart.

They rarely have dessert carts at restaurants anymore.  Dessert carts are really 'pastry' carts, and at very high-end restaurants, prepared 'desserts' seem to be en vogue now, like poached pears in brandy sauce.  Lower-end restaurants rarely have the funds for a massive amount of different confections to display every day.

I lived for the dessert carts that had a wild variety of pastries--French and German, mostly. For children, the saying 'we eat with our eyes first' is very true. Being presented with a dessert cart and told to pick one pastry was like being turned loose in Child World or Toys-R-Us or a museum gift shop in the early 80s with a five-dollar bill. I loved the process of selecting just the right item. It never occurred to me to want more but nor did it make me feel guilty about the frenzied delight I took in consuming what I was allowed to have.

I learned that cakes with heavy chocolate ganaches were a bit too heavy and one-dimensional for my palate. Conversely, the fluffy strawberry shortcakes with whipped cream that little girls were supposed to adore were too sweet and also bored my tastebuds. Desserts with lots of walnuts and hazelnuts were too bitter for me at the time. I learned to avoid German chocolate cake, despite its seductive caramel topping, because of the insidious coconut that lay beneath its innocent surface. But certain desserts had just the right balance of chocolate, vanilla, and creaminess. I loved eclairs, for example, and vanilla cakes with chocolate frosting or vice versa.  But my all-time favorite was Black Forest Cake.

My mother's and my favorite restaurant had a Black Forest cake that consisted of three layers of very rich, dense, dark chocolate cake.  The inner layers were spread with chocolate icing and real, plum-like cherries.  Sometimes I'd find a pit in one of the cherries, so I knew the cake was made truly from scratch. The side layers and top were covered in light chocolate frosting that tasted like chocolate mousse. The sides were festooned with dark chocolate shavings. The top of the cake was slathered in more cherry filling and bits of semisweet chocolate.

Eating a single slice took me at least a half an hour, to savor every last bite. First, I would eat the bottom layer, then the center layers, and save the frosting from the sides and top for last.

I talk to parents today and some have children who do not like sweets. I respect and understand that.  Others, however, have children who disdain good desserts and will take a Chips Ahoy or an Oreo cookie over a slice of homemade cake every day.   These children do not understand dessert carts.  I pity and somehow mistrust them.

Later, I tried Black Forest cake at another restaurant.  Eager with anticipation, I expected what had come to be known as 'my special cake.'

A cake with sweet, very light brown German chocolate was presented to me.  The cake was frosted in whipped cream--WHIPPED CREAM--which I loathed. Its sides were covered with sliced untoasted almonds on the side, which I did not like. And it was topped, not with real cherries, but maraschino cherries, like a Shirley Temple had barfed on my Black Forest cake. I took a bite and blanched.  It had alcohol in it, and I don't even like spirits as an adult, and to a child that bite was like eating a slice of solid cough medicine.

I learned at that moment how my 'Black Forest' was nothing like the classic Black Forest cake, but something very particular to that very special restaurant.

The experience taught me that there are no 'truths,' only interpretations, long before I took literature classes on French deconstructionism.

I have considered replicating My Cake.  But then, if I presented you with a very dark chocolate cake embedded with real cherries and chocolate mousse frosting you would say: "That is not Black Forest cake."

But given that Black Forest has come to become a synonym for anything with cherries and chocolate, I present you with these brownies, which don't even make a pretense of being authentic. The brownie recipe (one of my favorites and so easy) was adapted from here, and rather than use cherry pie filling (a pretty typical 'Black Forest' ingredient), I decided to use dried cherries. You could marinate the cherries with kirsch for a more traditional flavor and top them with whipped cream.  But use real whipped cream, please!

Black Forest Brownies

--yields 24 small brownies--


5 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 stick of unsalted butter

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar. 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large, beaten eggs

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup dried cherries

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line an 8X8 inch square pan with nonstick foil.

2. Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler.  Let cool, then incorporate the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and eggs.

3. Sift flour and salt and incorporate into the chocolate mixture.  Fold in the semisweet chips and 1/2 of the dried cherries.  Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle with the remainder of the dried cherries and white chocolate chips.

4. Bake for 25-28 minutes.  Cool for at least one hour before slicing. I refrigerated the brownies overnight before cutting.


  1. I hadn't noticed until now, but you're right -- dessert carts have kind of disappeared. I haven't seen one in ages.

    Funnily enough, I was just thinking about making a chocolate cake and mixing some blueberries into the batter (they were on sale and I may have overpurchased). In general, I don't like cake frosting because it's usually way too sweet, but plain cake is sad, like something Laura Ingalls might eat on her birthday. I hadn't considered cherries, but that also sounds good.

  2. Powdered sugar is another a great way to make a cake look more festive and less like something Nellie Olsen would have mocked, or a crumb topping (chocolate crumb cakes are always nice). Blueberry isn't a traditional pairing with chocolate, but I've considered it several times. After all, strawberries and raspberries are frequently used in chocolate desserts, so why not blueberries...

  3. These look great!

    With the blue corn waffles, I think it was that the rice flour didn't pare well with milk. I used the right amount and should have used less. The masa made it too was just off.

  4. I absolutely love black forest cake, it's probably my favourite cake overall, nothing beats a good black forest, though nothing is probably more disappointing than a bad one. Actually come to think of it, it's kind of strange since I'm not really a fan of cherry and chocolate.
    I was never a dessert person at restaurants, typically I would be too full at that point :). And nowadays I almost feel that ordering dessert is a little silly since I can typically make something better than what they're offering. However, when I did order dessert it was always cheesecake, I love me some cheesecake :). And I don't think I've ever seen a proper dessert cart.
    Brownies look great by the way, love the concept :).

  5. @Adam--I didn't know Black Forest was your favorite cake! That's so cool! And it's funny, while I ALWAYS had room for dessert as a kid, I totally agree with you now about desserts in restaurants and being too full/not satisfied to partake.