This gateau is the most German of all cakes: Black Forest Cake! My idea of the perfect version has soft and tender cake layers wielding enough chocolate flavour without being overwhelming. Jarred rather than fresh cherries are my other trick, because they just work that much better with the cake. And most importantly to me, it’s not too sweet, so you can actually taste all the elements rather than just a pile of sugar!!
To our dear German readers out there – how do you rate my efforts?? 😇
Black Forest Cake
I’ve never been completely happy with Black Forest Cake recipes I’ve tried in the past, whether it be traditional German cookbooks, recipes by notable bakers, or online sources. Niggly shortcomings seem to plague recipes for this cake. Often the cake layers are too dry (a very common offender). Other times it isn’t constructed right. Or the wrong type of cherries are used. Or – and the biggest issue for me – the cake is just far too sweet and the nuclear sugar levels obliterate everything.
So I gathered the best features that I want in a Black Forest Cake and constructed what I think is The Perfect Black Forest Cake. Here’s what makes it so!
Three chocolate cake layers – Tender and moist layers that are still sturdy enough to hold up to the (considerable!) mass of toppings and the all-essential cherry syrup soaking. The sponge is chocolate-y but not overwhelmingly so (save that kind of excess for Chocolate Cake!);
Cherry syrup that actually tastes of cherries, not just tooth-aching sweetness from sugar;
Vanilla cream, just lightly sweetened (notice a theme here?); and
Jarred rather than fresh cherries – Jarred cherries simply work better in this cake from a textural point of view. They’re softer, juicier and make much more sense to your mouth when you eat the cake. I tried fresh cherries in their prime during summer and they honestly weren’t as good!
If all this sounds pretty good to you, then I dare say this might also just be YOUR idea of a perfect Black Forest Cake too!
What goes in Black Forest Cake
1. Chocolate cake layers
Here’s what you need to make the three cake layers:
Nothing groundbreaking here! Just a note on a couple of things:
Eggs – Make sure they are what’s sold as “large eggs”, which are 55 – 60g / 2oz each. These are industry-standard sizes in Australia and the US. If your eggs are significantly larger or smaller in size, just weigh different eggs and use 330 – 360g / 12 oz in total (including shell) or 300 – 325g / 11 oz in total excluding shell (this is useful if you need to use a partial egg to make up the total required weight. Crack eggs, beat whites and yolks together, THEN pour into a bowl to measure out what you need).
Use at room temperature – Eggs need to be at room temperature and not fridge-cold, because they aerate better when beaten. This is particularly important for Black Forest Cake because the sponge layers rely solely on the eggs to make them rise; they do not use baking powder or baking soda like other cakes do. A quick way to warm up fridge-cold eggs: Place eggs in a large bowl, cover with warm tap water (just warm, not hot) and leave for 5 minutes. Wipe dry (to avoid residual water dripping into bowl), then use per recipe; and
Cocoa – Use Dutch process cocoa powder if you can because the colour and flavour is more intense than regular cocoa powder. Regular, unsweetened cocoa powder can however be used here instead – there’s plenty of other flavours going on so it won’t compromise the outcome!
2. Cherry layer and syrup
Black Forest Cake is sandwiched with cherries, and the cake layers are also soaked with cherry syrup which imparts flavour and moisture to the sponge layers which are often (sadly!) too dry otherwise. Here’s what you need:
Just a note on a couple of items:
Morello / sour cherries in a can or jar, in syrup or juice – Yes, jarred not fresh cherries! I’ve tried this cake with fresh cherries and although lovely when summer cherries are in their prime, the cake just isn’t the same. Canned fruits are softer and juicier, and just make more sense here. Even when fresh cherries are cooked down to make a sauce (like I do with blueberries) the texture just wasn’t as good. So, canned cherries it is!
Also, we use the flavoured syrup from the jar as the base for the cherry syrup used to brush the cake layers.
Can’t find canned cherries? Use frozen pitted cherries + cherry juice instead. Thaw completely (reserve liquid). Top up using cherry juice to make up the cherry liquid called for in the recipe;
Kirsch or cherry liqueur – This is a German-origin, cherry-flavoured brandy. Authentic Black Forest Cake uses it in the cherry syrup. If you prefer not to use alcohol, just substitute with more reserved cherry juice.
Why we need cherry syrup for the sponge
The Black Forest Cake’s chocolate sponge layers are made without a leavening agent (eg. baking powder, baking soda) and rely solely on whipped eggs to make them rise in the oven. This makes the cake beautifully light, but does have a tendency to be a bit on the dry side (it’s just a fact of life with egg-aerated cakes because eggs dry baked goods out).
This is why the soaking the sponge with cherry syrup is such an important step. It’s not just for flavour, but also to moisten the sponge cake layers!
Cream – We need a hefty amount of cream for this recipe! It’s only lightly sweetened with icing sugar so isn’t overly heavy or rich.
This recipe does not call for stabilised cream (ie. where the aeration of cream is stabilised using gelatine or cornflour; there’s a few methods). I prefer the pure, unadulterated flavour of plain whipped cream. It does however lose aeration after a few days. Using heavy / thickened cream rather than pure cream helps the cream to maintain its form.
Having said that, the cake is still perfectly scoff-able even on Day 4! I just wouldn’t take it to an event to impress. 🙂
If you want to use stabilised cream which will hold its form near perfectly for 3 to 4 days, here is the recipe I use (it’s a PDF document, I will publish it properly one day!);
Cherries for decorating – Use any cherries you want here. I’ve opted for maraschino cherries both for their merry, vivid red colour (love it!) and also because cherries are out of season right now here. I’d definitely use fresh cherries if I could get my hands on them!
Chocolate – For making curls or shavings to use in decorating!
How to make Black Forest Cake
1. Chocolate sponge cake layers
Sift flour and cocoa: Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl to remove any pesky lumps. This is important for this cake batter so you can minimise the amount of mixing required when you fold the flour into the aerated eggs. I hate sifting too, so I promise I only do it when essential!!
Beat eggs: Beat eggs briefly to combine, then slowly add the sugar in over 45 seconds while beating. Now beat the eggs for a whole 7 minutes on speed 8 until it’s pale in colour and tripled in volume. Don’t shortcut this step – this is what makes the cake rise (remember, there’s no baking powder used);
Fold in flour: Gently fold in the flour and cocoa powder until most of it is incorporated (see video for folding technique). A few flour streaks are fine, we will mix them through in the next step. Use a rubber spatula or a large metal spoon to make short work of this. The less you mix, the better your cake will rise!
Fold in butter: Add butter and gently fold that through as well, until you have a smooth batter;
Bake: Divide the batter between 3 x 20cm (8”)cake pans. The batter should be thin enough to be pourable into the cake pans, rather than having to scoop and dollop. You will still need to scrape the bowl out though.
Bake for 25 minutes at 180°C / 350°F (160°C fan).
If your oven is not large enough to fit 3 cake pans on one shelf, do as I do: Put 2 pans in the middle shelf, and one on a lower shelf right underneath. Take the top 2 pans out at 25 min, and leave the bottom cake pan in for an extra 2 minutes;
Cool: Check to ensure the cakes are cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre and ensuring it comes out clean. If there is batter on the skewers, it means the cake needs to be cooked more so just return it to the oven.
Then turn the cake out onto cooling racks, and allow to cool fully before assembling!
2. Cherry syrup and cherries
While the cake is baking / cooling, prepare the cherries and syrup for sandwiching.
Drain cherries: Drain jar of cherries, reserving the liquid;
Measure out 1/4 cup (60ml) of the reserved cherry juice to make a cornflour slurry;
Cherry cornflour slurry: Mix the reserved 1/4 cup of juice with cornflour to make the slurry;
Make cherry syrup: Place a medium pot over medium low heat, add the sugar and another 1/3 cup of remaining reserved juice. Bring to a gentle simmer to dissolve the sugar.
Then add the cornflour slurry and bring to a simmer. Cook for 1 minute or until it thickens into a thin syrup. We want the syrup to be quite thin so it soaks the cake layers all the way through rather than settling on top;
Add kirsch (cherry liquor): Remove from the heat and stir in the kirsch;
Soak cherries, cool: Now pour the syrup over the drained cherries and allow to cool completely before using. In this step, the cherries get soaked with the extra flavour from the kirsch.
3. Chocolate curls (optional)
This step is entirely optional because it does take a bit of practice. If you’re having trouble making curls, don’t fret. Even if they don’t work out, you’ll at the very least be left with chocolate shavings which still look GREAT on Black Forest Cakes. In fact, most Black Forest Cakes are decorated with chocolate shavings rather than fancier curls!
Spread over back of baking tray: Break up the block of chocolate and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Gently melt in a microwave by heating over three 20-second bursts, stirring in between.
Pour the melted chocolate over the back of a baking pan and spread out with a spatula as thinly as possible;
Refrigerate for 3 – 4 minutes until the centre is just set.
Scrape curls: Using something with a sharp straight edge (I use a bench scraper, spatula or the back of a knife also works), hold it at a 45 degree angle and scrape along the tray away from you to create curls. Do a small test patch first. If the chocolate is too hard, the curls may break or flake. Leave to soften slightly and try again. If the chocolate is too soft, the curls sag and won’t roll. Refrigerate more to harden; and
Whip cream: Just prior to assembling the cake, beat the cream until stiff. Refrigerate until required.
4. Assembling the cake
We’re on the home stretch here! Plus this is the really fun part!
Brush with cherry syrup: Brush a cake layer with 1/4 cup of the cherry syrup that the cherries are soaking in.
Add cream layer: Spread with 1 cup of whipped cream, leaving a 1cm (1/2″) border (the weight of cake when placed on top and gently pressed will push the cream to edge).
Layer cherries: Top the cream layer with half the cherries (in a single layer), using a slotted spoon to drain well. Don’t pat them dry though, want the cherries juicy!;
Repeat: Top with a cake layer, brush with 1/4 cup syrup, spread with 1 cup cream, top with remaining cherries, and place 3rd cake layer on top.
Finish by brushing the top layer with 1/3 cup of the cherry syrup. You will have some syrup leftover.
Cover with cream: Reserve 1 1/2 cups whipped cream for piping decorations later. Spread the remaining cream over the top and side of the cake;
Chocolate shavings: Pile large chocolate curls in the middle (I stack them in a tent shape like I’m building a fire!) Use the smaller broken shavings to coat the base of the sides of the cake (with cold hands, scoop some shavings, press on side, repeat).
Pipe dollops of cream around the edge using a large star-tipped nozzle; and
Top with cherries, and rest cake: Top each cream dollop with a maraschino cherry.
Then importantly, REST the cake in the fridge for 4+ hours, preferably overnight, to allow flavours to develop and the syrup to really soak into the cake. This step is key for a really great Black Forest Cake, so don’t skip it!
Now THIS is what I call a cake!!! All those layers, all those elements – this is the glory of the Black Forest Cake!
Black Forest Cake wraps up German Week here on RecipeTin Eats! This week I shared recipes to make your very own German feast at home. On the menu we have:
Slow Roasted CRISPY Pork Knuckle – Declared by German readers to be better than they’ve ever seen in Germany!! #BestComplimentEver
German Potato Salad – A warm, German-inspired potato salad with a bacon vinaigrette. You know it’s going to hit the mark!
German Cucumber Salad – A refreshing and cooling side that’s perfect with hearty German food; and
This Black Forest Cake to finish with a bang!
And with that, another theme week menu is done! What cuisine shall we tackle next? Leave a comment below! – Nagi x
‘Theme week’ menus from years gone by:
Watch how to make it
Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)
- 6 large eggs , at room temperature (Note 7)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- 1/2 cup dutch processed cocoa powder (or unsweetened regular cocoa power, Note 1)
- 2/3 cup plain flour (all-purpose flour)
- 150g / 10.5 tbsp unsalted butter , melted and cooled
- 670g / 23.5 oz pitted morello cherries in syrup (sour cherries, in jar or can) , drained and juice reserved (Note 2)
- 1/3 cup kirsch or cherry liqueur (optional – sub with more reserved cherry juice, Note 3)
- 1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- 4 tsp cornflour / cornstarch
- 4 cups / 1 litre thickened / heavy cream (Note 4)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/3 cup soft icing sugar / powdered sugar (Australia: Not pure icing sugar, Note 5)
- 100g / 3.5 oz dark chocolate / bittersweet chocolate
- 12 maraschino or fresh cherries (for decorating top of cake)
Chocolate sponge cake layers:
- Oven and cake pans: Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F (160°C fan). Grease 3 x 20cm (8”) cake pans with butter, line with parchment / baking paper.
- Sift dry ingredients: Combine dry ingredients by sifting the cocoa and plain flour into a bowl. Set aside.
- Beat eggs: Beat eggs for 30 seconds on speed 6 of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or hand beater.
- Slowly add sugar: With the beater still going, slowly pour the sugar in over 45 seconds, then add the vanilla.
- Beat 7 minutes: Beat for 7 minutes more on speed 8, or until tripled in volume and pale in colour. Don't shortcut this step; this is what makes the cake rise (there's no baking powder used).
- Fold in dry ingredients: Add the flour and cocoa mixture to the batter, folding in with a spatula until just combined (a few streaks of flour remaining is fine). Be gentle here, we don't want to knock out the air bubbles.
- Fold in butter: Add the butter and fold gently through until just combined. Once you can no longer see any flour, stop stirring.
- Fill cake pans: Pour the batter into the three prepared pans. The batter should be fairly thin and pourable.
- Bake: Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the cake centre comes out clean. (Note 5 regarding shelf placement)
- Cool: Remove from the oven. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out onto a rack to cool completely.
- Drain cherries: Drain jar of cherries, reserving liquid.
- Cherry cornflour slurry: Measure out 1/4 cup (60ml) of the reserved cherry juice and mix with the cornflour to make a slurry. Set aside.
- Make cherry syrup: Place a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and another 1/3 cup of reserved juice. Bring to a gentle simmer to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cornflour slurry and bring to a simmer. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, until it thickens into a thin syrup.
- Soak cherries, cool: Remove from the heat and stir in the kirsch. Pour the syrup over the drained cherries and allow to cool completely before using.
Chocolate curls (Note 8):
- Melt chocolate: Break up the block of chocolate and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Gently melt in microwave by heating over three 20 second bursts, stirring in between.
- Spread: Pour the melted chocolate over the back of a baking pan and spread out with a spatula as thinly as possible. Refrigerate for 3 – 4 minutes until the centre is just set.
- Scrape curls: Using something with a sharp, straight edge (I use a bench scraper, spatula or the back of a knife also works), hold it at a 45 degree angle and scrape along the tray away from you to create curls. Do a small test patch first. If the chocolate is too hard, the curls may break or flake (leave to soften slightly and try again). If the chocolate is too soft, the curls sag and won't roll (refrigerate more to harden).
- Having problems?? Don't worry! Just scrape to make shavings instead – it still looks amazing!
- Refrigerate: Carefully place curls on a plate and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Just prior to assembling, place cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip into pretty stiff peaks – about 5 minutes on high. Refrigerate until needed.
- Place one cake layer upside down on a serving platter (or cake decorating turn table, if you’re a pro! 🙂 ).
- Brush with cherry syrup: Brush the cake layer with 1/4 cup of the cherry syrup the cherries are soaking in.
- Cream layer: Spread with 1 cup of whipped cream, leaving a 1cm (1/2") border (the weight of the next cake layer gently pressed will push cream to edge).
- Layer cherries: Top the cream with half the cherries (in a single layer), using a slotted spoon to drain well (but don't pat dry, want the cherries juicy!).
- Repeat: Top with another cake layer, brush with 1/4 cup syrup, spread with 1 cup cream, top with remaining cherries, and place 3rd cake layer on top.
- Cover with cream: Reserve 1 1/2 cups whipped cream for piping cream decorations. Spread the remaining cream over the top and side of the cake. Pipe dollops around the edge of top using a large star-tipped nozzle. Top each dollop with a maraschino cherry.
- Chocolate shavings: Pile large chocolate curls in the middle (I stack in a tent shape like building a fire!). Use the smaller broken shavings to coat the base of the sides of the cake (using cold hands, scoop up shavings, press on side).
- Rest 4 hours+: Leave cake in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, to allow flavours to develop and syrup to really soak into the cake.
- Take out of fridge: Remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to serving (but be mindful of cream melting on hot days). Slice and serve proudly!
Let them eat cake!
Life of Dozer
Dozer, I promise there’s nothing going on in here of interest to you….😇