What’s in a Black Forest cake?

This impressive dessert gâteau never goes out of fashion.

(Photo: Andrew Finlayson)

Andrew Finlayson

Schwarzwälder kirschtorte doesn’t get its name from the Black Forest itself, but rather from Schwarzwälder kirschwasser or kirsch, the clear cherry brandy made in that region of south-west Germany. It’s typically used to spike the whipped cream and the dark-chocolate sponge that’s stacked in layers, sandwiching the cream and boozy cherries.

It all makes for an impressive dessert gâteau, and while there are variations of the Black Forest cake in presentation and ingredients – brandy and cherry juice in lieu of kirsch, for instance, or the addition of chocolate mousse or ganache – cherries, usually sour, chocolate and cream are non-negotiable.

1. The sponge

A light dark-chocolate sponge is the key to Black Forest cake, keeping in mind that it needs to be strong enough to hold its shape. The aeration in the sponge comes from cornflour and egg whites, whisked to soft peaks before Dutch cocoa or melted dark chocolate is folded in. Preserved cherries are then studded through the batter once it’s in the tin. For a boozier cake (and to ensure it won’t dry out) brush the layers with kirsch before assembly.

2. The cream

Fresh cream whipped with icing sugar and a healthy splash of kirsch is classic, but pastry chef and GT contributor Catherine Adams suggests using a mix of meringue and cream, finished with a dash of kirsch (of course) instead. This makes for a richer cake with weightier white layers.

3. The cherries

Jarred sour morello cherries are the way to go, especially France’s Griottines – wild morello cherries soaked in a blend of liqueurs, including kirsch. In season, fresh cherries could go in the mix, too, perhaps after soaking them yourself. Either way, they’re a key element, so aim for quality.

4. The toppings

Once the layers are assembled, which can be done in a springform cake tin, it’s topping time. Form curls of dark chocolate by shaving them from a cold block with a vegetable peeler or melt dark chocolate, smear it on a tray, let it cool, then scrape the hard chocolate with a sharp knife. Pile on the rest of that kirsch-spiked cream, and more cherries never go astray.

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