The Black Forest cake is a traditional German dessert that is a must for many special occasions, from a wedding anniversary to a birthday celebration. Originating from the Black Forest region in Germany, this cake has been enjoyed by locals and tourists alike for many decades.
It's traditionally served with whipped cream and cherries on top of a chocolate sponge cake that has been soaked in cherry syrup or kirsch. In this blog post, you will learn how to make Black Forest cake at home! By the way, have you already tried my iconic Sacher Torte?
- What is Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)?
- Is it called a Torte, Cake, or Gateau?
- Chocolate sponge cake layers
- Which cocoa powder do I need?
- What cherries should I use?
- What can I use instead of Kirsch?
- Stabilized Whipped Cream
- How to assemble it
- How to decorate it
- How long does it last and how to store it
- Can I freeze it?
- Expert tips for success
- Photo tutorial
- More festive cakes to try
- Recipe and Video
What is Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)?
Black Forest Cherry Cake, or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte as it is called in German, is a traditional German multi-layered chocolate and cherry torte that was first created in the Black Forest region of Germany.
It's known for its chocolate sponge cake layers and whipped cream topped with tart cherries to give it a distinct sweet-tart flavor profile. The taste can be described as richly chocolaty from the dark cocoa powder used in the sponges while still being tart from using tart cherries. The whipped cream frosting gives it a light mouthfeel.
Is it called a Torte, Cake, or Gateau?
In American and British English, you will most often hear the term Black Forest cake followed by Black Forest gateau. Torte and gateau translate as cake but are used differently depending on the origin of the cake recipe or the preparation of the cake layers.
Since this recipe comes from Germany, it is a torte (the German word for cake). In Germany, festively decorated layer cakes filled with frosting are all referred to as torte.
Chocolate sponge cake layers
The authentic cake recipe uses chocolate sponge layers made with a high amount of eggs, very little to no fat, and no other wet ingredients such as milk, buttermilk, sour cream, etc. are used. So it's very different from regular American chocolate cake, which is soft and moist (in German-speaking countries, cakes tend to be drier than their American counterparts).
It makes sense that the chocolate cake layers of a traditional German Black Forest cake are less moist and soft because they are soaked with cherry syrup. If you use regular American chocolate cake layers, the whole cake will end up soggy and fall apart after a short time.
Which cocoa powder do I need?
You need dutch-processed cocoa powder because in Europe this is the type of cocoa you can get in any store. Natural cocoa powder is not available everywhere. So if you read an original German baking recipe that mentions cocoa, then dutch-processed cocoa is what they are usually talking about.
I don't recommend using natural cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa powder needs baking powder to react in your baked goods and natural cocoa powder needs baking soda to react and make your baked goods rise.
So if you swap the dutch-processed cocoa powder for natural cocoa powder, you end up with flat cake layers unless you swap parts of the baking powder for baking soda. But this is not a common practice with this recipe and I advise against it.
What cherries should I use?
You'll need pitted sour cherries (Morello cherries) or red tart cherries in water. The water is being used to make the cherry syrup. If you prefer maraschino cherries, black cherries, or sweet cherries in heavy syrup, keep in mind that the cherry filling will be much sweeter and taste different than the original recipe.
The best substitute for canned sour cherries and canned cherry water is to use fresh or frozen (must be thawed beforehand) cherries and cherry juice. You can use cherry pie filling if you like, but it will taste completely different.
What can I use instead of Kirsch?
The original recipe uses Kirschwasser, a transparent brandy made from Morello cherries, but any cherry liqueur, rum, or brandy will work just as well if you don't have Kirsch available. For a kid-friendly version, use cherry juice instead.
Stabilized Whipped Cream
So that the cake stays in shape for days and the cake layers don't slide off, you need to make stabilized whipped cream. It's just whipping cream whipped until soft peaks form, then sugar is added and whipped until stiff peaks form. The sugar stabilizes the whipped cream frosting and is therefore known as stabilized whipped cream.
How to assemble it
Traditionally, this cake consists of three or four cake layers filled with whipped cream and cherry filling and is decorated with more whipped cream, cherries, and chocolate shavings. The chocolate cake is being baked in one pan and cut into multiple cake layers. The cake is assembled from top to bottom as follows:
- chocolate sponge layer (all layers are soaked in cherry syrup) - top
- cherry filling
- whipped cream
- chocolate sponge layer
- cherry filling
- whipped cream
- chocolate sponge layer - bottom
How to decorate it
Black forest cakes, as they are widely available in bakeries across Germany, are typically covered in a thin layer of whipped cream and then decorated with dark chocolate shavings and topped with pitted or cocktail cherries.
However, feel free to decorate the cake to your liking. My personal preference is the look of a naked cake sprinkled with homemade chocolate curls and fresh cherries on top.
How long does it last and how to store it
The cake will stay fresh for three days if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You shouldn't leave the cake on the counter because of the whipped frosting. Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Can I freeze it?
Yes, you can freeze this chocolate cherry cake. Make sure to chill the cake in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Then place it in the freezer for 1 hour, wrap in plastic foil, and place in freezer bags or containers. It freezes well for up to 3 months. To serve, simply unwrap and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator the night before.
Expert tips for success
- Don't overbake the cake layers. Every oven is different, and I can only provide an average baking time as it will vary from oven to oven.
- This cake is best when baked and assembled one day in advance and kept in the refrigerator overnight before serving. This gives the chocolate cake layers time to soak up the delicious cherry syrup and you will be rewarded with moist cake layers. The whipped cream frosting also needs time to set completely.
Mix the eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla until creamy.
Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and mix just until well combined.
Pour the cake batter into a parchment paper-lined baking pan and bake. Then let cool completely.
In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and canned sour cherry water and set aside. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the canned sour cherry water, kirsch, and sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Once it simmers, add the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens like syrup and covers the back of a spoon.
Pour the syrup over the sour cherries and let it cool completely.
In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the whipping cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Then add the sugar and mix until stiff peaks form. Don't overmix or it will curdle.
Cut the cake twice horizontally so that you have three cake layers. Place the bottom cake layer on a cake turner and brush it with cherry syrup.
Spread with whipped cream and pipe, or spoon an additional ring of whipped cream around the edges. Use about ⅙ of the cream in total. Then spoon half of the sour cherries and syrup on top of the cream but inside the whipped cream ring. The ring ensures that the cherry filling stays in the cake and that no syrup runs out on the sides.
Then spoon more whipped cream onto the cherries and distribute evenly on top. Place the second cake base on top and repeat. Place the third cake layer on top and distribute the remaining whipped cream over the entire cake.
Chill in the refrigerator. Before serving, decorate with chocolate shavings, cherries, and additional whipped cream to your liking.
More festive cakes to try
If you are looking for a show-stopping layer cake for your next anniversary or birthday party, you've come to the right place. I'm sure you will love the following cake ideas.
- Tiramisu Cake
- Galaxy Cake
- Esterházy Torte
- Chocolate Mousse Cake
- Lemon Blueberry Cake
- S'mores Cake
- Cherry Cake
Recipe and Video
Traditional German Black Forest Cake Recipe
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated white sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 vanilla bean* (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- ½ cup dutch-processed cocoa powder, spooned and leveled
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 lbs canned sour cherries in water, drained (don't discard all the water)
- 4 teaspoon cornstarch
- ½ cup water from canned sour cherries, divided
- ¼ cup kirsch
- ⅜ cup granulated white sugar
Whipped cream frosting
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup granulated white sugar
- additional whipped cream, chocolate shaves, and cherries to your liking
- Preheat the oven to 320 °F (160°C). Line the bottom and the sides of a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan with parchment paper and set aside. To line a springform pan with parchment paper, the easiest way is to cut out a circle for the bottom and strips for the sides.
- In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, mix the eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla for about 3 minutes until creamy.
- Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and mix just until well combined, about 1 minute. Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Place the drained sour cherries in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and ¼ cup of the canned sour cherry water and set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring ¼ cup of the canned sour cherry water, kirsch, and sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Once it simmers, add the cornstarch mixture and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens like syrup and covers the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and pour over the sour cherries. Let it cool completely.
- In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the whipping cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the sugar and mix until stiff peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Don't overmix or it will curdle.
- Cut the cake twice horizontally so that you have three cake layers.
- Place the bottom cake layer on a cake turner and brush it with cherry syrup. Spread with whipped cream and spread an additional ring of whipped cream around the edges. Use about ⅙ of the cream in total. Then spoon half of the sour cherries and syrup on top of the cream but inside the whipped cream ring. The ring ensures that the cherry filling stays in the cake and that no syrup runs out on the sides. Then spoon more whipped cream onto the cherries and distribute evenly on top (another ⅙ of the cream, so that now a total of about ⅓ of the cream has been used). Place the second cake layer on top and repeat.
- Place the third cake layer on top and distribute the remaining ⅓ of the whipped cream over the entire cake and around the sides to lightly frost the outside of the cake. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Before serving, decorate with chocolate shavings, cherries, and additional whipped cream to your liking. Store the cake in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.