Chocolate Cake with Port-Soaked Cherries

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This is the ultimate indulgent chocolate cake. French candied cherries are soaked in vintage port overnight, which gives this cake a wonderful richness and delicious flavor. Serve for dessert or a special afternoon tea, covered in smooth poured dark chocolate ganache.
For the cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
9 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
scant 2 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
5 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole French candied cherries, soaked overnight in 1/3 cup vintage port
heaping 1 cup all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1/2 recipe chocolate ganache buttercream, at room temperature
1 recipe chocolate ganache
8 oz. fresh cherries
bake: convection 275°F
conventional 325°F

Step 1

For the chocolate ganache topping:
Chocolate ganache is the result of combining chocolate with cream to create a rich, velvet-smooth filling or frosting. Served warm, this can be poured over cakes for a wonderful frosting. Once chilled, it begins to thicken and can be used for piping pearls, beads, or scrolls onto cakes.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup unsalted butter, diced
1 lb 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
This makes enough to cover an 8-inch cake with leftovers for piping.

Step 2

Heat the heavy cream in a heavy saucepan until it begins to boil; remove from the heat. Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water to warm gently until just beginning to melt. Alternatively, melt in a microwave. Pour the cream over the butter and chocolate and stir gently to combine.
Beat the ganache with a wooden spoon until well combined, rich, and glossy. Use immediately for pouring or allow to thicken for piping. Alternatively, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks or freeze 3 months.

Step 3

For the chocolate ganache buttercream topping:
This sweet frosting is perfectly stable at room temperature and can be flavored or embellished to create the most delicious flavors to suit all palates and complement a wide range of cake flavors. Make half a recipe of chocolate ganache and leave to cool, but not for so long that it sets. Add it to the basic buttercream and beat well. Chill until firm, then let the buttercream return to room temperature before beating well again. This can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
For the basic buttercream:
scant 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
scant 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
seed from 1 vanilla bean

Step 4

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer 1 minute. Add the confectioners sugar and beat slowly at first until blended, then on full speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla seeds. Buttercream will keep up to 2 weeks, stored in the refrigerator. You will need to bring it up to room temperature and beat again until light and fluffy before use.

Step 5

For the cake:
Preheat the oven. Grease and line a deep 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper or use a nonstick cake pan. Ensure all the ingredients are at room temperature.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave. Let cool.

Step 6

Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until they are all incorporated. Pour in the melted chocolate, beating all the time; stir in the vanilla extract. Finally,
add the cherries with any remaining port. Sift the flour into the batter and fold in gently.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan. Turn out onto a wire rack.

Step 7

Cover the top and sides with a thin coat of buttercream and chill in the refrigerator 30 minutes or in the freezer for 15 minutes. Place the cake on a wire rack over parchment or waxed paper. Warm the ganache (if necessary) in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until glossy and smooth. Ladle it over the top and sides of the cake, using the base of the ladle or a palette knife to smooth it all over. Gently but firmly hold the wire rack and tap sharply onto the countertop to even out the ganache and ensure all areas of the cake are covered.
When the cake is covered in ganache, use a palette knife to make waves on the top and to smooth the sides. Let the ganache set 10 minutes before using a small knife to lever the cake from the rack and trim the base edge. Let set at room temperature, which may take 2 to 3 hours.

Step 8

Meanwhile, gather up the remaining ganache from under the wire rack and put it in a bowl. Once it has
cooled a little and thickened, beat well until it is firm enough to hold its shape, then spoon it into a piping bag fitted with a star tip, ready to pipe.
Note that if the ganache sets too firm in the piping bag or tip, you will need to empty the bag and gently reheat the ganache before filling a fresh bag.
TIP Warm the tip by running it under warm water and drying well before filling the piping bag with ganache. This will help to prevent the ganache from setting in the tip or piping bag.

Step 9

Place the cake on a decorative stand. Pipe scrolls around the top edge of the cake in an alternating pattern, as shown, pulling each scroll to a tail before starting the next.

Step 10

For the shells around the base, pipe a uniform trail with the ganache. Dress the cake with the fresh cherries.
TIP If the ganache firms up and becomes too stiff to pipe, remove and gently reheat and let cool again until it reaches the desired consistency.
TO STORE Store this cake at room temperature and eat within 2 days. Alternatively, wrap the cake in a double layer of waxed paper and foil and place in the freezer up to 1 month.

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