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From retro sweets to gooey Upside Down cake: Treats for a Stranger Things binge

Enlarge/ They look like they could use a bite.Netflix I love..

Enlarge/ They look like they could use a bite.Netflix

I love October. As an avid baker and Halloween reveler, I usually spend the whole month whipping up my favorite fall desserts and packing in as many gnarly sci-fi and horror flicks as possible. It’s just not October without the smell of spiced apples baking in the oven, knife-wielding serial killers, sage and sausage stuffing, flesh-eating zombies, pumpkin bread, and ferocious aliens.

But this year—this October—is extra special. With the upcoming release of the much anticipated second season of Stranger Things, I, along with some folks at Ars, thought we should go a little bigger. I’ve spliced together my two favorite pastimes to create sci-fi inspired treats that can fuel a lengthy, nostalgia-fueled Netflix binge.

I could pull out a themed recipe or two that would provide adequate sustenance for a binge of the entire new season plus a full re-watching of the first season. But this isn’t amateur hour. There’s just so much amazing sci-fi to celebrate.


So, I created FIVE edible homages—not just to the new instant classic series, but also to a handful of the beloved '80s movies that blazed its trail. Below is the full list. You can flip through and read about the show references, the concept, the recipe, and other details for each one.

Before we dig in, two disclaimers: First, the descriptions include spoilers of Stranger Things' first season, and second, I am but a humble home baker. This is just fun for me. I’m sure others—including our readers who are professional bakers—will have other ideas, tips or suggestions. Please, share them in the comments! I’ll keep an eye on those. That said, if you have a question about a recipe or how I did something, it’s probably better to send me an e-mail. That way I’ll be sure to catch it. Without further ado, the menu:

Table of Contents

Gooey, Oozey Upside-Down Black Forest Cake

Let the cherry sauce set
Enlarge/ Let the cherry sauce set

The reference: Stranger Things


Much of Stranger Things' first season involves the main characters trying to figure out and reach the Upside Down, the dark, parallel dimension filled with decay and death. There, Will is trapped and stalked by a flesh-eating monster that his friends call the Demogorgon after a Dungeons & Dragons demon prince. In the course of the season, we see several characters enter this shadowy dimension, which is covered in gooey tendrils, oozing biological membranes, and toxic puffs floating in the air.

The concept

Dark, gooey, and oozy immediately screamed chocolate and cherry to me. And with Nancy’s entrance into the Upside Down through a syrupy opening in a forest tree, an upside-down black forest cake seemed like a clear fit.

This isn’t going to be a classic upside-down cake. The classics are studded with baked-in fruits, glistening with butter and sugar. They have a certain visual appeal, with neatly arranged slices of fruit (pears, apples and of course the famous pineapple). But, sliced cherries on a cake… not so much. Cakes studded with dry, jarred cherries weren’t that appealing to me. I couldn’t shake their resemblance to boils, which wasn’t appetizing. And trying to bake in a syrupy stack of cherries, like you might see on a cheesecake, seemed destined for a soggy disaster.

As a compromise, I cut the amount of fruit on a typical upside-down cake in half. I used frozen cherries to create a thin but flavorful layer of cherries that blends into the top of the cake, so you get a smooth surface but still a layer of fruit. To make up for the lost cherry flavor, I topped the cake with a super gooey, shiny layer of cherry sauce, made from strained preserves. The smooth, shiny, dark surface resembles the void Eleven traverses in her mind as she gets in touch with the living in the Upside Down.

Just below that glossy surface—or above, depending on if you’re the acrobat or the flea—is the thin layer of moist cherries, then a hidden, baked-in chocolate ganache that oozes as you cut into it. That’s all held up by a deeply rich and sturdy chocolate cake. What this cake lacks in fruit-studded visual appeal, it makes up for in taste. Paired with a puff of whipped cream, it’s the perfect show-stopper treat for season two.

The recipe

I used my all-time favorite chocolate cake recipe: Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook’s "Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling." You can find the recipe here (my take is the same, but skip the frosting).

For the cherries layer:

  • 12 ounce bag of whole frozen cherries, thawed, rinsed, cut into halves
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice

For the cherry sauce:

  • ¾ cup cherry preserves
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch

And, of course, whipped cream. Buy it or make it yourself.

The assembly

  • Follow the recipe link above for the full run down. Then slice and serve with whipped cream.
  • Combine everything to make cherries in saucepan and cook on low-medium heat.
  • Bring to simmer and cook until very thick and syrupy. Be careful, this can thicken quickly so stir often.
  • For the ganache filling, combine all of its ingredients in the linked recipe (bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream, and confectioners' sugar).
  • Microwave for 30 seconds and whisk.
  • For the cake, combine chocolate and cocoa.
  • Then whisk in hot coffee and let sit covered for 5 minutes.
  • Combine dry ingredients, and get wet ingredients ready.
  • Combine the wet ingredients with the chocolate.
  • Blend!
  • Add flour mix.
  • Whisk until smooth.
  • Lay out your cherries in a single cake pan, which should be lined with parchment paper, greased, and floured. Do not pour in the sauce, just keep the moist cherries, which should be coated with a thick sauce.
  • Pour about half of the batter on the cherries.
  • Then swirl in the ganache. I piped it in (just using a plastic bag with a bit of the corner cut off). You can dry drizzling it in, too. But just make sure each area (cake slice) gets a fair amount.
  • Add the rest of the cake batter.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for ~30 minutes. Keep an eye on it and take it out when a knife comes out clean, except for some ganache.
  • Flip it over and let it cool.
  • Pour on the cherry sauce!
  • Smooth it out.
  • Oh, yeah.
  • Let the cherry sauce set. Don't succumb to the pressure.
  • When cut, you can see the ganache layer sinks to the top.

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