Chocolate Sourdough Cherry Cake with Betty Christensen’s Fudge Frosting, and a joyous family surprise

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All 4 things that are not cake came from Oregon.

The 22nd of December is the birthday of a friend who didn’t get a cake on her birthday last year (or even a dedicated post-birthday cake) not due to oversight but because my daughter took me to Las Vegas to satisfy my curiosity about the city at the same time as removing me from the annual Christmas-baking meltdown. (Hey, there’s a long sentence. Diagram that, you English teachers.)

I decided months ago on the precise cake and frosting for her cake, and I knew it would take five hours to prepare and decorate. I hadn’t decided the precise decoration until a couple weeks ago when the Grocery Outlet nearby just happened to be stocking the bottom shelf in the candy aisle with a selection of the best milk chocolate cherries and  blueberries as well as a dark chocolate coconut candy. I hadn’t heard of Harry & David and their Medford, Oregon goodies “crafted with distinction,” per the label, but a web search to their site now brings up ads for their product line. (I like to influence the Google ads that I’m gonna see.) They’re delicious and decorative. Thanks, guys.

This cake is a variation on a theme using sourdough for its distinct flavor in a moist, dense chocolate cake, and making it more sour by expanding it a second night in sour cherry juice. I squeeze the canned cherries to bits to get the maximum amount of juice, too, but wait until the cherry starter is done before adding them to the starter rather than waiting until the batter’s done and then stirring them in.

The frosting is real fudge, and the recipe was that of Betty Christensen, the wonderful mother of eight in the family who lived on the small farm next to the small farm my grandmother owned in Tacoma where I lived from mid-2nd grade through 9th.  The frosting is sugar, cocoa, cream and salt boiled on the stove forever and constantly stirring it to avoid scorch (dead fudge frosting at that point) until 234 degrees soft ball on an accurate candy thermometer (none of that “until it forms a soft ball” in a glass of cold water way to failure) and then left to sit until it cools to 115 before adding vanilla and then stirring it until it loses its gloss and starts to set. It is a fairly sudden and distinct change, so it’s necessary to act fast or the frosting turns to fudge (It’s delicious.) and the cake is not frosted. (There are ways to return it to a frosting state, I’ve read.)

I had the Sunbeam mixer (Thank you again and every time I use it, Stephanie!) ready for the 115 degree sticky chocolate goop and together we got the frosting just right and on the cake before it set up beyond spread-ability. It’s a pretty cake, should be pretty good and I warned them to get some vanilla ice cream to go with the dark chocolate.

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And now a little story. I had a late start in baking and frosting this cake because of something so fine.  I needed to deliver Christmas goodies this morning to my niece for herself and my nephew and their families, then get back home by noon and have the cake done by 5 PM. I was late home, the cake wasn’t ready until just after 6:30, so pick-up waited until after dinner. (They didn’t mind. I explained.)

I hadn’t seen my niece since she was a teenager and had never met any of her children. Circumstances intervened to create a truly joyous occasion, one where a possible star-crossed disappointment is upended by pure joy. My niece sadly fell ill this morning, fell asleep while resting and didn’t wake up for a couple hours. I didn’t have her cell number, so I sat for quite awhile just hoping she’d seen my Facebook message that I’d meet her at the Westlake Center, had to leave here since it’s 45 minutes to destination and I wanted to be home by 12. She phoned just as I was about to head back home, and sent two of her children in her stead. I was so, so happy to finally meet them and they were happy to meet me. We will see each other again, and my niece will feel better, too, if she’s also recovered from throwing a birthday party this afternoon for my now 11 year-old grandniece.

What a day, no? Tears of joy. A finished pretty cake for lovely friend’s birthday and two lovely new family members in my life on the same day, and more to come.


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