The Prince and the Poison Cake

Every week I learn something new about cooking. Sometimes the truth is not pleasant, as in this true fairy tale about a poison cake.

Poison cake

Poison cake in refrigerator

Once upon a time there was a Prince who was about to have a birthday.  His grandmother decided to make him a special cake for his birthday–a Black Forest Cake.  Since his birthday came in June when the beautiful big black Bing cherries were in season, grandmother had cherries in her refrigerator. And being a grandmother, she always had a lot of chocolate around. She was prepared to make a large chocolate cake and fill and frost it with a cherry icing.

So the grandmother looked at recipes and picked one called an Authentic German Black Forest Cake. She decided to top the finished cake with chocolate covered cherries instead of candles.  She measured and mixed and baked three layers of chocolate cake. At this point in the story, if she had been the wicked grandmother, she would have been preparing a poison cake.  But she was not the wicked grandmother.

While the cake was baking, she pitted a bowl of cherries, briefly wondering if she missed a cherry pit and it wound up in the chocolate covered cherries she was putting on top of the cake if it would cause a choking problem.  She decided she would just give the usual warning about being careful of missed pits.

Then grandmother used a filling recipe from another web site, and chopped some cherries. The day before the Prince’s celebration, grandmother put a small batch of the pitted cherries into a deep container, got out her stick blender and whirred them into a cherry puree.  She mixed butter, sugar and pureed and chopped cherries into a luscious pink filling, which she spread on top of two of the layers of cake, after drizzling cherry juice over the cake layers.

The three-layered cake went into the refrigerator so the cherry juice would have time overnight to soak in.  Grandmother, pleased with her work, sat down with the bowl of leftover filling and ate every leftover bite. The small amount of leftover cherry puree went into the refrigerator beside the cake.

The next morning, Grandmother put the bit of leftover cherry puree on her cereal.  But as she ate, her teeth crunch down on something hard. Uh-Oh.  One of the cherry pits had escaped notice and been pulverized by the stick blender and mixed into the beautiful pink cake filling.

Remembering that she had read that apricot pits are toxic, she decided to check on cherry pits.  She did not intend to bake a poison cake. [She recalled that her ancestors in aprons used bitter almond to flavor baked goods until it was discovered to be toxic.) Sure enough, she read this on Bon Appetit’s website:

Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow a cherry pit—they’re rarely poisonous when eaten whole—but whatever you do, don’t eat a broken pit. Because aside from tasting really bitter and generally being impossible to chew, the stones of certain stone fruits, like cherries, apricots, plums and peaches, contain cyanogenic compounds—science talk for “stuff that your body can turn into cyanide.” So, how many cherry pits is a lethal amount of cherry pits? After some quick Googling, we found that hydrogen cyanide is lethal at about 1.52 milligrams per kilogram, meaning that it takes little more than 0.1 grams (a dime weighs about one gram) of the toxin to dispatch a 150-pound human. A single cherry yields roughly 0.17 grams of lethal cyanide per gram of seed, so depending on the size of the kernel, ingesting just one or two freshly crushed pits can lead to death.

Since this grandmother did not want to wind up as the wicked grandmother in a fairy tale, she threw the beautiful three-layer cake with filling into the garbage can.  She did this even though, she had eaten quite a bit of the filling the night before, and more of the puree in the morning, and still was healthy. But not being the evil grandmother, she did not want to take a chance on feeding poison cake to the Prince and his family. So she made a new cake.

Not poison cake

Black Forest two-layer cake with chocolate covered cherries.

The moral of the story is: Rather than poison the Prince, throw away the cake and start over again.

For the non-poisonous version recipe for Black Forest Cake, follow this link.

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