chocolate and cherry loveliness: black forest cupcakes

black forest cupcakes
I like to forage, mostly in green open spaces across London, although recently discovering new treasures at the bottom of my own garden. But I have also been known to forage in other people's kitchen cupboards, ferreting out interesting tins and jars that have languished forgotten, gathering dust and exceeding their use-by dates.

Some years ago I had spotted a jar of black cherries soaked in kirsch at my beloved papa's pad. Typically while visiting Henry there will be some point when I rearrange his kitchen shelves and cupboards (putting like things with like things, so that he doesn't end up with 17 jars of opened olives, for example) and I root through his fridge, binning anything that looks as if it might be about to launch a bid for freedom - items that are unusually blue or furry.

Henry tolerates this with some fond amusement and not a little pity, assuring me that at 81 he's not dead yet. But I don't want to take the chance, so every few months anything quite clearly past it's use-by date gets hauled down to his compost bins.

I have enormous sympathy for his cleaning lady, Pat. It's a pretty thankless task; every week, the poor woman cleans out Henry's fridge and puts out on the kitchen counter everything she thinks should be discarded. Henry smiles and says that yes he'll check through her finds just to make sure. Of course, as soon as she leaves, he just wrestles the whole lot back in the fridge. I have the luxury of being his daughter, being bossy and not being prepared to accept any patriarchal prevaricating. So if it looks like a science project then its days here are done!

Of course, that doesn't prevent me from necessarily throwing every thing out. Eagle-eyed Kelly (that would be me) had realised that the afore-mentioned boozy jar of cherries had been bottled in 2005 and clearly Henry had forgotten they were there. Further reorganisation of his shelves brought to the light another jar of boozy cherries, these ones steeped in brandy. Use-by date was 2003. This was one of those times when a session in Henry's kitchen made me feel like an archaeologist exploring stratification through dateable excavation. But I brightened at the knowledge that at least I had a good home for these preserved fruits as well as plans for the rather pretty jars that they came in.

Which is why, when I decided to bake my friend Emma something chocolaty to mark the end of Lent (she'd given up chocolate for the duration), I thought that making boozy chocolate-cherry cupcakes with a bit of a Black Forest Cake vibe, might be suitably celebratory. Booze, chocolate and luscious black cherries, vanilla buttercream icing . . . what's not to like?

Makes about 14 to 16 (or double that number if making smaller cakes)
Skill level: Easy

120g good quality dark chocolate (use one with at least 70% cocoa solids)
90g butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar (I use home-made vanilla sugar)
2 x large eggs, separated
150g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
3/4tsp baking powder
3/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt, optional (use if using unsalted butter)
250ml semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature - replace 2 tbsps of the milk with the kirsch
1 tsp good quality vanilla essence
cherries soaked in kirsch, drained
vanilla buttercream icing
120g butter, at room temperature
500g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp good quality vanilla essence
4 tbsp semi-skimmed milk (or 1 tbsp of milk with kirsch)
chocolate cherries
50g dark chocolate (use one with at least 70% cocoa solids)
cherries soaked in kirsch (see above)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  2. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases. (Using cases means that they keep their shape when baking)
  3. Drain the cherries into a sieve, reserving the kirsch.
  4. Melt the chocolate in your preferred way, either in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (making sure that the bowl does not touch the eater) or in the microwave. I heat the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second bursts on High, shaking or stirring the bowl each time until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
  5. Begin by creaming the butter and then adding the sugar and beating until pale and smooth. (I use a hand-held mixer which may take a little longer than a full-blown electric mixer.
  6. Separate the eggs into separate bowls.
  7. Lightly beat the egg yolks and add to the creamed butter and sugar. Beat well to ensure that it is well mixed.
  8. Add the slightly cooled chocolate to this mixture and beat again until well mixed in.
  9. Combine the milk, vanilla essence and kirsch if using, then beat this into the chocolate batter.
  10. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and the salt (if using).
  11. Spoon about a quarter of the flour mixture into the chocolate batter mixture and beat well. Continue to add the flour, beating well after each addition.
  12. Now whisk the egg whites until soft peaks have formed. (If using the blender, ensure that you are using clean whisks or beaters.)
  13. Using a large metal spoon, fold the egg whites into the cake mixture. (Using a metal soon means that you don't knock the air out of the mix while stirring in the egg whites).
  14. The muffin cases need to be filled about two-thirds full. After spooning in the batter, drop a drained cherry into each case and ensure that it is covered with a little of the cake batter.
  15. Bake the cupcakes on a middle shelf in the oven for about 20 minutes. They may take up to 25 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is. If making mini cupcakes, they will cook much more quickly - between 12 and 15 minutes. Check for browning after two thirds of the cooking time.
  16. Leave to cool in the tins for about 10 minutes, before removing the cupcakes and placing on a wire rack to cool fully.
  17. Make the chocolate cherries by first lining a baking tray with greaseproof baking parchment.
  18. Melt more dark chocolate and add enough of the drained cherries to make a topping for each cupcake. I tend to add a few more that actually needed, because some have a more pleasing appearance. Any left over are this cook's treat! Stir the cherries until they are well-coated and glossy with chocolate. Using a wooden cocktail stick or skewer, pick out each cherry and lay on the baking parchment. Leave to cool and for the chocolate to harden. 
  19. Make the buttercream icing by first sifting all of the icing sugar.
    In a large bowl beat together half of the icing sugar together with the butter, vanilla essence and the milk (and kirsch if using). Add the rest of the icing sugar a little at a time until the buttercream is creamy and smooth. If the icing is too stiff to pipe, then you may need to let it down with a little more of milk. However, if it is too runny, then continue to beat as this will thicken the icing. 
  20. Ice the cupcakes and top each with chocolate-coated cherry.

  • The icing can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge of about 5 days, but you will need to bring back to room temperature and beat it up again before using.
  • If you don't want to use cherries that have been preserved in alcohol, then used a good quality cherry jam, such as Bonne Maman.
  • Adding 2 tablespoons of cocoa to the buttercream will make a chocolate icing.


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

oh we always ate stuff out of date at home... mum said if it didn't fizzle or pop we should eat it... and like she says, we're not dead...!.... loving the retro cupcakes, perfection!

Janice said...

Fantastic story!

Joanna @ Zeb Bakes said...

I have a Henry only he lives a long way away and he is having to deal, with fridge management too so I know exactly what you mean, you really made me smile. I am very excited by your cakes as I think I have those cherries soaked in something or other in the cupboard and your recipe is calling out to me like a siren, bake me bake me! I am keeping my eye out for three cornered leeks, though I notice that wild garlic has a three sided flower stem, but a diff flower. Great time of year for new green stuff to pick out and about isn't it? Joanna

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Thanks guys!

Anonymous said...

love black forest! anything chocolate & cherries my fave!

Anonymous said...

Is that 250mls of milk or gms??

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Whoops, well spotted (and I have now amended!). Recipe should read 250 millilitres of milk!

Anonymous said...

Actually 250mls seems to weigh 250gms anyway!! Great recipe thank you x

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

I thought it might, but I wasn't near the kitchen to check and didn't want to give you the wrong info!

I'd love it if you let me know how you get on too! :)