Monday, February 23, 2009

Black Forest Gateau

Heston Blumenthal's Way

(A small note by Mochacoffee: I fell in love with this when I found it last year. The recipe may seem dauting and it does read like a book, but just look at those ingredients and tell me you would love a taste of this. I would love to try this, but I would have to read the recipe over and over again to visualize it in my head first. but I love challenges. Maybe for my 60th Birthday?)

I know what you're thinking. But bear with me. The key components of this German confection - chocolate, cherries and cream - are a sublime combination. My version is made up of six layers, most of which will work as desserts in their own right. Do have a go at the whole thing, though - you'll never think of the gateau the same way again.
I’m not sure why the black forest gateau of my childhood was never as good as it should have been. After all, chocolate, cherries and cream are three ingredients that go together well. However, leaden cream, dry sponge and cheap cooking chocolate conspired to make it cloying and virtually inedible, an utterly ersatz experience. I would try to pick the chocolate off the top, and even that would be disappointing. I’m not alone in this. I’ve come across almost nobody who harbours good memories of black forest gateau. So who ordered it and, more to the point, why? Did our parents really like it? Of course, it looked exotic. It offered the promise of luxury and indulgence, which is probably why it became part of a very British idea of the special occasion — an Abigail’s Party version of posh. Persuading people that it’s actually a perfect dessert was going to be a challenge. But I like a challenge. No food need be beneath contempt, and I wanted to prove that black forest gateau doesn’t have to be middle-brow. The liquid bitterness of the cherries complementing powerfully dark chocolate; the smooth mousse, rich cream and light sponge giving a lovely variety of textures; the touch of alcohol providing a lively surprise — do it right, and it becomes something wonderful. It's Gateau fabulous Although the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte was created less than 100 years ago, its history is as impenetrable as parts of the Black Forest itself. Some say that it’s a tribute to the kirsch that plays such an important role in the cake’s distinctive flavour and is made in some 14,000 distilleries in the region. Whatever its origins, the first recipe appeared in 1934, and it has gone on to become the bestselling cake in Germany. To discover how a torte ought to taste, I ventured into the Black Forest. What better place to have a Konditorei, that excellent German combination of cake shop and cafe? The Café König opened in Baden-Baden 250 years ago and is still going strong. If any place was going to come up with a worthwhile slice of torte, surely this was it. In truth, I was slightly nervous about what I was going to eat. What if it was as disappointing as I remembered? The König’s gateau was a tall, sharp wedge crowned with chocolate flakes and a rounded hillock of cream topped with a cherry half. Beneath this, at least six layers of light and dark alternated. It wasn’t a cake so much as an architectural creation. The cream was rich, the mousse powerful but delicate; the kirsch had the sweet sharpness of a well-balanced spirit rather than the mule kick of a cheap one. The frozen cherries had an abundance of malic acid (an acid found in many fruits, especially apples: think of biting into a granny smith), which provided a perfect counterbalance to the fat of the cream. The chocolate had a cherry note that went well with the other flavours. All of it rested on a classic biscuit base. Although the true Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte was very different from the Great British gateau, I could see how one had gradually been transformed (and traduced) into the other. I was looking forward to fooling around with the torte’s complex architecture, and I could see ways in which I might still be able to summon up — in a pleasant form — some of the nostalgia surrounding the humble, misconstrued gateau. Combining the two would make a cake that was really special.

The recipesMakes 3 cakes, each to serve 4-6 Here it is — a black forest gateau, composed of six delicious layers: a madeleine biscuit base, topped with aerated chocolate, chocolate sponge, kirsch cream, chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse. One of the beauties of this recipe is its adaptability. The layers don’t have to be assembled into a cake: many can be served up as desserts in their own right. Kids and grown-ups alike will love the chocolate mousse and aerated chocolate. Serving kirsch cream with a bowl of cherries would be an interesting echo of the cake’s origins. This really is six recipes in one — and the possibilities are almost endless. More than any other dish, perhaps, this one can be let down by its ingredients.

The salt plays a pivotal role, enhancing the flavours and tempering the cake’s sweetness. And it is absolutely vital that you use the best chocolate, sour cherries and kirsch that you can get. The kirsch is especially important: I recommend Franz Fies, but if you can’t obtain that, look for one that is smooth, aromatic and full-flavoured. As this recipe makes three cakes, you can either freeze the cakes you don’t want to use at once, or make up one cake and save the rest of the prepared ingredients.

Special equipment
21.5cm x 31.5cm brownie tin(s), food mixer (optional), oven thermometer, 2.6-litre hard plastic container with lid (through which you have bored a small hole, using a corkscrew), microwave (if you have one), whipping-cream canister and charges (from, vacuum-seal storage bag with one-way valve, vacuum cleaner, digital probe, 9cm x 19cm x 5cm-deep baking tin(s), piping bag, melon- baller, large cardboard box, paint gunTiming

Lots of layers mean lots of different cooking techniques. To assemble a whole cake in one day would, undeniably, be a fair amount of work. Better to think of this as architecture — a flat-pack gateau — and spread out the building tasks. Prepare the chocolate sponge and kirsch cream up to a month in advance and keep them in the freezer, and make the biscuit base up to a week in advance, keeping it in an airtight container. The aerated chocolate can be prepared any time: it will keep well in the fridge if sealed properly. That leaves only two layers to prepare on the day: the chocolate ganache and the chocolate mousse — neither of which is particularly laborious.

Madeleine biscuit base

50g unsalted butter 1 large egg (60g)30g honey 60g plain flour30g icing sugar, siftedtsp (5g) baking powder Pinch of table salt1 tbsp (15ml) whole milk 1 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Line a 21.5cm x 31.5cm brownie tin with greaseproof paper or a little butter. 2 Melt the butter over a low heat, then leave to cool a little. 3 In a separate bowl, beat the egg and honey together for 5 minutes, or until white and thick. A food mixer with a paddle attachment is ideal for this job. 4 Gradually add all the dry ingredients, then the cooled butter and finally the milk. Mix until they are just combined. Do not overbeat. 5 Pour the mixture into the brownie tin. Bake for 10 minutes, or until a pale golden brown. 6 Turn the oven down to 100C/200F/Gas Mark . Use an oven thermometer to check this. Cut the biscuit base into three 8cm x 18cm rectangles. It’s not essential to be exact — they will need to be trimmed again when assembling the gateau. Lift them out of the tin and place on a baking tray. 7 Bake in the low oven for 20 minutes, until deep golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Aerated chocolate layer

Here, it is a good idea to get all the equipment ready beforehand, so that the chocolate goes through the process quickly, stays liquid and gets well aerated.
500g top-quality milk chocolate (such as Valrhona’s Tanariva)65g groundnut oil

1 Line the 2.6-litre plastic container with greaseproof paper.
2 Break the chocolate into chunks and place in a medium-sized glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and let the chocolate melt. (The bowl needs to be large enough so it can sit on top of the saucepan without its base touching the water: the aim is to soften the chocolate on the gentlest of heats, so it doesn’t go grainy.) Alternatively, melt the chocolate at high power in a microwave for 1–2 minutes. Again, be careful not to overheat it.
3 Place a whipping-cream canister in a bowl or pan of boiling water. (Warming the canister ensures that the chocolate stays molten when poured into it.)
4 Stir the oil into the bowl containing the melted chocolate, then pour it all into the whipping-cream canister. Attach the canister cap, and charge with three charges.
5 Shake the canister, then squirt the chocolate onto the base of the 2.6-litre plastic container. Put on the lid, then place the container in the vacuum storage bag. Position the storage bag’s valve over the hole in the container’s lid. Switch on the vacuum cleaner and place the hose on the valve to suck the air out of the bag. The chocolate should rise and be riddled with small bubbles. As soon as it does so, remove the vacuum and close the valve as quickly as possible. To set the chocolate, place the box — still in the vacuum bag — in the fridge until required.

Flourless chocolate sponge

65g top-quality dark chocolate (such as Amedei’s Toscano Black 66%)7 egg yolks (140g)130g unrefined caster sugar 15g good-quality cocoa powder (such as Green & Black’s Organic), sifted 5 egg whites (150g)

1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line a 21.5cm x 31.5cm brownie tin with greaseproof paper or a little butter.
2 Break the chocolate into chunks and place in a glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and let the chocolate melt (or heat the chocolate at high power in a microwave for 1–2 minutes). Leave to cool.
3 Beat the egg yolks with 65g of the caster sugar for 5 minutes, or until white and thick. (A food mixer with a whisk attachment can perform this task.) Stir in the cocoa powder and the melted, cooled chocolate.
4 Whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. (The mixer can do this job too. If you have only one mixer bowl, a similarly sized glass or stainless steel bowl will work. Make sure it is spotlessly clean: a dirty bowl is the most common reason for egg whites not stiffening.)
5 Gradually fold the egg whites into the egg-yolk mixture, then pour this mixture into the brownie tin and bake for 20–25 minutes. The surface of the cake will look a little dry when removed from the oven, and it may sink slightly. Leave it to cool before cutting into three 8cm x 18cm rectangles.

Kirsch cream

2 sheets of leaf gelatin 5 egg yolks (100g)90g unrefined caster sugar 250ml whole milk 220ml whipping cream 20ml top-quality kirsch
1 Line a 21.5cm x 31.5cm brownie tin with clingfilm.
2 Place the sheets of gelatin in a small bowl and pour over 100ml cold water. Leave for 15 minutes, until soft.
3 Beat the egg yolks with the sugar for 5 minutes, or until white and thick. (The food mixer can do this job.)
4 Gently warm the milk in a small pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the beaten egg-yolk mixture. Return to a medium heat and cook for a further 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently. Use a digital probe to monitor when the temperature of the mixture reaches 80C/175F, at which point it should be taken off the heat. (It will have become thicker, with tiny bubbles appearing on the surface.)
5 Drain the gelatin and stir it into the warm mixture. (Make sure the mixture is not too hot, or the gelatin will break. Make sure, too, that all the gelatin dissolves.) Leave until lukewarm.
6 Meanwhile, lightly whip the cream, then add the kirsch. Fold this into the cooled gelatin mixture, then pour the mixture into the brownie tin and place it in the freezer to set for at least 1 hour.

About Kirsch

Good kirsch is integral to this recipe, and the quality of the spirit is very important. Here are some pointers:
- It musn’t be too sweet. - I like to use one with 50% alcohol — strong enough to stand up to the chocolate. - Look for a brand that is aromatic and flavoursome. I recommend Franz Fies. - Selfridges’ wine department has a very good spirits range, as does Fortnum & Mason, from which you can also buy online at

Cherry stalks

To make the cherry “stalks”, you need six plump vanilla pods. Cut them into four lengthways, tie a knot at the end of each strip, then twist it to give a gnarled effect. Place on a plate and leave to dry overnight at room temperature.

You’ve made the biscuit base, the chocolate sponge, the kirsch cream and the decorative stalks for the cherries. Now you need to make the remaining two recipes and assemble the gateau.
You’ll also need the following for the final touches. 1 jar of apricot baking glaze 1 jar of top-quality wild cherries in heavy syrup (eg Griottines, or Amarena Fabbri if you can get them) 30ml top-quality kirsch (eg Franz Fies)500g top-quality dark chocolate (such as Amedei’s Toscano Black 66%) 150g groundnut oil Line a 5cm-deep, 9cm x 19cm loaf tin with clingfilm.

Now make the chocolate ganache.

Chocolate ganache

95ml whipping cream 1 tsp glucose syrupPinch of table salt95g top-quality dark chocolate (such as Amedei’s Porcelana) 20g unsalted butter, diced
1 Gently heat the cream, glucose syrup and salt. Break the chocolate into a bowl, then stir in the warm cream. When the chocolate has melted entirely, add the butter and stir until that too has melted. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and place it in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.
2 Meanwhile, if need be, trim the madeleine base so that it will fit the bottom of the loaf tin, with a 5mm gap between it and the sides of the tin. Trim the flourless chocolate sponge to the same dimensions as the madeleine base. Cut the aerated chocolate to these dimensions, and trim it so that it is no more than 1cm thick.
3 Before putting the madeleine base into the tin, spread it with a generous layer of apricot baking glaze. Put the aerated chocolate on top and place these in the bottom of the tin.
4 Remove the piping bag containing the ganache from the fridge. Along the length of the top of the aerated chocolate, about 2–3mm from the edge, pipe a thick line of ganache. Repeat on the other side. (Looked at from above, the rectangle of aerated chocolate should now have two stripes of ganache, each running parallel to the longer edges.)
5 Drain the cherries and reserve the syrup. Fill the gap between the two lines of ganache with a double row of cherries. (The idea is that every person is served a slice containing a pair of cherries, so calculate the number you’ll need accordingly and be sure to space them well. Keep in mind roughly where you’ve placed them — you’ll need to know later.)
6 Mix 60ml of the reserved cherry syrup with the kirsch. Dip the chocolate sponge in this soaking syrup, then position it on top of the ganache and cherries.
7 Remove the kirsch cream from the freezer and trim it to the same dimensions as the other layers. Manoeuvre it on top of the chocolate sponge, using a palette knife or fish slice.

Put the gateau in the freezer while you prepare the chocolate mousse.

Chocolate mousse
4 egg yolks (80g)200g unrefined caster sugar 100ml whole milk150g top-quality dark chocolate (such as Amedei’s Chuao) Generous pinch of table salt 200ml whipping cream
1 Beat the egg yolks with the sugar for 5 minutes, until white and thick. (A food mixer with a paddle attachment can be used for this.)
2 Gently warm the milk in a small pan. Remove it from the heat and stir in the beaten egg yolks. Return to a medium heat and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently. Use a digital probe to monitor when the temperature of the mixture reaches 80C/175F, then remove from the heat.
3 Finely chop the chocolate and place it in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the warm milk and eggs over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. Add the salt and leave to cool.
4 Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the cooled chocolate mixture.

5 Remove the gateau from the freezer. Make sure the clingfilm is taut against the sides of the tin. Pour the chocolate mousse down the sides of the tin until it reaches a level 1cm above the kirsch cream layer. Return the gateau to the freezer and leave it for at least an hour, to firm up the layer of mousse.

6 Using a melon-baller, scoop out a double row of indentations along the gateau. (Ideally, they should be above the cherries that were added earlier.) Return the gateau to the freezer for a least an hour: it needs to be properly frozen in order to get the right effect with the chocolate coating.

7 For the coating, break the chocolate into chunks and place in a small glass bowl. Melt the chocolate by placing the bowl over a pan of simmering water, or by heating it at high power in a microwave for about 2 minutes. Leave to cool slightly before stirring in the groundnut oil. (If you don’t plan to coat the cake with the paint gun, take 100g of this chocolate, cut it into shavings and scatter over the cake just before serving.)

8 Fill the base of the paint gun with the melted chocolate mixture and attach the nozzle. To avoid redecorating the kitchen in chocolate brown, set the large cardboard box on its side (which effectively provides a protective roof and walls to work in). Remove the gateau from the freezer. Carefully lift it out of the loaf tin and onto a plate. Remove the clingfilm and place the gateau in the cardboard box. Spray the gateau with the chocolate, turning carefully as you go. Return it to the freezer until 20 minutes before serving.

9 Use a skewer to bore a small hole 2–3in into the centre of the bottom of each indentation, down towards the cherry below. Agitate the skewer a little to increase the hole’s diameter. Pour in cherry syrup until it reaches the top of the bore-hole (but doesn’t spill out into the indentation itself). Place a sour cherry, stalk end up, in each indentation, and sit a dried vanilla pod in each cherry, to make a decorative stalk. For the full effect, fill an atomiser with kirsch and squirt it round the room just before serving the gateau — it will magically bring a little of the Black Forest to the dinner table.

The perfect chocolate sorbet

Still haven’t had enough chocolate?

Then top up your quota with this. You’ll need an ice-cream maker. Serves 6 500g semi-skimmed milk60g glucose 60g cocoa powder 340g fine 33% milk chocolate, in pieces Place 500ml water in a pan with the milk and glucose. Bring to the boil, add cocoa and simmer for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted. Pour into a bowl and place it into another, larger bowl of iced water. Allow to cool until the mixture reaches 40C. Pour into the ice-cream machine and churn as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Extracted and adapted from In Search of Perfection by Heston Blumenthal - Bloomsbury

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