This traditional black forest cake is made German style with three layers of decadent chocolate cake, sour cherries, kirshwasser and plenty of whipped cream!
German black forest cake or black forest gateau is a chocolate sponge cake filled with cherries, whipped cream and kirsch. This recipe is very much based on the traditional German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, with three layer of chocolate sponge, kirschwasser (sour cherry brandy) and sour cherries. It was incredibly popular in the 1950's and still remains a popular choice for a show stopping dessert.
Why do they call it Black Forest cake?
There's some debate over the origins of Black Forest Cake. Its generally thought to have come from the Black Forest mountain region in southwestern Germany where kirschwasser comes from. Other schools of thought suggest the cake is based on the traditional costume of the women of the Black Forest region, with a characteristic hat with big, red pom poms on top, called Bollenhut. Whatever you call it this creamy chocolaty cherry cake tastes delicious!
If you like the combination of cherries and chocolate you'll love my black forest ice cream, a decadent combination of rich chocolate ice cream and tangy cherry swirl.
Can I make this black forest cake without alcohol?
Yes you can. You can replace the alcohol with cherry juice in the cake and omit it from the cream, or leave out altogether if you prefer.
Can I use regular cherries?
Yes you can. If you can't get sour/Morello cherries you could use a tin of cherry pie filling or black cherries. You could also try using fresh cherries with some cherry juice or jam. You may need to add a little more lemon juice and a little less sugar to balance the flavors and get that sour cherry taste.
Can I use a different chocolate cake?
Yes you can. If you don't want to use the traditional chocolate sponge cake here you can use your favorite regular chocolate cake.
Can I make an easier version of this cake?
You sure can. The easiest change it to cut the cake in half instead of into three layers. You can also forgo the grated chocolate coating around the outside and simply pile the chocolate on top instead. Your cake will still taste delicious but will be a bit less fiddly to make!
Dutch cocoa powder: this recipe is one of the few times when I actually prefer to use dutch cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa powder has a darker color which helps give this cake the characteristic almost black look. You can read more about dutch cocoa powder in my no churn chocolate ice cream recipe. If you can't get dutch cocoa powder you can use the same amount of natural cocoa powder and add a few drops of black food color if you wish.
Sour cherries: also known as tart cherries. The most common variety is Morello cherries. If you can't get sour cherries you could use regular cherries, or possibly a tin of cherry pie filling, but you will need to add a little more lemon juice and a bit less sugar to account for the sweeter cherries.
Fresh cherries: are used to garnish this beautiful cake. You could use Maraschino cherries for a bright burst of color, or leave them off if you prefer.
Dark chocolate: a good dark bitter chocolate is used to decorate the outside of this cake and makes a good substitute for chocolate flakes. If you can get hold of them you could also use chocolate flakes or Schokoraspeln to give it a truly traditional Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte but they can be hard to get hold of outside Europe.
Thickened cream: I use thickened cream in Australia which as a fat content of about 34%. You could also use heavy whipping cream which is similar.
Cinnamon: a little ground cinnamon is a traditional addition to the cherries in this black forest cake and helps add another flavor dimension.
Kirsh: also known as kirschwasser, is a clear, colorless brandy traditionally made from sour cherries that originates from Germany. Its a traditional ingredient in German Black Forest Cake. Kirsh is pretty strong, with an abv of around 40%. You could substitute with a milder cherry alcohol such as cherry liquor if you prefer, or with cherry juice for an alcohol-free version.
Lemon juice: fresh lemon juice is best for this recipe. You will need one tablespoon or approximately the juice from half a lemon, depending on how big and juicy your lemon is.
Plain flour: is best in this recipe. You can also use all purpose flour. It's important to use a flour that does not have any rising agents as we will be adding our own in the right amounts to help this cake rise.
Corn flour: also known as corn starch and can be labeled as wheaten cornflour or corn (maize). The cornflour makes the cake crumb softer and makes for a lighter sponge cake.
White sugar: white sugar is best in this recipe. You could use castor sugar if you prefer. I don't recommend using other types of sugar, they will be hard to dissolve and will compete with the flavors in this cake.
Baking powder: is a common ingredient in cakes and baking, used to help the cake rise. For the best results use fresh baking powder and not one that's been sitting around the cupboard for a while.
Gelatine: a little gelatine helps stabilize the whipped cream and keep it looking beautiful for longer, but it does mean the cake is not vegetarian. If you are eating the cake straight away you could skip the gelatine.
Eggs: I use large eggs in this recipe, approx. 55 gms each with shells before cracking.
How to make traditional black forest cake
To make the cake
Grease and line a ten-inch cake tin. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C/170°C fan-forced). Add the eggs and sugar to a bowl or stand mixer. Beat on medium-high for about fifteen to twenty minutes or until thick, pale and creamy.
Melt the butter and allow it to cool. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cornflour and salt and fold into the mix. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for thirty minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before assembling the cake.
To make the cherry filling
Drain the cherries over a small pot. Put the cherries aside in a heatproof bowl. Add the cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar and cornflour to the cherry juice and whisk to combine. Heat on medium for about five minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from stove and add back to cherries. Set aside to cool.
To make the cream and assemble the cake
Grate half the dark chocolate and chop the other half into long thin pieces. Use a large sharp knife to carefully cake the cake into three layers. For perfectly even layers you can use a cake saw to achieve this.
Prepare your piping bag and nozzle. If using, put two tablespoons of room temperature water into a heatproof bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Allow to bloom for five minutes or until your cream is whipped. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Do not over whip. Add the sugar and mix well, then the kirsch and mix well.
Once the gelatin has bloomed, melt it by microwaving it for about ten to fifteen seconds. Mix well to ensure all the gelatin is mixed in and dissolved. Temper the gelatin by adding a couple of spoonfuls of the whipped cream and mix well. Add the tempered gelatin to the whipped cream by pouring it in slowly in batches while whipping the cream, ensuring it's mixed well between each addition. Put a couple of large spoonfuls of cream aside in the piping bag to decorate the top of the cake.
Hot tip: this cake ends up heavy and hard to move! I recommend assembling it on the plate you intend to serve it on, as it will be difficult to transfer once its assembled.
Brush the bottom layer of the cake with the kirsch for the cake. Add the cherries and spread around, leaving about half an inch from the edge of the cake.
Add cream over the cherry and spread it out. Add the middle layer of cake and top with cream. Add the top layer of cake and the last of the cream, spreading it out over the top and side of the cake, taking care to fill in the gap where the cherries are. Do not scrap the sides of the cake, you need a layer of cream for the chocolate to stick to.
Use a dough scraper or similar to hold the grated chocolate next to the cake and then push it off onto the cake. Work your way around the cake, pushing and sprinkling as you go. You won't need the full amount of grated chocolate but it's easier to have extra to work with.
Use the piping bag to pipe cream swirls around the edge of the cake. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate in the middle of the cake, saving some of the large pieces to pile on top.
Finally top the cream swirls with fresh cherries and you're done!
How to serve
To serve use a big knife to slice this cake and enjoy! Wonderful with a cup of coffee or a warming shot of kirschwasser. Delicious!
How to store
Because of the cream this cakes needs to be stored in the fridge. It's best eaten on the day it's made for maximum freshness, although at a pinch you can make it the night before eating. The bottom layer of cake has a tendency to go soggy over time. Still delicious but a little harder to serve. It will otherwise keep in a covered container in the fridge for up to three days.
Have you made this recipe? Tell me how it went in the comments below and tag me on instagram so I can see your delicious creations! @keep_calm_and_eat_icecream
Looking for more yummy dessert recipes?
Why not try making
- Black forest ice cream
- Chocolate red velvet cake
- Old fashioned fruit cake
- Eggless carrot cake
Traditional Black Forest Cake
- 10 inch cake tin
- Stand mixer or electric hand beaters
- Piping bag and nozzel (I used a 2D)
Chocolate sponge cake
- ½ cup (115gms) unsalted butter
- 6 large eggs
- ¾ cup (175gms) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (150gms) plain flour
- ½ cup (50gms) Dutch cocoa powder
- ⅓ cup (50 gms) corn flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- sour cherries such as Morelos
- 2 tablespoons (30gms) corn flour
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon (15mls) lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (40gms) white sugar
Cream and decoration
- 3 cups (750mls) thickened cream
- 1 tablespoon (5gms) gelatin powder
- ¼ cup (55gms) white sugar
- 2 tablespoons (30mls) kirsch for cream
- ¼ cup kirsch for cake
- 1 block (100gms) dark chocolate, divided
- 12 - 14 fresh cherries, for decoration
Chocolate sponge cake
- Pre-heat the oven to 375°F (190°C/170°C fan forced). Grease and line the cake tin with baking paper.
- Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
- Add the eggs and sugar to a bowl and beat well until pale, thick and creamy. This could take anywhere from 15 - 20 mins depending on your mixer.
- Sift in the salt, flour, corn starch and cocoa powder. Fold into the mix, taking care not to knock out to much air. Add the cooled melted butter and fold in.
- Pour the cake mix into the prepared cake tin and bake for thirty minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Allow to cool completely before starting to assemble the cake.
- Drain the jar of cherries over a small pot on the stove and put aside the cherries.
- Add the corn flour, cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice. Whisk together until combined. Heat on medium, stirring well until sauce thickens up. Add the cherries, mix well and set aside to cool.
Cream and assembling the cake
- Grate half the chocolate and chop the other half into long thin pieces.
- Using a large sharp knife or cake saw, cut the cake into three layers. If your cake is a little domed at the top you can flip it over to get a nice smooth surface to decorate your cake.
- Put two tablespoons of water into a microwave proof bowl. Sprinkle over the gelatin and allow to bloom for at least five minutes, or until the cream is whipped.
- Put the cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks just start to form. Add the sugar in a couple of batches and mix between each addition. Add the Kirch and mix in.
- Melt the gelatin by microwaving for just five to ten seconds. Mix to ensure all the grains are melted. Add one spoon of whipped cream and mix well to temper the gelatin.
- Slowly pour the gelatin cream mix into the whipped cream, mixing as you beat it.
- Put some of the cream into a piping bag to finish the decorations.
- Use a pastry brush to brush the bottom of the cake with Kirsch.
- Put the cooled cherry mix onto the bottom layer of the cake. Spread out until its about one cm for the edge of the cake. Add some cream and spread over the cherries.
- Add the middle layer of cake and spread with cream.
- Add the top layer of cake. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining cream, taking care to fill the gap in the cherry layer. Ensure the cream covers the side surfaces of the cake to allow the chocolate to stick to it.
- Put some of the grated chocolate onto a flat surface such as a pastry scraper. Hold the chocolate next to the cake and gently press down to stick the chocolate to the cream. Continue the whole way around the cake until all the sides are covered with chocolate.
- Use the cream in the piping bag to pipe swirls of cream around the edge of the cake. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate in the center of the cake, saving the bigger pieces to place on top.
- Finally add fresh cherries to the swirls of cream and you're done!
- This cake is best eaten within a few hours of making. You can make in the night before and keep it in the fridge overnight. but the Kirsch tends to make the bottom layer of cake a little soft and it may be a little tricky to serve. But will still taste delicious!
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