Cake

Black Forest Cake

11/03/2021 08:15:00 AM

Guten tag! Black Forest cake recipe today! Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte! The classic and the best. A chocolate pastry base, sour cherry compote, fluffy cocoa sponge and an obscene amount of kirsch-spiked whipped cream, decorated with chocolate flakes and glacé cherries. It's surprisingly light and fluffy, with a perfect balance of flavours. Guten appetit!

Black Forest Cake / Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
Black Forest Cake / Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte


Hello there! I am very excited to share my recipe for Black Forest cake with you today... because after much work, I've finally got the recipe just the way I like it! It also felt apt to share a celebratory cake because it's my blog's SEVENTEENTH BIRTHDAY! Whaaaat! I know, even I can't believe I'm still doing it! I thought it was a perfect occasion to indulge in a long-and-winding wordy AF blogpost. So here we go!

English-language food writers often dismiss Black Forest cake as dated or uncool, but I see no point in being embarrassed about loving it. Black Forest cake is seriously good and there's a reason it's a classic. (It never went out of style in Germany and I think there's something to be said for staying true to your own tastes and not being overly influenced by fads and fashions.)

I've been meaning to work on my Black Forest cake skills for a while, and Melbourne's extended sixth lockdown turned out to be the perfect time. (I practised a couple of the components separately a few weeks ago to get those individual recipes right, and ended up making the entire cake just after lockdown ended. It was so lovely to take some over to share with my parents!)

I wanted to make a properly traditional Black Forest cake, one that my German father-in-law would easily recognise as such. (It's his favourite cake, and I hope one day soon I get to bake one for him in person). I made Beatrix's divine "The Notorious BFC" last year and loved it, but with its chocolate mousse and cherry jelly and rich dark chocolate glaze, it's definitely its own wonderful and unique creation.

Those of you with longer memories may remember that I have made classic Black Forest cake before - once for a friend's birthday in 2010, and again for a Porktoberfest lunch party the year after that. You can read all about the details and drama of making the birthday cake in this very long post - looking back I can't believe I was so ambitious and started baking the cake at 3:30pm for the party that night. It tasted good but... lost its structural integrity quickly. The second time baking the cake for Porktoberfest II was much more successful, but looking back at the post I just described the process for making the cake at a very high level, with links to the different elements, and the chocolate sponge recipe that I used back then is now a broken link. They say nothing is ever really gone from the internet, but that darn chocolate sponge recipe sure is!

So, my aim for this baking project was to get all the different elements just the way I like them, and write up the entire recipe as a clear reference for future Sarah (or anyone, really), who wants to bake a traditional Black Forest cake!

I'm obviously not German, but (Borat voice) my wife is, and on our numerous trips back home over the years, I have eaten more than my fair share of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte from a variety of bakeries throughout the Hesse / Baden-Wuttenburg / Rheinland-Pfalz regions and beyond, and discussed them in great detail with my in-laws and extended family, and I feel that I have a pretty good handle on what makes a proper Black Forest cake. And if being part of a German family for the past 14 years has taught me anything, it's that it is important to have Very Strong Opinions on how food should be, and to express said opinions very forthrightly at every available opportunity.

So with that in mind, here's what I believe makes a good and proper Black Forest cake.

Whipped Cream

Whipped Cream
Gelatin-stablised, Kirsch-spiked whipped cream

The whipped cream must contain Kirsch, and a decent amount too, otherwise it won't taste like a Black Forest cake. (More on that shortly). I also add gelatine to the whipped cream. Not only does it make the overall cake and piped rosettes more stable over a longer period of time - I had slices of this cake in the fridge for five days and they still looked just as nice on day five - but it also gives the cream a delightfully light and airy moussy texture. However, using gelatine will mean the cake is not vegetarian, so keep that in mind.

Another thing to add about the whipped cream - you will need more whipped cream than you think is strictly necessary or decent. That's just the way it is, go with it. In the English-language food-writing world, we seem to prefer denser, richer cakes, with an emphasis on butter, melted chocolate and eggs. (Think brownies, Victoria sponges, butter cakes, chocolate mud cakes, buttercream, ganache icings etc.) German tortes, however, are far lighter in texture, with fewer (and airier) cake layers and a higher ratio of lighter fillings (like whipped cream, pudding, fresh fruit etc.) This also means the slices tend to be far larger. Not that I'm complaining! To re-use a very obscure reference, in his book Time After Time, Ben Elton describes German cakes as "really no more than whipped cream delivery systems", which is perfectly apt.

Here are some examples of Black Forest cakes that I've enjoyed in Germany to give you an idea of what I mean - when I've shared these on Instagram I've gotten many comments from Australians in shock and awe at the amount of whipped cream. (These were also the examples I had in mind when I made this cake).

Black Forest Gateau examples
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte examples from previous trips to Germany

Kirsch

Kirschwasser
Kirschwasser

The kirsch (or Kirschwasser) itself should be a clear and colourless strong cherry alcohol, not that red-coloured sweet cherry brandy that you sometimes see at bottle shops. I'm lucky to have a stash of homemade kirsch that my father-in-law made, using cherries from the cherry tree at their house back in Germany, which I always use. The kirsch will give the finished cake a light booziness (depending on how much you use), and a mild cherry-pit-almond-esque flavour. Delicious.

The kirsch must be used in the cream at the very least, but I use kirsch in the cream, in the pastry base, and brushed onto the cake layers, so it gently permeates throughout the whole cake and unifies all the elements. (You could also add a teaspoon to the cherry compote but I forgot in this instance and didn't miss it).

I think it's still worth making the cake if you have to omit the booze, say, for children or non-drinkers,  because cherries and chocolate and cream are always a winning combination, and non-drinkers deserve deliciousness too! However, it won't really be a proper Black Forest cake, and any traditionalists around will definitely let you know just how disappointed they are.

Pastry Base

Chocolate pastry base
Chocolate pastry base

In German Konditorei (i.e. patisseries and cake shops), the multilayered Tortes will usually have a plain pastry base. Just quietly, these usually don't taste that good and I believe they're there more for structural integrity rather than flavour. Many people I know leave those behind and just eat the actual cake / cream / fruit elements. However, the Dr. Oetker Backen Macht Freude recipe book includes a chocolate pastry base in their Black Forest cake recipe, and it's truly delicious. I've made it every time I make this cake, and it would be delicious even on its own (it's like a very deeply chocolatey crisp shortbread or pastry). It's very easy to make too, just mix everything together and press it into a tin to bake.

I don't think I've ever seen a chocolate pastry base on any of the Schwarzwälder Kirschtortes I've eaten in Germany, but I think, immodestly, it's a good change, as it adds both structural stability and deliciousness. German wife also approved!

Sour Cherry Compote

Sour Cherry Compote
Sour cherry compote

Well, it is a Schwarzwälder KIRSCH-torte! (Kirsch is the German word for cherry). Sour cherries are traditional, and I used frozen ones this time. Previously I've used the more widely available jarred sour/morello cherries and they work well too. If you're ever able to get your hands on fresh sour cherries, then go for it! You cook the frozen cherries with some sugar to release the cherry juice, strain out the cherries, then cook the juice with some cornflour to thicken it. Then you stir the cherries back through. That's it!

A single layer is usual, and is what I did here, but meine Frau likes lots of cherries, so perhaps next time I'll double the amount of cherries and do two layers.

Chocolate Sponge Layers

Chocolate sponge
Chocolate sponge

Light chocolate sponge. I use the magnificent chocolate all-purpose sponge cake from Beatrix Bakes, which is the best sponge cake recipe I've ever used. I've made it numerous times (both the chocolate and the regular versions) and it always turns out perfectly. I bake it in a half batch (one 20cm tin), which I cut into two layers. It's probably a little lighter in texture than the traditional chocolate Biskuitteig (sponge cake) that's used in Germany, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

Assembly

So, once you've got all the elements prepared, you can assemble!

Black Forest Cake assembly station
Assembly station

I use Nat Paull's super clever cake-and-cream layering technique from the wonderful Beatrix Bakes cookbook - rather than building the cake from the bottom up on a serving plate, you layer it upside down in a clingfilm-lined springform tin, then place a small weight on top of it and refrigerate it overnight. This allows all the layers to meld together, keeps the edges neat and tidy, and - crucially - prevents the layers from slipping and sliding all over the place when it comes time to decorate and later slice. Genius!

I'll obviously detail it in the recipe below, but FYI this is the order in which you layer the cake: chocolate sponge layer - brush with Kirsch - whipped cream - chocolate sponge layer - brush with Kirsch - thinner whipped cream layer with a higher border - sour cherry compote inside - chocolate pastry base.

Assembling the Black Forest Cake layers
Assembling the Black Forest cake layers

I used a giant Fleischwurst sausage loop to weigh down the cake for its overnight rest, which could possibly be the most German thing ever.

Decoration

Once the cake has been in the fridge overnight, you can flip it out onto your cake plate, peel off the clingfilm and decorate it! As you can see, Nat's awesome layering technique produces a very even-sided and level-topped layer cake!

Black Forest Cake, ready for decorating
Black Forest cake, ready for decorating

Black Forest cake ready for decorating
Black Forest cake, ready for decorating

So, to decorate, I make a fresh batch of gelatin whipped cream. (It's the same recipe for whipped cream as inside the cake, but annoyingly, you can't make it all at once - the cream will set too much in the fridge overnight and be difficult to pipe / spread neatly. Sorry). I slide a few pieces of baking paper underneath the cake to catch and cream smears. I suggest piping vertical stripes all around the side of the cake and then smoothen it out with an offset spatula. (It's easier to get an even result this way than if you were to just splodge it on and try to spread it out). Then I spread the whipped cream evenly over the top, pipe rosettes around (one rosette per slice), dot them each with a glacé cherry and sprinkle the top with chocolate flakes. Gently slide out the baking paper pieces and... ta-daaaaah!

Black Forest Cake
Black Forest cake

A few notes on the decoration and appearance:
  • I don't actually like the taste of glacé cherries, but they just look so right here that I can't leave them out or replace them with fresh stemmed cherries.
  • I use Lindt hot chocolate flakes for the flakes, but I think a crushed Flake bar would also work, or if you're feeling energetic you could chop some chocolate yourself. 
  • I don't do chocolate flakes on the side because most Black Forest cakes that I've seen in Germany have nude sides, and crucially, I couldn't figure out how to put chocolate flakes on the sides without creating a huge mess or ruining the top and edges of the cake. I really liked the way it looked, but that's probably a good skill for me to learn in the future - if you've got any tips, please leave a comment!
  • This recipe makes a 20cm diameter cake, which is very small by German standards, but well, standard, by Australian standards. (I also picked a 20cm cake because the Beatrix sponges are 20cm cakes and I don't dare tinker with Nat's perfect base recipes!)
  • I piped 12 rosettes for 12 slices, but the cake is so light and airy that I think that cutting it into 8 slices is totally achievable. (I know I could certainly smash an eighth of this cake in one go!)
Black Forest cake slice
Black Forest Cake slice

Yay yay yay! I was so so proud of the cake! Check out those even layers, the light sponge, the fluffy whipped cream! It tasted just like I hoped it would taste - and really reminded me of sunny afternoons in Germany with my family. It's so light and fluffy, and had a perfect balance of chocolate, sour cherries, and kirsch, with no single element overpowering. Perfect for a celebration, a family Kaffeeklatsch, or like I did, just for the sheer fun of baking it and the joy of having it in the fridge all week.

Black Forest Cake
Black Forest Cake

Ok, that's it! If you do end up making this cake I do hope you enjoy both the making and the eating! Let me know how you go!


Black Forest Cake / Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
An overall recipe by Sarah Cooks - Pastry base and compote adapted from Dr Oetker's Backen Macht Freude, sponge layers from Beatrix Bakes, Kirsch-spiked Gelatin whipped cream adapted from Indulge with Mimi

Timing note: the pastry base, cake layers, cherry compote and first batch of whipped cream must be made the day before serving, assembled, and refrigerated overnight. The cake can be decorated on the day of serving. The finished cake will keep in the fridge for five days.

Ingredients
For the pastry base
65 grams plain flour
5 grams Dutch unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch baking powder
25 grams caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 packet vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon Kirsch
40 grams unsalted butter, softened
For the chocolate sponge
3 eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tartar
80 grams caster sugar
50 grams plain flour
15 grams Dutch unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting the tin
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
8 grams unsalted butter
20 millilitres full-fat milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cherry compote
1 cup frozen pitted sour cherries
40 grams caster sugar
15 grams cornflour
1 teaspoon Kirsch (optional)
For the whipped cream filling
1.5 teaspoons powdered gelatin
30 millilitres water
375 millilitres full fat cream
1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon Kirsch
To assemble
1-2 tablespoons Kirsch
For the whipped cream topping
1.5 teaspoons powdered gelatin
30 millilitres water
375 millilitres full fat cream
1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon Kirsch
To decorate
8-12 glacé cherries
1/4 cup chocolate flakes

Method
To make the pastry base, preheat the oven to 200C. Spray the base and sides of a 20cm cake tin with cooking spray, and line the base with a circle of baking paper.
Mix all the ingredients together until combined, and then press evenly into the base of the tin. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until dry on top and cooked. (It will still be a little soft when hot, and crisp up when hot). Keep an eye on it because it burns quickly! Remove from the oven and allow to cool and firm up before turning out onto a wire rack.
To make the chocolate sponge, preheat the oven to 170C fan. Spray the inside of a 20cm cake tin with cooking spray, line the base with a circle of baking paper, and dust the sides with a little extra cocoa powder.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk just under high for approx. 3 minutes, or until stiff and creamy and glossy. Still whisking, gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a very stiff meringue. (This should take about 3 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare the dry ingredients and the butter/milk mixture. Place the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
Heat the butter and milk in a saucepan until just boiled, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside and allow to cool to warm.
Once all the sugar has been incorporated into the egg whites, add the egg yolks and whip on medium for about 5 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and use a spatula to scrape any mixture off the whisk into the bowl. (No tapping the whisk on the bowl or you'll lose volume!)
Sieve half the dry ingredients over the mixture and gently fold in with a balloon whisk. Sieve and fold in the remaining flour.
Pour the milk mixture around the edge and gently fold in with the whisk until fully combined (but still fluffy!) Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, and even out the stop with a spatula.
Bake for 12-18 minutes or until the cake is beginning to shrink from the edges of the pan and the top bounces back when gently pressed.
Cool the cake in the tin for 2 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, flip the cake onto a cooling rack and remove the baking paper. Allow to cool completely for 40 minutes. Once cold, use a serrated knife to slice horizontally into half. Set aside.
To make the cherry compote, place the frozen cherries and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat until the cherries are defrosted and the sugar has dissolved into the juices. Strain out the cherries and set aside. Measure the liquid - you want 125 millilitres (1/4 cup measure). If you have too much, discard the remainder. If you don't have enough liquid, top it up with water.
Whisk the cornflour into the liquid and cook over a medium heat, whisking all the while, until thickened. Remove from the heat, stir in the cherries and tip the mixture into a shallow bowl to cool completely.
To make the whipped cream filling, place the water in a small heatproof jug. Sprinkle over the gelatin and allow to bloom for 5 minutes. Fill a heatproof bowl (large enough to fit the jug) with hot water from the kettle and gently place the jug inside. Stir occasionally and allow the gelatin to melt. Once it's liquid, remove from the hot water bath and allow to cool on the counter until it's cool but still liquid.
Place the cream and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium-high. Once the cream is starting to thicken, continue whisking and gently pour the gelatin in in a steady stream. By now the cream should be airy and thick. Turn off the mixer and fold in the kirsch. Set aside.
To assemble, spray the inside of a 20cm springform cake tin with cooking spray and line with two long pieces of clingfilm, set perpendicular to each other, and with enough overhang to enclose the finished cake. Place one cake round (cut side up) into the tin. Brush with 1/2-1 tablespoon kirsch.
Spoon in approx. half of the whipped cream and even out the top. Place the next cake round into the tin (I suggest cut side down but it doesn't really matter) and brush with 1/2-1 tablespoon Kirsch.
Spoon in another generous scoop of whipped cream (you may not need it all, depends on the height of your springform) and spread out. It should be thinner than the first layer, and you want to make a 2cm border around the edge. Stir the sour cherry compote to soften it up and place it inside the whipped cream border. Finally, place the chocolate pastry base on top and snuggle it down. Wrap the cake up with the clingfilm overhang so it's completely covered. Weigh it down with something small (a plate, tupperware container, a sealed Fleischwurst sausage etc.) Refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to decorate the cake, make another batch of whipped cream for the topping, using the same instructions as the whipped cream for the filling. Place 2/3 of the cream into a piping bag fitted with a 15 millimetre star nozzle. 
Remove the cake from the fridge, unwrap the clingfilm on the bottom and place the cake and tin onto a serving plate. Unclip the sides of the springform tin and gently remove it, followed by the base. Peel off the clingfilm. Tear off 3-4 pieces of baking paper and snuggle them under the cake (to protect the cake plate from splodges. Pipe vertical lines of whipped cream all around the sides of the cake, then smooth with a cake scraper or offset spatula. Dollop a large scoop of the remaining, unbagged, whipped cream onto the top of the cake and smooth out with a scraper or offset spatula. Pipe 8 or 12 rosettes evenly around the border of the cake (one rosette for each slice). Sprinkle chocolate flakes on the top of the cake inside the rosettes. Dot each rosette with a single glacé cherry and marvel at your creation.
Allow to set in the fridge for an hour or so before slicing and serving. It will keep well in the fridge for up to five days.
Makes 1 x 20cm Black Forest cake / Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, serves 8-12

Have you made this recipe? Leave a comment below! Tag me on Instagram @sarahcooksblog and hashtag #sarahcooksblog

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4 comments

  1. "I'm obviously not German, but (Borat voice) my wife is, and on our numerous trips back home over the years, I have eaten more than my fair share of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte from a variety of bakeries throughout the Hesse / Baden-Wuttenburg / Rheinland-Pfalz regions and beyond, and discussed them in great detail with my in-laws and extended family, and I feel that I have a pretty good handle on what makes a proper Black Forest cake. And if being part of a German family for the past 14 years has taught me anything, it's that it is important to have Very Strong Opinions on how food should be, and to express said opinions very forthrightly at every available opportunity."

    I love this whole paragraph, but they whole thing was a delight to read.

    This looks amazing. As a huge fan of (probably non-traditional Black Forest cake) I am going to have to try my had at this one day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank-you so much Wes, I really appreciate it! Look, BFC is always delicious - even the non traditional versions - choc and cherry together, you can't go wrong! :)

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  2. Sarah, this cake looks STUNNING. I loooove black forest cake and was interested to read your observations about the differences between German and more local cake styles. How lovely that you were able to use your father-in-law's kirsch in this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank-you so so so much!! I appreciate you reading the long and winding post, haha :)

      Delete

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