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Chocolate Cherry Torte

1 1/4 cups dried sour cherries
1 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons marsala wine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup strong coffee

1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons buttermilk

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup heavy cream
chocolate meringue twigs
56 inches decorative ribbon, optional
fresh sweet cherries, optional

In small saucepan, combine dried cherries, water, and 2 Tbsp sugar.
Beat mixture to boiling over high heat; reduce heat to low and
simmer cherries until soft and liquid is reduced by half. Remove
from heat and transfer half of cherry mixture to blender or food
processor fitted with chopping blade; process until a chunky puree
forms. Return pureed mixture to saucepan with remaining dried
cherry mixture; add cornstarch and stir until well blended. Heat
mixture to boiling, stirring constantly; cook until thickened.
Remove from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp Marsala and the lemon juice.
Cool to room temperature.

Combine coffee with remaining Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp Marsala; set

In small bowl, stir boiling water and cocoa until smooth; set aside
to cool to room temperature. Heat oven to 350 deg. Grease a 15
1/2 x 10 1/2-inch jelly-roll pan and line with waxed paper; grease
and flour paper.

In large bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, beat sugar and
shortening until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well
after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cooled cocoa mixture.

Into small bowl, sift flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
Add flour mixture to shortening mixture alternately with buttermilk,
beating until batter is smooth. Spread batter evenly in prepared
pan and bake 18 to 20 minutes or until center springs back when
gently pressed. Cool cake in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert
cake onto wire rack, remove waxed paper, and cool cake completely.

In large bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, beat cream
cheese and confectioners sugar 2 minutes. In small bowl, beat
cream until soft peaks form; fold whipped cream into cream-cheese
mixture just until blended . (Do not over-mix.)

To assemble, using the bottom of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan as a pattern,
cut chocolate cake into three 9 x 5-inch rectangles; use leftover
cake trimmings for snacking. Line the inside of the loaf pan with
plastic wrap, allowing 2 inches to extend over the sides so assembled
torte can be easily removed from pan.

Place one cake rectangle in bottom of pan; brush generously with
some Coffee Syrup. Spread half of cheese filling on top of cake
in pan. Place another cake rectangle atop filling; brush with
Coffee Syrup and top with cherry filling. Place remaining cake
atop cherry filling; brush with remaining Coffee Syrup and top with
remaining cheese filling, spreading smoothly as this will be top
of torte. Cover torte with overhanging plastic wrap and refrigerate
at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, remove torte from pan by pulling up plastic wrap on all
sides. Place torte on serving plate and gently pull plastic wrap
to remove from underneath. Gently press flat sides of chocolate
twigs upright onto sides of torte to cover completely. If desired,
tie ribbon around sides of torte, ending in a bow in the center of
one long side. Top torte with fresh cherries, if desired, and
serve. Or refrigerate up to 2 hours before serving. (Twigs will
eventually soften with refrigeration.)

Chocolate Meringue Twigs: Heat oven to 275 deg. Line 2 large baking
sheets wit h parchment paper (if not available, use aluminum foil
and grease lightly). Place 1/2 cup sugar and 2 large egg whites
in medium-size bowl. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of very hot,
not boiling, water. With portable electric mixer at high speed,
beat mixture until thick and nearly double in volume. Remove bowl
from hot water and continue beating egg whites until very stiff
peaks form-about 4 minutes.

Sift 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder over meringue and fold in
until blended. Transfer chocolate meringue to pastry bag fitted
with a 3/8-inch round tip. Making narrow rows, pipe 3 to 4-inch
long "twigs" of meringue onto baking sheets. Bake meringue twigs
1 1/2 hours or until dry and firm. Cool twigs completely on baking
sheets on wire racks.

Meanwhile, melt 1 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate in microwave or in
bowl set over simmering water. Dip fork in melted chocolate and
quickly move it back and forth across twigs, creating thin chocolate
stripes. Refrigerate twigs just until chocolate stripes harden-about
5 minutes. Gently remove twigs from parchment and store in airtight
container, unrefrigerated, until ready to use.


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