Ignore the humble appearance of this lovely dessert! It will be one of the nicest things you will ever eat! The fruity and intense black cherry flavor is set off by the rich chocolate. The meringue is also a nice way to use up extra egg whites I have left over from making ice cream, which uses a lot of yolks!
The black cherries for this recipe are wild cherries, and their flavor is much more complex than cultivated cherries. They grow abundantly in our pastures, providing shade, food, medicine, and forage. They are mentioned as toxic to livestock, but it is only the wilted leaves that have dangerous levels of cyanide. Our animals enjoy the fresh leaves and have never been poisoned. After seven years of rotational grazing, the cows and goats have browsed every tree to above cow height and out of reach, but in the fall the goats enjoy eating the dried leaves on the ground. The black cherry trees are excellent for building soil. My theory is that the dropped berries provide sugars that feed beneficial soil bacteria. The earth is exceptionally dark and fertile under their canopies. This is an excellent resource about identifying black cherries.
The first part of this recipe begins at least 3 weeks before the rest of it, as the black cherries must be infused in brandy:
Black Cherry Extract
2 cups wild-harvested black cherries
About 1 cup brandy
1 pint jar
- Gather the black cherries, making sure they are very black and ripe, but not shriveled.
- Place them in the pint jar, and cover with brandy or other spirits to cover.
- Allow them to soak at least 3 weeks. The brandy will become dark red, and the cherries will look pale. You can strain the cherries out at this point, but I usually leave them in.
This black cherry extract is part food, and part medicine. I make this extract every summer and I use it sparingly in the kitchen, saving most of it for the cold and flu season in the winter. It is a powerful cough medicine, and in several cases has been the only effective remedy. Two winters ago our whole family, extended family included, caught a nasty, lingering cold that lasted for weeks. The coughing would come in tiring attacks at night, and the usual remedies were not effective. One night, awake with coughing children and having trouble breathing myself, I came across my black cherry extract in the cupboard, beside our usual cough syrup, which was just not helping. I took a spoonful, and was amazed at how effective it was. My dad, who is a huge herbal medicine skeptic, was getting sicker and sicker from this cough. I gave him some to try, and he asked for more the next day!
Dark Chocolate Meringue
1 cup egg whites
1/2 cup coconut sugar or rapadura
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder
- Beat the egg whites until they make very stiff peaks. Shake in the sugar, and continue beating until it is all beaten in (the egg whites will turn a creamy color).
- Add the vanilla, and gradually shake in the cocoa powder. Beat up the meringue until it is uniformly chocolate-y colored, and very stiff and fluffy.
- On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, trace 2 circles with a pencil, about as large as you want your cake layers (a medium-sized plate, or a pie pan is very useful for this).
- Using a soup spoon, start at the edge of the circle, building up the sides before you fill in the middle:
- Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, or until the meringue is set. Set aside to cool.
When it first comes out of the oven, it is all puffed up and pretty, but when it cools, it always shrinks down and looks wrinkly. Don’t worry, it looks lovely under whipped cream!
To Assemble The Cake:
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Equal parts black cherry syrup and raw honey (I used about 2 tablespoons of each)
- Mix black cherry extract with honey, and let it dissolve completely while you whip the cream and flavor it with the honey and vanilla.
- Place one layer of the meringue cake on a plate, and frost the top with whipped cream. Then drizzle about half the black cherry syrup over it.
- Put the second layer on top, and frost with whipped cream, smoothing the sides with the back of a spoon, or a rubber spatula. Drizzle the remaining black cherry syrup over the top.