I hardly needed a reason to try this Chocolate Berry Torte recipe from The Old Farmer's Almanac Cooking Fresh —but with Valentine's Day just around the corner, it seemed like perfect timing!
Who doesn't love chocolate, especially when it's swathed in whipped cream and raspberries? And for all of the complexity that the name "torte" suggests, this is easy to do well.
My layer cake pans are 7 inches in diameter, not 9 inches, as recommended, and I have three of them. As it turned out, the cooked layers rose about half an inch; presumably these would be thinner if cooked in a 9-inch pan. The notion of slicing my airy layers horizontally seemed not only dodgy but unnecessary. (I wanted height!) Instead of even trying to do that, I prepared more batter, resulting in three additional layers. After cooling completely, two of these went into the freezer to be used another day (right, not that much height). In fact, you could bake all of the layers and freeze them for up to a few weeks, if this is too much to do in one session.
Because it was off-season, I used store-bought frozen berries for the filling. (I normally use homegrown frozen raspberries, but there was no harvest, due to lack of rain.) The cran-raspberry mixture cooks up quickly. Straining the syrup took a few minutes because I pressed the berries against the strainer mesh, to push out as much liquid as possible. This extra effort probably wasn't necessary, because the berries and juice all wind up on the cake--the more, the berrier!
I have a deep aluminum bowl for two primary purposes: bread making and whipping cream. It has always seemed like a bottomless pit, but 3 cups of heavy whipping cream defied its high walls. The whirring beaters spattered cream over anything within 3 feet no matter how much I tilted. To keep it off me, I hung a dishtowel in the neck of my sweater like a makeshift bib. (Note to self: Change clothes before starting.) The second surprise was the density of the whipped cream after I added powdered chocolate. It made for a thick, rich spread.
The construction of the torte goes quickly. Kids would probably enjoy painting the juice on the cake layers and, later, licking the whipped cream beaters and bowl. Purely by happy accident, I had set aside just enough cream for the chocolate portion; the remaining white covered the middle layer and the four layers, sides and top, with nothing to spare. This white wonder begs for a decorative touch, but chocolate leaves were not on my schedule and—truth be told—I wanted to add any color but brown. Mint leaves and raspberries provided the finishing touch; just beware of the frozen berries bleeding a little bit as they melt. Trust me, though: A little berry juice will not diminish the grand impression that this cake makes when presented!
Berry Chocolate Torte
Courtesy of The Old Farmer's Almanac Cooking Fresh 
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 6 eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- 1 cup raspberries
- 3 tablespoons raspberry-flavor liqueur, such as Chambord (optional)
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 3-1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, made into leaves, chilled (see tip, below)
- fresh mint leaves
For cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Sift the flour and cocoa into a small bowl and set it aside. Fill a large baking pan with very hot or boiling water and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Set the bowl into the pan of hot water for 3 minutes. Remove from the water and beat the egg mixture on medium-high speed for 10 minutes. Sift the flour and cocoa (again) over the beaten eggs and fold to combine. Fold in the melted butter. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on racks.
For filling: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the cranberries and cook for 8 minutes, or until the berries' skins burst. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the fruit, reserving the syrup. Set the cranberries aside to cool.
Add the raspberries to the cranberries and stir to combine. Add the liqueur, if desired, to the syrup, and set aside. In a large, chilled bowl, beat the cream until peaks form. Sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar, beating constantly. Add the vanilla and beat. Place about two-thirds of the whipped cream in a separate bowl. Sift the cocoa over the remaining whipped cream and beat to incorporate. Strain the berries and add any liquid to the syrup.
Slice the cake layers in half horizontally, making four layers. Place one layer, cut side up, on a serving plate and brush generously with syrup. spread half of the cocoa whipped cream on top. Cover with a second cake layer. Spread the berries on the cake and cover them completely with plain whipped cream. Cover a third cake layer and brush it with syrup. Spread the remaining cocoa whipped cream on the cake. Place the last cake layer on top. Cover the top and sides of the cake with plain whipped cream. (Put some in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip, if desired, and pipe rosettes on top of the torte.)
Garnish with chocolate leaves (see below), fresh mint leaves, and raspberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
How to Make Chocolate Leaves:
Collect 12 fresh, nontoxic leaves (such as from roses) about 1-1/2 inches long. Keep a bit of the stem attached. Wash them thoroughly with warm soapy water, rinse completely, and pat dry between two paper towels.
Over low heat, melt about 3-1/2 ounces of good quality chocolate. Use a pastry brush to brush the melted chocolate to a thickness of about 1/8-inch onto the underside of each leaf. Place each leaf chocolate side up on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Place the cook sheet in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm. Then, with the chocolate side down, hold the leaf stem and carefully peel the leaf away from the chocolate, working quickly so that the chocolate doesn't melt.
Place the chocolate leaves in a waxed-paper-lined container and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Makes 12 chocolate leaves.
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Janice Stillman joined the Almanac as editor in 2000. When she is not working the words, she enjoys peddling a bicycle, growing things to eat, cooking, and handcrafts (especially knitting because needles and yarn can be taken anywhere).