We’re finally at the end of the summer birthday season, with Josh’s birthday being last week. Naturally, I wanted to go all out for his birthday cake. Chocolate was a given since it’s his favorite, and I’ve had cherries on my mind since the start of cherry season, so it made sense to me to put them together. Josh had also mentioned that he liked cream cheese frosting better than traditional buttercream last time I made it, so I figured I might as well put them all together for one super-decadent cake.
I started with the same chocolate cake that I used for the unfortunate Chocolate Raspberry Upside Down Mini Cakes since that part actually turned out well. Once again, the cake didn’t disappoint. I added 8 ounces of cherries to the batter because I didn’t want to add too much liquid, but if I were to do this again, I would probably use 16 ounces instead to up the cherry flavor (I’ve made this change in the ingredients listed below and on the PDF recipe).
The cherry filling is the filling I use for cherry pie, but a bit thicker. I drained off the excess liquid so that it didn’t soak all the way through the cake. If you plan to eat it all right away, you might be able to add the extra liquid if you feel it really needs some extra cherry flavor (I wouldn’t blame you there).
The one thing I wasn’t totally thrilled with was the molasses cream cheese frosting (adapted from the recipe for cream cheese frosting in Joy of Cooking). Don’t get me wrong, it is delicious on its own, and I’ve used it before on my Kentucky Derby Winner’s Circle Cupcakes to great avail. I just didn’t think it worked all that well with the chocolate and cherry combination. Additionally, it was somewhat difficult to pipe because the occasional chunk of cream cheese would get stuck in the smaller piping tips. If I were to do it all over again, I might use my favorite Magnolia frosting recipe (chocolate or vanilla would be good). Keep those points in mind when deciding how to decorate your own.
You will need the following ingredients:
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 16 oz. cherries, chopped and drained
For the cherry filling:
- 8 oz. cherries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
For the frosting:
- 12 ounces cream cheese, cold
- 7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
- 2 Tbsp. molasses
- 3 tsp. vanilla extract
- 6 cups powdered sugar
- food coloring of choice (optional)
For baking ambiance:
- It doesn’t take much to start a song in my head; in this case, picking up a bag of frozen cherries started “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, so I picked Joan Jett for this one (welcome to the strange inner workings of my mind). I’m more of a Blackhearts person, but anything Joan Jett will do.
Now that you’ve got the vocal stylings of Cherie Currie stuck in your head too, let’s get baking!
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour or line the bottoms of two 9″ cake pans with parchment paper.
In a stand mixer bowl or other large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until they’re fluffy.
Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs, until the mixture is smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sour the milk by pouring the lemon juice into it. The milk will curdle, which is gross, but trust me, this will all work out.
Add the some of dry ingredients and sour milk alternately to the wet ingredients until they are all incorporated and the batter is homogeneous.
In a separate bowl, stir the cocoa powder into the boiling water until it looks like instant hot chocolate.
Beat the liquid chocolate into the cake batter until the batter is smooth, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.
Divide the batter between your two cake pans.
Sprinkle half of the chopped, drained cherries (make sure you squeeze out as much liquid as possible) on top of each pan of batter. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the cherries into the batter.
Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes sit for 15 minutes, then carefully run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen them from the pans. Remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool completely on cooling racks.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the cherry filling. Put the remaining cherries into a medium saucepan and heat them over low heat until they release enough juice to almost cover themselves.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk the mixture into the cherries and bring it all to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the cherries until the sauce thickens. It should be almost like jelly, and when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan, it should take a few seconds for the cherries to fill in the gap.
Let the cherry mixture cool completely. When the cakes and cherry filling are completely cool, prepare the frosting.
Beat the cream cheese, butter, molasses, and vanilla extract with a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer until it is just combined.
Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition until the frosting is smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.
At this point, color your frosting if you want to. I used Wilton gel colors.
Your cakes should be cool by now. If they have risen in the center like mine did, carefully level them with a knife. You might want to take this opportunity to “test” your cake (read: eat its hat).
Place one cake on a serving plate or cardboard cake board (these are actually pretty nice). Fill a piping bag or a resealable plastic food storage bag with approximately 1 cup of the frosting. Cut the corner to make a 1/2″ opening. Pipe a “dam” around the edge of the cake to hold your filling in.
Carefully spread the filling inside the dam.
Put the remaining cake on top of the frosting and filling.
At this point, frost the cake however you’d like. I put a shell border around the bottom and some stars around the top edge, then wrote Happy Birthday on top. Perhaps not my best work, but I thought it came out pretty nice. If you try this cake, I’d love to see your pictures!
You can download the printable PDF recipe here: Chocolate Cherry Cake with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting