Side Orders: Dark Forest Cake creates a new Christmas tradition

Anne Braly
Anne Braly
photo Anne Braly

Christmas cakes are a much-anticipated part of the Christmas dinner. Visions of sugarplums may dance in some heads, but slices of cake dance in mine. Showstopping layers of moist cake slathered with luscious creamy frosting are the stuff of which my sweet dreams are made.

Recently, I went in search of something different from traditional cakes like Yuletide logs and red velvet cake. The result was something of my own creation that combines a popular German confection, Dark Forest Cake - ideal during the holidays as it reflects the country from which many of our Christmas traditions come - and everyone's favorite, cream cheese frosting, or a variation thereof.

Traditional German Black Forest Cake calls for whipped cream between the four layers, then more whipped cream frosting the entire cake. Don't get me wrong. I love whipped cream, but for me, there can be too much of a good thing - like a cake topped with whipped cream and in between its layers. So, I thought, why not a nice, rich white frosting?

So I made a happy compromise - whipping the cream and blending it with cream cheese and powdered sugar. The resulting cake was magnificent. The chocolatey, cherry layers married with the frosting and the whipped cream, and now a new tradition has been born in my house. Maybe yours, too.

The cake takes some time. I would advise making the layers the day before, wrapping them and refrigerating them. The next day, make the whipped cream and the frosting, then slice the cake layers to make four layers, assemble it and put it on a pretty platter for all to admire. It's sometimes difficult to cut cake layers evenly, so if you end up with one layer a little thicker, place it on the bottom so it doesn't weigh down the other layers.

Dark Forest Cake

1 cup whole milk

3 large eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup baking cocoa

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

Cherry filling:

2 cans (21-ounces each) tart cherry pie filling

3 tablespoons cherry brandy or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whipped cream filling:

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup powdered sugar


2 (8-ounce) packages full-fat cream cheese

4 cups powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups heavy cream, well chilled

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottoms of two greased 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil; grease paper. In a large bowl, beat milk, eggs, oil and vanilla until well blended. In another bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into milk mixture.

Transfer to prepared pans. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks; remove paper. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, pour cherry pie filling into a bowl, and stir in brandy or vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add 1/3 cup powdered sugar; beat until stiff peaks form.

Using a long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half. Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Top with 1 1/2 cups whipped cream. Spread 3/4 cup filling to within 1 inch of edge. Repeat twice. Top with remaining cake layer. Frost top and sides of cake with whipped cream cheese frosting, reserving some to pipe decorations, if desired. Spoon remaining filling onto top of cake. Refrigerate until serving.

To make frosting: Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla, and blend well using electric mixer or stand mixer. Pour heavy cream into a separate large bowl, and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture, and mix until blended.

Note: Cream whips much better if it, as well as the beaters and bowl, are well chilled. Put the beaters and the bowl in the freezer before starting the cake, and keep the cream in the refrigerator until ready to whip.

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