Weekend bake: Cherry and chocolate ganache cake with edible trees

I decided a few weeks ago that it had been far too long since I’d done a proper bake and, since this notion coincided with the realisation that I’d missed not one, but two work colleague’s birthdays, a tuesday evening seemed like the perfect time to go a bit mental in the kitchen with an elaborate mid-week bake.

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The remit for this beast of a cake was ‘chocolate’ and what better foil for rich chocolate than ripe, fresh in-season cherries. Once you start with dark chocolate and cherries, the path to edible trees is obvious…well, it was to me anyway. The only downside was that the night I was making this monstrosity, the cake wizzkids on Bake Off were constructing edible forests of their own, which makes mine look like a poor copout. Or perhaps a poor coppice?!

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Anyway, as daunting as this cake looks, it’s actually all rather easy to do, even the ganache, which is one of the simplest things you can do with chocolate.

And you’ll need a LOT of chocolate for this cake (because chocolate makes everything that much better) and will need to prepare for just a smidge of mess in your kitchen.

When my flatmates came to investigate how the baking was progressing they found me stumbling around the kitchen, picking my way through the piles of used bowls and sad little shrivelled piping bags in some sort of post-apocolypitic fondant battleground.

Apparently I was brandishing a spoon, my face smeared with chocolate like warpaint and squawking “S’NOT READY YET!” Although by that point of the evening, I’d inhaled a lot of icing sugar dust and things had all got a bit hazy. The moral of the story is that this cake will take a bit of time, which definitely makes it a weekend bake and not a post-work, pre-bed sugar-laden extravaganza.

But it’s definitely worth a stroll down to the woods today to make it.

Cherry and chocolate ganache cake with edible trees and pistachio brittle

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There might seem like a lot of ingredients for this recipe, but you need to make a lot of sponge to get enough height to be able to stand the trees around the edge. This recipe is as easy-to-make as they come and uses real butter – unbeatable for dense, rich cakes – combined with extra-fine sponge flour, which you can find in most supermarkets.

for the cake
170g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp cocoa powder
170g softened butter
170g golden caster sugar
3 eggs

for the decorations

white chocolate ganache
200g white chocolate, chopped finely
300ml double cream

dark chocolate ganache
200g dark chocolate
300ml double cream

pistachio brittle
50g pistachios
100g golden caster sugar

chocolate trees
100g dark or milk chocolate
50g pistachios

600g cherries

Method

  • Always start with your chocolate work as these will take the longest to set. I didn’t temper the chocolate for this recipe so it didn’t have much of a glossy sheen when it dried, but if you’d like to find out how to make tempered chocolate, just head to my chocolate bark recipe.
  • Split your 600g of cherries in half. Try to pick out the ones that still have their stems attached, double stemmed cherries are even better as these will sit on top of your cake prettily and are easier to dip in chocolate.
  • Melt 100g of dark chocolate over a bain marie or gently in the microwave and dip your stemmed cherries into it, leaving them to dry on some baking paper.

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  • Next, chop 50g of pistachios to make leaves for the chocolate trees. You can leave some whole if you like – they’ll make bigger, more impressive leaves.
  • Melt a further 100g of either dark or milk chocolate and quickly pour it into a piping bag, squeezing it all the way down to the nozzle, before roughly piping out the shape of a tree trunk and branches onto greaseproof paper. You can draw a shape with pencil before you pipe if you like, but I think these trees look better a little more abstract.

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  • I made a mixture of piped and freehand trees, which you make by smearing chocolate on greaseproof paper with the back of a spoon. The key is making sure that you get a thick enough layer on the trunk and canopy/branches so that it will be strong enough to support the crushed pistachios and won’t snap when you stand them against the cake.
  • While the chocolate is still melted, sprinkle over the pistachios to make leafy treetops. Set aside to cool and harden.

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  • Cook the cream in a heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat on the stove. The key is to take the cream off the stove when it’s just about to boil and you can see tiny bubbles bursting at the sides of the pan. Quickly pour it over the chopped chocolate and stir furiously. As it cools, the mixture will start to get thick and glossy.
  • Repeat with the dark chocolate.
  • As a general rule of thumb, when it’s thick and glossy it makes wonderfully drippy, pourable icing for cakes; when it cools a little more, it’ll be more like a rich buttercream and, if you let it go completely cold, it turns into a moussey sort of fudgy icing that’s perfect for smoothing over a cake with a palette knife. For this, I wanted the thickest kind, so I left my ganaches to cool completely before I used them to decorate the cake.
  • Make the cake while the chocolate ganaches and decorations cool down. Start by setting your oven to 170 degrees centigrade and greasing and lining two 8-inch cake tins.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and then gradually add in the eggs, beating well after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder then start to add these dry ingredients to the butter and egg mix, gently folding the mixture with a large metal spoon.
  • When it’s all mixed together, divide it between the two cake tins and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes or until the cakes have risen and are cooked all the way through (you can test it with a skewer if you aren’t sure – stick the skewer into the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean then it’s cooked, if it’s coated in mixture then it needs longer in the oven) and leave them to cool for at least 20 minutes before you try to turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the pistachio brittle by letting the sugar melt in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat until it’s turned into a golden caramel and is completely liquid. Scatter the remaining pistachios over some greaseproof paper and pour the molten sugar over them and leave to harden. If you have any caramel left, you can drizzle it over your treetops.

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  • Prepare the remaining half of your cherries. These will be going inside the centre of your cake, so you just need to halve them and remove their stones.
  • When the cakes are cool, place one dome side down on a large plate (putting it dome-side down means you’ve got a flat surface to decorate) and smother it with the white ganache. Arrange cherry halves all over the white ganache and then cover those with more dollops of ganache.
  • Carefully place the second cake dome side down on top and, using a palette knife, cover the whole cake – top and sides – with the dark chocolate ganache.
  • Arrange your chocolate dipped cherries on top of the cake along with any spare cherry halves that didn’t make it into the inside of the cake. Smash the pistachio brittle into little chunks and chuck these at random on the top of the cake too. If you have bigger pieces left you can use them to decorate around the bottom of the cake between the trees.
  • Oh so very very carefully peel your chocolate trees from the greaseproof paper and carefully stick them to the outside of the cake. If they snap or branches come off, glue them back on using any leftover ganache.

You should now have a monstrously large, uber chocolatey cake to show off and to scoff. One final word of warning, this is possibly the messiest cake in the world, never attempt to eat it without napkins…unless you’re an animal like me, in which case I can thoroughly recommend going face first.

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If you aren’t a fan of dark chocolate, this would work just as well with milk chocolate, and you can always use different nuts and fruit to decorate if pistachios aren’t your cup of tea – I think this would be lovely with blackberries and hazelnuts come Autumn.

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