I confess. I went off my diet to enjoy two — no, make that three — slices of this cake. And there’s still a quarter of the cake left. I’ve made it twice now — once for Christmas, when we had a big crowd that consumed all of it. And I made it again last week, when it was just the two of us. But don’t judge – I sliced off a quarter of this cake and took it to my 90+ year-old neighbors to help them celebrate Valentine’s Day. Studded with cherries and hugged by a white chocolate birch bark, this cake would also be perfect to celebrate the upcoming birthday of George Washington – the first president of the U.S.A. who legend says chopped down a cherry tree as a young boy. You don’t have to embellish it with the chocolate birch bark if you want to make it easy on yourself. Just serve it with the whipped cream frosting and everyone will love it just the same. The cake recipe is from “Alice’s Tea Cup” cookbook, but it’s practically the same as the Hershey’s recipe I’ve been using for decades. Alice’s Tea Cup recipe calls for 1/4 cup sour cream, and I didn’t have it on hand, so substituted plain Greek yogurt instead. The cake is very forgiving and even without the sour cream or yogurt, it’s a delicious cake with a beautiful crumb.
Just a word of caution before baking however. The first time I made this, I put all three cake pans in the oven at once — not a good idea since they came out lopsided. The next time, I baked each cake layer one at a time and it was much more even. When you’re assembling the cake, you could eliminate the liqueur soaking each layer if you’re serving it to young children. But in my opinion, the liqueur adds so much flavor and it’s dispersed enough even for children to handle. I used about 1/2 cup of Cherry Marnier for the three layers, but next time, I’ll increase it to 3/4 cup. If you don’t have Cherry Marnier (I finally finished the bottle I’ve had for more than 40 years), substitute with kirsch or brandy.
The first time I made this, I used amarena cherries from Italy (my favorite), but they are a bit expensive to use in such quantity. This time I bought some jarred pitted cherries that were just fine. After you’ve soaked the layer in liqueur, spread the whipped cream in abundance and dot it with the cherries. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer.
Smear whipped cream all over the sides and top. If you plan to decorate with the white chocolate birch bark, (and I do encourage you to do so. It makes quite a statement.) the perimeter doesn’t have to be perfect since it will be completely covered. Just make sure you have enough whipped cream to help the chocolate pieces adhere.
Making the birch bark is simple. First use a paint brush to “paint” melted dark chocolate marks across a piece of parchment paper. The area you cover in chocolate should be as tall as the finished cake with all the layers and frosting, and slightly wider than the circumference of the cake. After you’ve made the dark chocolate marks, let the chocolate harden. Then melt the white chocolate and let it cool before spreading over the dark chocolate with an offset spatula (I dripped some over the dark chocolate first before spreading with the spatula). This part can be tricky if the temperature isn’t just right. If you spread the white chocolate while it’s warm, or worse yet, while it’s hot, it will melt the dark chocolate and smear it. A little smearing is fine, but you don’t want to lose the characteristic look of the birch bark. If you wait until it’s too cold, the white chocolate will harden and you’ll have a hard time spreading it. I got the idea from “The Cake Girls” – and you might want to check out these directions before trying.
Let the white chocolate bark cool completely. Put it in the refrigerator if your room is too hot. Then slice or break off pieces to use for the decoration. Don’t worry if some of them break in two or three pieces. You can always patch some together on the cake.
I finished it off by piping some whipped cream rosettes on the top. But even that is not necessary if you don’t have the right equipment. Everyone will love it just the same.
Including my husband, who by now has shown remarkable (and uncharacteristic) self-restraint by eating only one slice a day of this cake. As for me, don’t ask. Because unlike George Washington, I may have to tell a lie.
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- 2 cups sugar
- 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspooon kosher salt
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ cup hot brewed coffee
- FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
- 2½ cups whipping cream
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- a jar of sour cherries in liquid (drained), or amarena cherries in syrup (use as many as you like. I didn't measure but I think I used about 1 cup total)
- ¾ cup liqueur (Kirsch, or cherry marnier, or brandy)
- FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
- 12 ounces white chocolate
- a couple of ounces of dark or milk chocolate
- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans.
- Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
- Add eggs (one at a time), sour cream, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes.
- Slowly drizzle in hot coffee, mixing until the batter is blended. Batter will be thin.
- Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean.
- Cool completely before removing from pan and frosting.
- FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
- Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar, adding a little at a time, until peaks form.
- Be careful not to whip too much or you'll end up with butter!
- Take one layer of the cakes and sprinkle generously with the syrup.
- Spread some of the whipped cream on top, and dot throughout with the cherries.
- Repeat with the second layer.
- Add the top layer and spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and sides.
- FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
- Melt the dark chocolate, either at low heat in a double boiler or in the microwave.
- Using a paint brush, brush marks on a long piece of parchment paper, using a measurement that's slightly taller than the three cakes would be with the frosting, and a bit wider than the circumference of the cakes.
- Let the dark chocolate cool, then melt the white chocolate, being careful not to overheat, or will "seize" on you. If this happens, try adding more white chocolate, off the heat, and stir vigorously.
- Alternately, add a small amount of boiling water, one teaspoon at a time, stirring into the white chocolate.
- Let the white chocolate cool, then spread over the dark chocolate.
- This can be tricky because if you spread it while it's still warm, it will melt the dark chocolate and you'll lose the characteristic marks of the birch tree. But if you let it cool too much, it will harden and be difficult to spread.
- Let the white chocolate cool completely (I put mine in the refrigerator), then cut large chunks of it, and press them against the sides of the cake.
- If some of the pieces break off, just patch them by pressing into the sides of the cake.