Black Forest Cake | RecipeTin Eats


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?? 😇

Close up of a slice of Black Forest Cake ready to be served
Showing the inside of Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake

I’ve never been completely happy with Black Forest Cake recipes I’ve tried in the past – from traditional German cookbooks to recipes by notable bakeries and online. Niggly problems seem to be the bane of 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 sugar obliterates everything.

So I took the best bits to formulate what 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 and so meld better with the other ingredients 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 just be YOUR idea of a perfect Black Forest Cake too!

Pulling out a slice of Black Forest Cake

What goes in Black Forest Cake

1. Chocolate cake layers

Here’s what you need to make the three cake layers:

Black Forest Cake ingredients

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 200 – 220g / 8 oz in total (including shell) or 180 – 200g / 7.3 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. But regular, unsweetened cocoa powder can be used in a pinch here – 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 soaked with cherry syrup which adds flavour and moisture into the sponge layers which are often (sadly!) too dry. Here’s what you need:

Black Forest Cake ingredients

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 them with fresh cherries and although lovely when summer cherries are in their prime, the cake just doesn’t meld together as well as using canned cherries because they are softer. Even cooked 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 which is 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 cherry flavoured brandy. Authentic Black Forest Cake uses it in the cherry syrup. But if you prefer not to use alcohol, just substitute with more reserved cherry juice.

Brushing cake with Cherry Syrup

The Black Forest Cake chocolate cake layers are made without a leavened (ie baking powder, baking soda) and relies solely on whipped eggs to make it rise. 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 cherry syrup soaking step is so important – not just for flavour, but also to moisten the sponge cake layers!

Syrup soaked cherries for Black Forest Cake

3. Decorations!

Black Forest Cake ingredients
  • Cream – We need a hefty amount of cream for this recipe! But it’s only lightly sweetened with icing sugar so it 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, though it does lose aeration after a few days. Using heavy / thickened cream rather than pure cream helps the cream to maintain its form.

    Having said that though, the cake is still perfectly scoff-able even on Day 4! I just wouldn’t take it to an event to impress. 🙂

  • Cherries for decorating – Use any cherries you want here. I’ve opted for Maraschino both for colour (love the bright red colour!) and also because cherries are out of season here. I’d definitely use fresh cherries if I could get my hands on them!

  • Chocolate – For making curls or shavings, for decorating!

Cutting Black Forest Cake

How to make Black Forest Cake

1. Chocolate Sponge Cake Layers

How to make a German Black Forest Cake
  1. Sift: 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, so I promise I only do it when essential!!

  2. Beat eggs: Beat eggs briefly to combine, then slowly add the sugar in over 45 seconds. Then 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 (there’s no baking powder used);

  3. Fold in flour: Gently fold the flour and cocoa powder until most of it is incorporated (see video for folding technique) – a few flour streaks is fine, we will mix them 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!

  4. Fold in butter: Add butter then gently fold that through as well, until you have a smooth batter;

  5. 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. Though you will need to scrape the bowl out.

    Then 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 in the middle shelf, and one underneath. Take the top 2 out at 25 min, and leave the bottom cake pan in for another 2 minutes; and

  6. 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 into the oven.

    Then turn the cake out onto cooling racks, and allow to cool fully before assembling!


2. Cherry Syrup & Cherries

While the cake is baking / cooling, prepare the cherries and syrup for sandwiching.

How to make a German Black Forest Cake
  1. Drain cherries: Drain jar of cherries, reserving the liquid;

  2. Measure out 1/4 cup / 60ml of the reserved cherry juice to make a cornflour slurry;

  3. Cherry cornflour slurry: Mix the juice with cornflour to make the slurry;

  4. 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.

    Then add the cornflour slurry and bring to a simmer, cook for 1 minutes 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; and

  5. Add Kirsch (cherry liquor): Remove from the heat and stir in the Kirsch;

  6. Soak cherries, cool: Then 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. At the very least you can make chocolate shavings which is super easy, and it looks GREAT on Black Forest Cakes. In fact, most Black Forest Cakes are decorating with chocolate shavings rather than curls!

How to make a German Black Forest Cake
  1. 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 3 x 20 second bursts, stirring in between.

    Pour the melted chocolate over the back of a baking pan and spread out with a spatula as thin as possible;

  2. Refrigerate for 3 – 4 minutes until the centre is just set.

  3. 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 chocolate is too hard, curls break/flake (leave to soften slightly, try again). If chocolate is too soft = curls sag/won’t roll, refrigerate ore; and

  4. Whip cream until stiffJust prior to assembling the cake, beat the cream until stiff. Refrigerate until required.


4. Assembling the cake

We’re on the home run here! And this is the best part!

How to make a German Black Forest Cake
  1. Brush with cherry syrup: Brush a cake layer with 1/4 cup of the cherry syrup the cherries are soaking in.

  2. Cream layer: Spread with 1 cup of whipped cream, leaving a 1cm / 1/2″ border (weight of cake will push cream to edge).

  3. Layer cherries: Top the cream with half the cherries (single layer), using a slotted spoon to drain well (but don’t pat dry, want the cherries juicy!);

Assembling Black Forest Cake
  1. Repeat: Top with a cake layer, brush with 1/4 cup syrup, spread with 1 cup cream, top with remaining cherries, 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.

  2. Cover with cream: Reserve 1 1/2 cups whipped cream for piping decorations. Spread the remaining cream over the top and side of the cake;

  3. Chocolate shavings: Pile large chocolate curls in the middle (I stack it like building a fire!). Use the smaller broken shavings to coat the base of the sides of the cake (cold hands, scoop shavings, press on side).

  4. Pipe dollops around the edge using a large star tipped nozzle; and

  5. Top & REST each dollop with a maraschino cherry.

    Then importantly, REST the cake in the fridge for 4+ hours, preferably overnight, to allow flavours to develop and syrup to really soak into the cake. This step is key for a really great Black Forest Cake, so don’t skip it!

Side photo of Black Forest Cake

Now THIS is what I call a cake!!! All those layers, all those elements!

Close up of a slice of Black Forest Cake being pulled out
Fork cutting into a slice of Black Forest Cake

And with that, this Black Forest Cake wraps up German Week here on RecipeTin Eats! A week when I shared recipes to make your very own German feast at home, on the menu we have:

  • Slow Roasted CRISPY Pork Knuckle – declared even by German nationals to be better than they’ve ever seen in Germany!! #WOW

  • German Potato Salad – a warm potato salad with a bacon vinaigrette. You know it’s a hit!

  • German Cucumber Salad – a refreshing side that’s perfect for hearty German food; and

  • This Black Forest Cake to finish with a bang!

And with that, another menu theme week is done! What shall we do next? – Nagi x

‘Theme week’ menus from years gone by:


Watch how to make it

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Close up of a slice of Black Forest Cake ready to be served

Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)

Servings12 – 16 slices

Tap or hover to scale

Recipe video above. The most German cake possible! You’ll love how the cake layers are lovely and moist (too often they are terribly dry!), and how this Black Forest Cake is not very sweet so you can actually taste all the elements. It’s a cake that looks rich and decadent, but is actually not that rich at all!TIP: Though it seems a shame not to use fresh cherries when they’re in season, using jarred/canned cherries to sandwich the layers really does work better. They’re softer so they meld together with the cake better, plus the flavoured syrup from the jar is perfect to brush the cake layers.MUST make this cake at least 4 hours ahead, even better if left overnight for flavours to develop!

Instructions

Chocolate sponge cakes:

  • Oven & cake pans: Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (160°Cfan). Grease 3 x 20cm/8” cake pans with butter, then line with parchment / baking paper.

  • Sift Dry: Combine the 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: Then beat for 7 minutes 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: Add the flour cocoa mixture to the batter, and fold in by hand until just combined – 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 flour, stop stirring.

  • Fill cake pans: Pour the batter into the three prepared pans – the batter should be fairly thin, pourable.

  • Bake: Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until springy to the touch. (Note 5 shelf placement)

  • Cool: Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out onto a rack to cool completely.

Cherry Syrup:

  • Drain cherries: Drain jar of cherries, reserving the 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. Add the cornflour slurry and bring to a simmer, cook for 1 minutes or 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: Break up the block of chocolate and place in a microwave safe bowl. Gently melt in a microwave by heating over 3 x 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 thin 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 chocolate is too hard, curls break/flake (leave to soften slightly, try again). If chocolate is too soft = curls sag/won’t roll, refrigerate ore.

  • Having problems?? Don’t worry! Just scrape to make shavings instead – it still looks amazing!

  • Fridge: Carefully place curls on a plate and refrigerate until ready to use.

Whip Cream:

  • 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.

Assembling:

  • 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 (weight of cake will push cream to edge).

  • Layer cherries: Top the cream with half the cherries (single layer), using a slotted spoon to drain well (but don’t pat dry, 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, place 3rd cake layer on top.

  • Cover with cream: Reserve 1 1/2 cups whipped cream for piping decorations. Spread the remaining cream over the top and side of the cake. Pipe dollops around the edge using a large star tipped nozzle. Top each dollop with a maraschino cherry.

  • Chocolate shavings: Pile large chocolate curls in the middle (I stack it like building a fire!). Use the smaller broken shavings to coat the base of the sides of the cake (cold hands, scoop 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 (but be mindful of cream melting on hot days). Slice and serve proudly!

Recipe Notes:

1. Cocoa powder – Dutch processed will give the cake layers a deeper chocolate colour and more flavour. But regular unsweetened cocoa powder will be just fine too – plenty of other flavours going on here in this cake!
2. Canned / jarred cherries – Use pitted morello cherries in syrup (sour cherries), drained and juice reserved. Works better than fresh, melds together better with cake plus we use the syrup from the jar for the cake syrup.
Where to get jarred cherries – I use this one or this one from Woolworths, Coles etc in Australia. Easily found in the canned fruit aisle.
Frozen pitted cherries – thaw completely (reserve liquid). Plus use cherry juice for the liquid in the recipe to make the syrup (tip in the liquid from thawed cherries).
3. Kirsch or cherry liqueur – Authentic to include. Sub with more reserved cherry juice.
4. Cream – yes, I know, it sounds like a LOT! But you will use it all!
Some recipes use stabilised cream, but I prefer plain fresh cream, it is lighter. It won’t weep within 3- 4 days that the cake keeps as long you use heavy / thickened cream (rather than plain pure cream) and if you whip it until stiff as directed in the recipe. After 3 days, the cream starts to noticeably lose aeration but the cake is still deliciously scoff-able!
STABILISED CREAM OPTION: If you want the cream to look freshly whipped for 4 days, make stabilised cream instead. Here’s how:
5. Icing sugar – best to use what’s labelled “Soft Icing Sugar” in Australia (it’s a mix of pure icing sugar + cornflour), but for this recipe, what’s sold as “Pure Icing Sugar” will also work ok.
6. Fitting cakes into oven – If all 3 cake pans don’t all fit on one shelf (like my standard oven), put 2 in the middle shelf, and one underneath. Take the top 2 out at 25 min, and leave the bottom cake pan in for another 2 minutes.
7. Eggs – Eggs need to be at room temperature and not fridge-cold, to ensure it incorporates properly into the batter or aerates better when beaten. 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.
Large eggs:  50 – 55g / 2 oz per egg is the industry standard of sizes sold as “large eggs” in Australia and the US. If your eggs are significantly larger or smaller in size, just weigh different eggs and use 200 – 220g / 8 oz in total (including shell) or 180 – 200g / 7.3 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).
8. Chocolate Curls – These can take practice, but honestly, don’t get hung up about it. Curls are optional! At the very least, it’s easy to make shavings by refrigerating the chocolate until hard, then shave it using a knife, spatular etc. Then sprinkle that across the surface. This is what most recipes do anyway, and it looks GREAT!

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