Chocolate Extravaganza


Fall is here, Halloween is over, and now it’s time to start gearing up for the seemingly nonstop holiday festivities of November and December. With this comes the unspoken permission to indulge and be a bit lavish, especially when it comes to desserts.

This time of year makes me think of cherries and chocolate. Why? I’m not exactly sure. It could be the pounds and pounds of chocolate-covered cherries I have eaten over the years at holidays past. Maybe it is the fond memories I have of the flaming and oh-so extravagant-seeming “Cherries Jubilee” dessert, made by a college friend who served it over chocolate ice cream instead of the typical vanilla. Or possibly it could be the shortcut version of the popular Black Forest cake that my mother would make on occasion by adding a can of cherry pie filling to the batter of a store-bought, boxed chocolate cake mix.

When I think of the flavors of chocolate and cherry, I also think of red wine—in particular, Chianti wine. As part of my DaVinci Storyteller Experience at Cantine Leonardo da Vinci, I learned that when fermented Sangiovese grapes (the most famous Italian grape of Tuscany) are aged in oak barrels, such as DaVinci’s Chianti Riserva, the wine that is produced has a flavor or “note” of ripe red fruit, such as cherries, among others.

"DaVinci Wine" "Mark Leslie" "Beyond the Pasta"

DaVinci’s Chianti is a blend of 90% Sangiovese grapes and 10% Merlot grapes. Once fermented, the results are “jammy flavors of ripe plums, cherries, and red fruit … that linger in a long peppery finish.” All of those descriptive flavors, or “notes,” pair perfectly with the cake’s ingredients of chocolate, Bing cherries, and cinnamon. DaVinci’s Chianti Riserva, aged in oak before being released, works even better in this recipe because of its “distinctly fruity bouquet with dark cherry overtones … hints of vanilla and cinnamon … with spicy undertones.” A bonus of the Chianti being in the cake is that you can continue drinking Chianti with dessert—no need to change to a sweet dessert wine, or to put a pot of coffee on.

It seems perfect to combine my love of chocolate and cherries with DaVinci’s Chianti wine for a cake recipe, influenced by my German immigrant heritage, as my final blog post in the Chianti at Home series for DaVinci Wine.

Wine in a cake may be unfamiliar to you, but in Italy, where wine is revered as a food as much as a beverage, red and white wines are often used in cakes and other baked desserts. And being the holidays, I’ve topped off my “Chocolate Chianti Jubilee Cake” with a decadent bittersweet chocolate ganache—that’s the German in me. (The “Jubilee” implies cherries, inside the cake—not flaming over the top of it!)

[colored_box variation=”wheat”]Italian Chocolate Chianti Cake photoItalians think of wine as if it were a food, so it is natural to find it used in a cake. I have eaten a wine and chocolate torta–cake–while in the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti winemaking country. (For Italians, chocolate and wine are as natural a combination as tomatoes and pasta!) Dusted with powdered sugar instead of a frosting, that torta was not too sweet, but still full of flavors—cocoa, cinnamon, and of course, red wine.[/colored_box]

"DaVinci Wine" "Beyond the Pasta" "Mark Leslie"

Holiday indulgence and decadence doesn’t have to apply only to ingredients or to a dessert. In a seemingly time-deprived and all too busy holiday season, I hope you’ll take a moment of “decadence” to gather family and friends, cook for them, “overindulge” in fellowship, light a fire, open a bottle of wine or two, laugh, cry, play, and share the best gift of all: your time, your heart, your care and concern, your company—You! Remember, cooking is an act of giving, of real sharing that is sacred and comes from the heart. It is the invaluable investment of time, especially during the frantic-paced holidays, that brings your family to the table, and changes a life, one meal at a time.

I hope you have enjoyed DaVinci Wine’s Chianti at Home series as much as I have. It has been a blast to see how far from Italian cuisine I regularly use Chianti wine. I’ve surprised and inspired myself. I hope you have been deliciously inspired too. [My previous DaVinci Wine Chianti at Home post recipes —Skillet Chianti Fajitas, Zesty Chianti Barbecue Chicken, and Chianti Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.]

Buon Appetito, Buone Feste, e Felice Anno Nuovo~


*Like DaVinci Wine on Facebook to see how other DaVinci Storyteller Alumni use “Chianti at Home” or to share your favorite Chianti-paired recipe. Food is a communal event ~ let’s get social!

*For more of my Italian travels and recipes, check out my book Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family — available in hardcover, paperback, and e-reader editions.

Chocolate Chianti Jubilee Cake

"Beyond the Pasta" "Mark Leslie" "DaVinci Wine"

2 cups flour, unbleached, all-purpose

2 teaspoons baking powder

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into cubes

1 1/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup DaVinci Chianti wine

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), finely chopped

1 (13.5-ounce) jar pitted Bing cherries packed in water, drained, cut in half [you may substitute 1 (14.5-ounce) can of pitted sour/tart cherries packed in water, drained, but left whole]

"Mark Leslie" "Beyond the Pasta"

Ganache Topping:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao), chopped

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch nonstick springform pan.

In a medium bowl, shift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or wooden spoon, cream the butter. Add the sugar in thirds, mixing together well between each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter mixture, beating until incorporated between each addition. Add the wine, mixing until incorporated—the texture will be grainy and a bit “soupy.” Using a spatula or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the wine mixture, in batches, stirring well between each addition. Stir in the chocolate until well combined. Gently fold in the halved Bing cherries (don’t use an electric mixer—you want the cherries to maintain their shape and not to be pulverized into mush), until they are distributed throughout the batter.

"Beyond the Pasta" "Mark Leslie" "DaVinci Wine 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the ring and, using a large spatula, transfer the cake from the pan base back onto the wire rack. Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the rack to catch the drips when glazing with the ganache.

"Beyond the Pasta" "DaVinci Wine" "Mark Leslie" 

To make the ganache: Put the cream into a medium saucepan, and over medium heat, scald the cream, until tiny bubbles form around the edges, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, slowly stir until completely melted and smooth. (Be careful not to stir too vigorously or tiny air bubbles will form in the ganache.) With the chocolate smooth, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, gently stirring after each addition, until the butter is melted and incorporated. (Note: The butter gives the ganache its sheen, so again be gentle when stirring to prevent air bubbles from forming.)

"DaVinci Wine" "Mark Leslie" "Beyond the Pasta"


Pour the warm ganache over the cake, making sure it runs over the edge and coats the side all the way around. Allow the ganache to completely cool. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.

Serves 8 to 12.

[Note: The overflow ganache on the wax paper can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month or in the freezer for up to six months. I use it from the freezer to add ganache curls on top of ice cream. Drag a spoon across the surface of the frozen ganache to create individual curls.] 

"Chocolate Chianti Jubilee Cake" "DaVinci Wine" "Mark Leslie" "Beyond the Pasta" 

*Additional Italian recipes, videos, and photos are available on my Beyond the Pasta app for iPad/iPhone at iTunes.

"Chocolate Chianti Jubilee Cake" "Mark Leslie" "DaVinci Wine" "Beyond the Pasta"