Birthday Cake Club: Black Forest Cake
A revival of this retro chocolate cherry cake.
Today I am sharing my take on the classic Black Forest Cake. It has four layers of chocolate sponge cake, a thickened sour cherry filling, and pillowy whipped cream frosting. If you like cherry and chocolate but in a lighter, not so decadent dessert, then this one's for you!
This is not my first time creating a Black Forest Cake. I fumbled the opportunity when it appeared in my cookbook, Layered. Using a dense chocolate cake, fresh cherries folded into chocolate ganache, and frosted with chocolate buttercream, it is decidedly a chocolate cherry cake but not a Black Forest Cake.
I now uphold these non-negotiables in a Black Forest Cake:
Layers of light, soft chocolate sponge cake
Jarred cherries - sour not sweet
Whipped cream frosting
A true Black Forest Cake should have a discerning amount of kirsch (cherry brandy), but I’m not mad if it’s replaced by cherry syrup or simple syrup (this type of sponge cake requires it).
Most Black Forest Cakes are coated with chocolate shavings. This is where mine differs, so I will leave the decorations up to you.
Bake Club is a reader-supported publication. Get every new recipe and access to the entire archive by subscribing today!
A bit of history:
Black Forest Cake, or Schwarzwalder Kirschtore, is named after the sour cherry brandy that is distilled in southwestern Germany. The Black Forest is the largest continuous forest in the mountain region of that part of the country.
While the recipe for Black Forest Cake didn’t appear in print until 1934 in the German cookbook 250 Konditorei-Spezialitaten, it started making the rounds in local cafes about a decade before. The origins are debated, but it is now one of the most well known cakes in the world.
Black Forest Cake made its way to the United State in the early 1960’s. It was widely adopted - sometimes with liberties taken on the type of chocolate cake and cherries used (many call for cherry pie filling).
The vision of dark cake contrasted with layers of light cream and striking cherry accents makes this cake perfect for all types of celebrations. Black Forest Cake has an elegant but unfussy way about it, which no doubt led to its popularity.
About the sponge cake:
Did you notice that there is no baking powder or baking soda in this recipe? This type of sponge cake gets all of its lifting power from whipped eggs. The eggs are heated gently with the sugar before whipping to strengthen their expanded web of protein so that the whipped eggs don’t immediately deflate.
A genoise cake is a type of sponge cake made rich with egg yolks and a bit of butter. They are purposefully bland with the intention of soaking up sweet or flavored syrup.
Often used in more European-style cakes and tortes, genoise cakes are super soft. They work extremely well with lighter fillings (think about pairing a sponge cake + whipped cream versus a dense carrot cake with thick cream cheese) and remain fluffy even after refrigeration.
About the cherries:
For a Black Forest Cake, the cherries should be jarred. They should be sour, just like those distilled for the kirsch. While I am totally guilty of it too, they should not be fresh nor candy pink.
If you find a jar of cherries labeled Morello cherries, pick those.
About the whipped cream:
I envisioned piping puffy borders of cherry-colored cream from the start, and needed whipped cream that would not deflate or lose its shape. This whipped cream is stabilized with gelatin and allowed me to stack this soft cake 4-layers high without worry.
I hoped that some of the leftover cherry juice would add enough color, but ended up adding a bit of gel food coloring to make the dusty, pale cherry color.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial