Chocolate Zabaione Torta with Grappa-Soaked Cherries

Chocolate  Zabaglione Torta with Grappa-Soaked Cherries

This torta is an adaptation of Lidia Bastianich’s recipe. Although, the only thing almost unchanged was the filling. It seemed like a shame to use canned cherries when the fresh ones are in season. I soaked the fresh cherries in grappa, which is not the cheapest drink here, but feel free to substitute brandy instead; it will still produce a great result. The recipe for the cake layers is Alice Medrich’s wonderful chocolate génoise – light, moist and flavorful. The filling is lightly set creamy chocolate zabaione, with recognizable Marsala taste and undetectable gelatin presence.

We all loved the cake. And what’s not to love?

Makes 8-inch cake, about 12 servings

For the chocolate génoise:

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sifted before measuring all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sifted before measuring unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup fine granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup grappa (you can use brandy, whatever you have in your home bar)
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ scraped vanilla bean
  • 2 cups Bing cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup Marsala
  • ¾ cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
  • A few fresh cherries for decorating

Make the génoise:

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and dust with flour an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper circle, butter the parchment.

In a small saucepan, or in a microwave-safe cup in a microwave, heat the butter, without stirring, until it is melted and hot. Spoon off and discard the foam from the surface. Transfer 3 tbsp of the clear yellow butter to a medium heatproof bowl leaving the watery liquid behind. Add the vanilla to the bowl and set aside.

Sift the flour and cocoa together three times; return to the sifter and set aside.

In a bowl of your electric mixer, using a whisk, combine the eggs and sugar thoroughly. Place the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Whisking constantly, heat the eggs to lukewarm (about 105F). Remove the bowl from the pan; leave the skillet on the stove but turn off the heat. With an electric mixer, beat the egg mixture at high speed until it has cooled, tripled in volume, and resembles softly whipped cream, about 5 minutes in a heavy-duty mixer or longer with a less powerful mixer.

Meanwhile, set the bowl of butter and vanilla in the skillet of hot water, with the burner off, to keep it warm.

Sift about one-third of the flour and cocoa over the whipped eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the mixture-quickly but gently-until combined. Fold in half the remaining flour and cocoa, then fold in the rest. Remove the warm butter mixture from the skillet. Scoop about 1 cup of the batter into the bowl with the butter and fold together until completely combined. Use the large rubber spatula to fold the butter mixture completely into the remaining batter. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and tilt to level.

Bake until the cake beginning to shrink slightly around the edges and the top springs back when pressed with your finger, about 40-45 minutes. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack.

To unmold, run a small knife or spatula around the inner edges of the pan. Invert it onto a rack and remove the parchment liner. Turn the cake right side up. The génoise can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Make the filling, assemble the cake:

At least a night before assembling the torta, and up to a week, prepare the cherries. Combine the sugar, grappa (or brandy), water and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cherries. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the pan and let the cherries steep for 1 hour. Cool to room temperature. The cherries can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, tightly covered. When ready to use, drain the cherries over a bowl reserving the soaking liquid for saturating the génoise layers.

Cut the génoise horizontally into two equal layers. Set one layer, cut side up into an 8-inch springform pan or a cake ring. Brush the génoise layer with ¼ cup of the reserved liquid. Arrange the drained cherries in concentric circles over the soaked génoise layer. Set aside while making the zabaione filling.

Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. Turn the burner off (if your stove is electric, remove the skillet from the burner) and wait for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl of chocolate in the hot water. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

Into a small heat-proof bowl, pour 2 tbsp of cold water. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let it bloom.

Turn the heat to low under the same skillet used for melting the chocolate. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, ¼ cup sugar, and Marsala until smooth. Set the bowl directly into the skillet with hot (not boiling!) water. Whisk the mixture constantly until thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 145F for 3 minutes, about 15 minutes total. Remove from the heat. Set the small bowl with gelatin into the same skillet (you can increase the heat now) and stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Add the dissolved gelatin to the egg yolk-Marsala mixture and whisk to combine. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the melted chocolate into the egg yolk mixture. Let stand for about 10 minutes or until cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whip ¾ cup of the whipping cream until the soft peaks have formed (don’t overbeat). With a rubber spatula, in 3 additions, gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate-zabaione mixture.

Spread the zabaione mixture evenly over the cherries, making sure the gaps between the rows of cherries are filled. Brush the cut side of the second génoise layer with ¼ cup of the cherry-soaking liquid, and arrange the cake layer, soaked side down, over the zabaione filling. Press lightly. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours, better-overnight, and up to 24 hours. To unmold the cake, run a thin knife around the inside edges, then remove the side of the pan. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.

Close to serving time, whip the remaining 1 cup of the whipping cream with icing sugar and vanilla. Spread or pipe the whipped cream over the top of the torta. Lightly dust the top with the cocoa powder. Arrange the fresh cherries on the top and serve.

Cut the cake with a hot dry knife. Dip the blade in the hot water and wipe it dry every time you make a cut.

Chocolate  Zabaglione Torta with Grappa-Soaked Cherries Slice

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22 Responses to “Chocolate Zabaione Torta with Grappa-Soaked Cherries”

  1. Simply gorgeous cake. I love the way you decorated the top. Reminds me of my favourite childhood cake – the blackforest gateau.

  2. Beautiful and elegant! It’s so perfectly smooth and have a definite talent for making something simple into something special!!

  3. This looks absolutely amazing! I love all the flavours and the simple yet elegant decoration! I’m craving a piece now!

  4. Agh! I think I just gained a pound or two from the picture alone. Absolutely fantastic!

  5. I loove cherries AND chocolate! Gosh, you know, every time I come to your blog I am surprised at how beautiful everything looks…but I shouldn’t be surprised anymore — this is just your talent shining through, as usual! :D

  6. Wow! It looks and sounds divine. You are very talented and your photos are stunning. It looks like a monster recipe but I’m going to have to try it. Thank you for the recipe.

  7. What a beautiful cake!
    The decoration on top is absolutely sophisticated and elegant. I love it!

  8. what’s not to love, indeed! it’s absolutely stunning to behold, and i think chocolate and cherries make for a delicious combination. that lidia, she knows what she’s doing! nicely done!

  9. Vera..I’m dying for a piece of this cake!! It is exactly what a cake should be..filled with chocolate zabaione and soaked cherries!! These are my favorite elements..YUM!! I am definitely going to try this! :)

  10. I bet this cake tasted fantastic! Beautiful.

  11. I am running out of stunning compliments but this is again another great showstopper!

  12. Y, thank you! You are right, the cake does resemble the blackforest gateau, but only in appearance.

    Christy, you are too kind, as always. Thank you very much.

    Rita, thank you for your kind words.

    Madam Chow, thank you! The cake is not heavy, I’m pretty sure the gained pounds is just an illusion:)

    Sophie, dear, thank you very much for your words. You are so generous with the compliments.

    Dragon, thank you. The cake is not difficult to put together, especialy if the preparation is spread over a couple of days.

    Noa, thank you very much for kind words. I appreciate it deeply.

    Grace, thanks a lot! I’m totally agree – chocolate and cherries are wonderful together.

    Laurie, thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’ll be very happy if you give this recipe a try.

    Eileen, thank you. The cake was very delicious indeed.

    Helen, thank you for your kind words. I’m very much obliged.

  13. We’d like to invite you to participate in our July berry recipe contest. All competitors will be placed on our blogroll, and the winner will receive a fun prize! Please email me,, if you’re interested. Feel free to check out our blog for more details. (Click on my name in the message header link to visit our blog. :)

  14. What I wouldn’t give for a slice of that cake right now. It looks heavenly! I recently went through a phase of adoring mousse. I craved it daily. The cooler weather has calmed down my mousse madness, but this cake still looks fantastic.

  15. Pinky, thank you so much! The cake was delicious, I can recommend it :)

  16. I just wanted to let you know that I based this fantastic dessert for my Dad’s birthday over the weekend. Your recipe was detailed and easy to understand, thank you. It was a show-stopper!!! I so enjoyed making it and everyone loved it! In fact it’s been voted as our dessert of choice for Christmas (alongside Christmas Pudding of course!).

    Thanks again.

  17. Leah, I’m so glad you liked it! Thank you very much for letting me know. You made my day :)

  18. Hi Vera

    I forgot to take a picture this time but when I make it at Christmas, I will take pictures and let you see them so you can see just how successful your recipe is!


  19. Leah, I am looking forward to the photos!

  20. I made this cake for my boyfriend’s birthday and it was a success – everyone loved it. I did a variation, using amaretto liquor instead of the grappa and the marsala, and I didn’t add the cherries (only because I made this recipe in a day); nonetheless, I loved it, and I’m pretty picky when it comes to using that word to describe food.

  21. Thank-you for this really great recipe. I made with a small adjustment:
    Soaked cherries with Kirsch as that is what I had, and I added Marscapone to the egg-chocolate Sabayon part prior to folding in the cream.

    I bake about 3-4 times per week, whether for gatherings with friends or just for our home pleasure, and this cake was touted as my best ever….

  22. Fantastic cake! Made this for my 50th birthday. We all enjoyed this cake when I served it about 4 hours after assembly, but it was awesome the next day…does everything improve with age? ;-)

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