Today is National Black Forest Cake Day, and I’ve been thinking of my mom, my first trip to Europe, and pistachios.

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For most of my summer vacation when I was 15, I was an exchange student in Germany. It was my first time out of the country, and probably my third time on an airplane. My classmates brought all sorts of presents for their host families that were specific to our hometown- snow globes, books on the history of our state, etc. My mom, who was born in Austria, packed two enormous bags of pistachios, still in their shells, into my already stuffed luggage and put me on the plane. She reasoned that when she was a child, pistachios were really expensive and really, really hard to find, and probably that had not changed (it had). One red-eye flight and a six hour train ride later, I finally put my luggage down, determined never to haul that kind of weight again. My host mother looked a little perplexed when I presented the gift. I think she was expecting a snow globe, too.

Pistachios are not hard in these parts, thankfully, and they make a fantastic addition to this slightly rustic update to the Black Forest Cake. In March, fresh cherries are about as hard to find as the pistachios of my mother’s childhood. Instead of using canned (blech) or frozen (meh) cherries, I like to use tart Morello cherry jam, at least until the fresh ones come along.

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Black Forest Cake with Pistachios and Mascarpone

the cake:

*this recipe is adapted from one of my very favorite books, Chez Panisse Desserts, which you can find here

1 1/2 c. roasted, unsalted pistachios (about 6 oz)
3/4 c. finely grated dark chocolate (I use a 2 oz bar of Dagoba dark chocolate 54% cacao)
1/4 c. cake flour
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
grated zest and juice of 1/2 and orange

In a food processor, pulse the nuts and flour until they are the texture of coarse cornmeal. Set aside.
Whip the egg yolks and half of the sugar on high speed until very thick and light, and forms a ribbon when the whisk attachment is pulled away from the bowl. In another bowl, whip the egg whites. Once they become frothy, add the sugar a little at a time, until fully incorporated and stiff but moist peaks are achieved. Add about a third of the egg whites to the egg yolks and gently fold together until they are nearly combined. Add the rest of the whites and fold until again nearly combined. Sprinkle the nut mixture onto the egg mixture in three stages, folding gently until fully combined.

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Pour into two 6″ cake pans, or one 9″ cake pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from the cake pan(s) and allow to cool completely before assembling.

Mascarpone Filling

8 oz mascarpone cheese
3/4 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and whip on high speed until firm peaks form.

Assembly

Split the cake(s) into layers- 3 for a 9″ cake, up to 6 for the 6″ cakes.
Spread a thin layer of cherry jam onto the first layer, then top with a bit of the mascarpone filling. Continue to stack the following layers of cake with mascarpone filling, reserving a 1/2 c. for the top of the cake. Spoon the remaining filling onto the top, forming decorative peaks. Sprinkle a little shaved chocolate or cocoa onto the filling. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving.

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