Black Forest Poke Cake with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

Imagine this: super moist chocolate cake, poked with holes and stuffed with cherry pie filling. As if that's not enough, I topped the cake with homemade whipped cream frosting riddled with pure vanilla bean. A few shavings of good-quality chocolate over top and this multifaceted cake is a true show-stopper.

The secret to using hot milk: I used hot milk in the cake for two important reasons. First, when you heat milk, it adds a depth of rich flavor you simply don't get from cold milk. Second, the hot milk melts the brown sugar chunks and creates a smooth, perfect batter. Choose how you want to heat your milk - either in a small saucepan or in the microwave - and stop heating just as it comes to a boil.

Don't want to make the cake from scratch? No problem, use your favorite boxed chocolate cake mix!

Don't want to make the whipped cream from scratch? Again, no problem, use Cool Whip!

Use a cold mixing bowl and beater attachment for the whipped cream: Why? Because it's the fat in the cream that traps the air bubbles and makes the frosting light and fluffy. If the cream gets too warm, the fat melts and the air escapes. Not fluffy anymore, hence no fun.

How to get vanilla beans from the pod: For the most intense vanilla flavor, use the seeds from the pod. To get to the seeds, split the vanilla bean down its length using a paring knife. Hold down the tip of the bean and use the dull side of the paring knife to scrape out the seeds. Use as directed below. If you want, reserve the pod to flavor your coffee or hot chocolate.

Black Forest Poke Cake with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

For the cake:
Cooking spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter or coconut oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
For the "poke" filling:
21-ounce can cherry pie filling
For the whipped cream frosting:
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream, cold
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract), see note above

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well, breaking up the bigger chunks of brown sugar as much as possible (we'll melt the rest of the sugar later - with hot milk - so don't worry).
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the mixture into the flour mixture (mixture will be thick, like brownie batter). Heat the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave until just beginning to boil. Stir the hot milk into the flour mixture and then whisk until blended and smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes, until a wooden pick comes clean or with little moist bits clinging to it. Cool the cake, in the pan, on wire rack for at least 30 minutes before "poking".
When the cake is cool, use the bottom of a wooden spoon or spatula to poke several holes in the cake, almost through to the bottom.
Pour the cherry pie filling over the cake and spread out in an even layer (make sure to press the cherries into the holes).
To make the frosting, start with a cold mixing bowl and cold whisk attachment (see note above). If need be, toss both into the freezer for 5 minutes (that's exactly what I did). Beat the whipped cream until frothy. Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla bean seeds and beat until thick and spreadable. Spread the whipped cream frosting over the cake.
Shave the chocolate over top before serving.

Serves 12-16