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--recipe follows
56 Inches decorative ribbon--optional
fresh sweet cherries--optional


Prepare Dried Cherry Filling: 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. Prepare Coffee Syrup: Combine coffee with remaining Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp Marsala; set aside. Prepare Chocolate Cake: 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.

Prepare Cream-Cheese Filling: 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 torte, 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 with 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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