Rustic Black Forrest

Growing up, the epitome of an elegant celebration cake was the Black Forrest. Perhaps no longer en vogue, there’s something still so delicious about the mixture of chocolate sponge, cream, and cherries. This version is a a rustic one that can easily be dressed up with some basic piping and chocolate shavings, although I think rustic suits it just fine.

Rustic Black Forrest Cake
adapted from Ricardo Larrivée

For the Chocolate Genoise Sponge:

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 eggs at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

For the Cherry Filling:

1 can (400 ml) bing cherries in syrup OR half a jar (19 oz) morello cherries in juice, drained with juice/syrup reserved
sugar and cornstarch (see instructions below)
1 Tbsp kirsch or cherry liqueur OR 1/8 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp cherry jam

Slightly under-whipped cream. Still delicious but leftovers quickly transform into a trifle.

Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle position. Line the bottom of two 8-inch springform pans with parchment paper cut to size (do not grease the paper!). Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer until it triples in volume and the mixture falls in thick ribbons when lifted (this will take ~10 minutes). Transfer the eggs to a wide, shallow mixing bowl; sift the dry ingredients over the eggs in thirds and fold it into the eggs – watch this tutorial if you’ve not done this before! Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 25 minutes or until the cake tests done. Let cool on a wire rack.

Filling: While the cake is baking, prepare the cherry filling. Place the reserved cherry juice or syrup in a saucepan- if you are using syrup, add 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3-4 Tbsp water and stir well. If if you are using juice, add 2 Tbsp sugar and 1.5 Tbsp cornstarch and mix well so that the cornstarch completely dissolves in the juice. Heat mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Add the kirsch/liqueur or almond extract and cook for one minute more while continuing to stir. Remove from heat and stir in jam. Trransfer to a bowl and let cool until the cakes come out of the oven. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate 2 hours until completely chilled.

Assembly: Mix reserved cherries with thickened cherry sauce and stir well. Whip 1.5 cups of cold whipping cream. When it comes to soft peaks, add 1/4 tsp. of vanilla and icing sugar to taste (1-2 Tbsp). Continue whipping to stiff peaks and set aside.  Run a table knife or metal spatula between each cake and the pan to separate. Place one cake on a serving plate and spread cherry filling over top. Cover with slightly less than half the whipped cream. Place the other cake on top and cover with a similar amount of cream. Decorate with remaining cream piped with a star tip around the cake, fresh or candied cherries and chocolate shavings. I find it best to make this the day I plan to serve it and refrigerate a few hours before serving to meld flavours. Leftovers are fine in the fridge for up two days but won’t keep well beyond that.

For a more refined and larger final cake, double the cherry filling and whipping cream and cut each of the sponge cakes in half to make four total layers of cake. Cover the bottom layer of cake with one third of the cherry mixture and one quarter of the whipped cream. Repeat with remaining layers, covering the top layer of cake with just cream and decorate as desired.



Chocolate Pie

There is a big birthday in our extended family this weekend. The person in question has requested one of their favourites, chocolate pie. I have only made this once but it was enough to become a fan (and I don’t particularly like chocolate!). If you like chocolate, this silky smooth and very chocolately pie is for you.

Chocolate Pie
from my mum-in-law’s recipe collection

2 1/2 squares unsweetened dark chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3 cups milk (or soy milk, in our household)
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine chocolate squares, chocolate chips, milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it is thickened and bubbling. Add some of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and stir well. Mix the eggs into the hot mixture and cook for 3-4 minutes more, again stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into pastry or oreo cookie crumb shells and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

As for the 4 egg whites that remain after making this pie… I freeze them and bake them up later into a pavlova, or add them to scrambled eggs or a frittata.

Last Taste of Summer

Voila! Strawberry-Rhubarb and Apple-Rhubarb Platz

This summer, I made a recipe from my childhood several times and each time, it was a huge hit with Jeff. Fruit Platz is a Russian Mennonite dessert that’s somewhere in between a fruit pie and a coffee cake, made with any in-season fruit. Jeff’s favourites this summer were apricot and blueberry while my favourites (shown here) remain strawberry-rhubarb and apple-rhubarb. It’s a versatile and easy dessert I’m so glad I rediscovered.

Fruit Platz
recipe from my Mom

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
6 Tablespoons milk
4 Tbsp. shortening or margarine
~8-10 cups sliced fruit
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup softened butter or margarine

Fruit on the platz base, just before topping is added

To make the crust: sift the first four ingredients together. Stir in egg, milk and 4 Tbsp. shortening; mixing to form dough. Transfer into a greased rimmed cookie sheet. Using a small rolling pin, bottle or glass tumbler, roll the dough over the pan to create an even base with a 1-inch lip around the rim.

Add the fruit over the crust. You can arrange the fruit as creatively as you wish- my mom used to place the fruit in four different quadrants so that everyone could choose their favourite! Note- when using rhubarb, I usually add 1/4 cup of sugar to the rhubarb to sweeten it up but that’s simply a matter of taste. Also, when I make this with frozen fruit, I toss the fruit with a few tablespoons of flour to help absorb the extra moisture.

To make the crumb topping: In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup softened butter or margarine, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup flour together to form a slightly sticky crumb topping. Spread the crumb topping all over the fruit; bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes or until the topping is just golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a small scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Pucker Up

When it comes to dessert, I’m not a big chocolate fan (unlike my spouse). I’m nuts about citrus- and these classic bars are one of my favourites. Don’t skimp on the real lemon juice because it makes an amazing (and wonderfully tart) difference.

Lucious Lemon Bars
adapted from All Recipes

1 cup butter or margarine, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 lemons, zested and juiced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/3 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of a non-greased 9 x 13 inch glass baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden.

While the base is baking, whisk together the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Mix in the eggs and lemon juice and beat until light and frothy. Stir in the lemon zest. When the base is finished baking, pour this lemon filling over the hot crust and return to the oven. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Once baked, cool and serve at room temperature with a dusting of icing sugar.

The Perfect Brownie

Jeff loves chocolate. REALLY loves chocolate. He eats a little bit every day and attributes this to his perpetually sunny disposition. Brownies are difficult, however, because Jeff is also allergic to milk. It took me a while but I finally tweaked the perfect chewy, moist, chocolatey brownie made entirely of cocoa powder (no milk chocolate chips here). When Jeff is around, these brownies certainly don’t stick around long.

 Classic (and Dairy-Free) Brownies
from my own experimenting in the kitchen
makes one 8×8 pan

1/2 cup margarine (or butter), melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened, sifted cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons margarine, softened
3 tablespoons unsweetened, sifted cocoa powder
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
enough icing sugar to make a thick frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Melt margarine and mix sugar in very well. Add beaten eggs and vanilla, and mix well. Sift in cocoa,  flour, salt, and baking powder. Spread batter into greased 8 inch pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should look set and fairly dry, although the inside will still be moist. Be careful not overcook.

Combine frosting ingredients and mix very well. Spread frosting over brownies while they are still warm, then cool completely. Slice and enjoy!


I started this blog when I moved here to Nanaimo as a way to keep in touch with faraway friends and family. I knew almost nothing about this city when I moved here- it was on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and was famous for its namesake dessert. That was the extent of my knowledge. When I registered this blog’s address right after moving here, it seemed only natural to choose one of these two facts as inspiration for this blog.

People ask me all the time if Nanaimo Bars were really invented in Nanaimo. Legend has it that they were the invention of a housewife, Mabel Jenkins, in the early 1950s. Mabel lived south of Nanaimo in Ladysmith, but somehow they became known as Nanaimo Bars. According to Wikipedia, there are also claims that Naniamo Bars originated in New Brunswick or New York, but us locals don’t pay attention to such nonsense (!).

In 1985, the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar recipe. The judging panel unanimously chose a recipe submitted by a local woman, Joyce Hardcastle. Her recipe is the one I use and I thought it was high time to share it here.

Classic Nanaimo Bars
yield: 12-20 servings (1 8×8 pan)

½ cup unsalted butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds or walnuts
1 cup coconut
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream (or almond or soy milk)
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
4 squares semi-sweet dark chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margerine

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. In a small bowl, beat the egg until frothy and pale yellow. Add a tablespoon of the hot cocoa mixture into the egg and stir well, then add the egg into the pot as well. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan and refrigerate until cool.

When first layer is cooled, cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

For final layer, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool to warm (but still liquid) and pour over second layer. Store in refrigerator and enjoy!

Note- I often cut down the amounts of chocolate and butter on the top layer by a third to a half, as I am not a great fan of chocolate. Jeff loves the whole amount so adjust according to your personal preference.