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Black Forest Cake is a traditional German dessert made with chocolate sponge cake layers filled with whipped cream and cherries. This delicious cake recipe is completely made from scratch and perfect for special occasions!
Being born in Germany this cake was always one of my favorite desserts! It is served at every special family occasion and always a hit! Even now living in Canada we love serving German food for special occasions like this beautiful cake or our German Apple Cake, German Cucumber Salad, or Homemade Spaetzle.
Black Forest Cake is probably the most famous German Cake! Made with three layers of light and fluffy chocolate cake that are topped with homemade cherry filling and fresh whipped cream, this cake is a showstopper.
What is Black Forest Cake?
Black Forest Cake or Black Forest Gateau is a chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with a rich cherry filling and whipped cream. It is usually decorated with more whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and whole cherries.
Where did black forest cake come from
It comes from Germany where it is known as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. The dessert is named after the specialty liquor known as Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) of the Black Forest mountain range in southwestern Germany which gives the dessert its distinctive flavor.
How to make Black Forest Cake from scratch
The base for this cake is a fluffy chocolate sponge cake that gets its special texture from whipped egg whites. The egg whites make the cake rise and fluffy.
In order to keep as many tiny air bubbles in the batter as possible, the dry ingredients are sifted and carefully folded in with a spatula. Using an electric mixer or hand whisk would destroy the air bubbles and make the cake dense and compact.
You might ask why not bake the layers in separate pans but this would also alter the texture because the top and bottom of a cake are usually drier.
Using a serrated bread knife is the easiest way to cut the cake into three layers. Try to hold the knife as horizontal as possible and work slowly. Use a piece of cardboard or a special cake board to lift the layers off. This makes it also easier to transfer the layers back when you assemble the cake.
How to make cream for black forest cake
You will need a lot of whipped cream for this cake. I use a KitchenAid Professional so whipping up 4 cups of heavy cream is no problem. But if you’re using a smaller stand mixer or hand mixer it will be best to whip the cream in two batches.
The higher the fat content of the cream the better it will whip up. Heavy whipping cream usually has a fat percentage of 35% which works best. If you have difficulties getting the cream to stiffen up I recommend putting the whisk and bowl in the freezer for about an hour and making sure that the heavy cream is cold. Check out my post on how to make homemade whipped cream for more tips and tricks!
What can be used instead of kirsch?
Traditionally, Kirschwasser (also known as just kirsch) is added to the cake. In Germany, the law mandates that kirsch needs to be in the cake for it to be labeled a Black Forest Cake.
But if you don’t have kirsch or can’t use alcohol just leave it out and use some juice from the jarred cherries or extra cherry juice.
How to Assemble Black Forest Cake
I love the cherry filling in a Black Forest Cake, normally there is only one layer of the filling but because it is my family’s favorite part I double it. Some recipes just use whole cherries instead of the traditional cherry filling that you usually find in Germany, I prefer the cooked filling because it holds up longer and doesn’t bleed into the cream.
Steps to assemble a Black Forest Cake
- First cake layer: Use the layer that was the top while baking. This way you can use the bottom that is more even on top. Put a cake ring (or the ring from the springform pan) around the cake to make assembling easier and assemble the cake on a cake platter because transferring it would be difficult.
- Drizzle with cherry juice or kirsch and top with half of the cherry filling: Leave a 1-inch border to the edge of the cake so the cherries don’t ooze out.
- Top with 1/4 of the whipped cream: Use an offset spatula to smooth out the cream
- Repeat Steps 1., 2., and 3. Use the middle cake layer in the middle
- Top with the cake layer that was the bottom while baking, smooth side up and spread 1/3 of the remaining whipped cream on top
- Remove springform ring and spread the remaining cream with a spatula around the sides of the cake until completely covered in whipped cream.
How to decorate black forest cake at home
Slide two pieces of parchment cake under the cake from opposite sides. This keeps the serving platter clean. Decorate sides of the cake with grated chocolate. Use a spoon or your hands to lightly press chocolate shaving onto the sides.
Then pipe 16 swirls (1 for each piece) of whipped cream on top. Start with two swirls opposite each other and so on, for a symmetrical look. Garnish a circle in the middle of the cake with remaining grated chocolate. Put a cherry on top of each cream swirl and refrigerate the cake until serving.
To decorate the cake I use fresh cherries with stems and pit (look great but harder to eat) or more jarred sour cherries (juice will bleed into the cream after a short time, so wait until just before serving). I’m not a fan of the sugary maraschino cherries you can find in the cake decoration aisle but those could be used too.
Should black forest cake be refrigerated?
Yes, a Black Forest Cake should always be refrigerated because of the whipped cream.
Can you make this cake ahead of time?
Yes, you can! You can make it 1 day in advance and store it in the fridge. It tastes best on the first and second day, after that it still tastes great but the texture of the cream will start to change.
What I like to do is to bake the sponge cake a day or two in advance, let it cool completely, wrap it in plastic wrap, and store it at room temperature. It will be easier to cut into layers after a day. Then make the cherry filling and whipped cream the night before and assemble the cake.
A Black Forest Cake does NOT freeze well because of the whipped cream. But you could freeze the chocolate sponge cake itself tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.
Reasons why your sponge cake might have turned out flat, collapsed after baking or is dense and compact
- Not enough air incorporated: Make sure to beat the egg yolk sugar mixture until thick and pale and don’t overbeat the egg whites. You want to have as many tiny air bubbles as possible because they act as a leaving agent.
- Stirring instead of folding: The egg yolk mixture or the flour mixture was stirred into the egg whites and not gently folded with a spatula or spoon. Stirring the mixture makes the tiny air bubbles which make the cake fluffy and act as a leaving agent pop.
- Greasing the sides of the baking pan: Don’t line the sides of the pan with parchment paper or grease it! Only the bottom of the pan should be lined with parchment paper. The sponge will not rise during baking or collapse after taking it out of the oven if the sides of the pan are greased because the batter will slide down.
- Waiting too long to bake: The sponge cake needs to be baked immediately after folding in the flour mixture. Letting it sit out for too long makes the air bubbles pop.
- Oven temperature too low: The sponge won’t rise if the oven is too cold or it wasn’t properly preheated.
- Oven door was opened during baking: Opening the oven door too soon makes the sponge collapse. Wait until the baking time is nearly over before opening the oven door!
- Sponge was not completely baked: If the sponge collapses after taking it out of the oven it might not have been baked long enough. Always test with a skewer for doneness!
Tools and Ingredients Used to make this Cake
Springform Pan: A springform pan works best for this recipe, the ring will also help with assembling the cake
Flour Sifter: This fits right over your bowl and makes sifting so easy and less messy
Cake Ring: I prefer a special cake ring to assemble cakes because it has straight edges
Sour Cherries: Jarred sour cherries in light syrup work best
Black Forest Cake
For the Cake:
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, (see Note 3)
For the Cherry Filling:
- 1 ½ cups cherry juice, (see Note 1)
- 5 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 cups sour cherries, pitted (see Note 1)
- 1/3 cup kirsch, divided (see Note 2) or more cherry juice
For the Whipped Cream:
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 16 fresh cherries
- 4 oz bittersweet Baking chocolate, coarsely grated
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of the stand mixer (no need to clean the bowl) fitted with the paddle attachment, combine egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat at medium speed until thick and creamy. The mixture will change color from yellow to a paler color. Add egg yolk mixture to the egg white mixture and carefully fold it in with a spatula, DON'T stir the mixture.
- Combine all-purpose flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and cocoa powder. Sieve over the egg mixture and fold in carefully until combined.
- Transfer to the springform pan and smooth top with a silicone spatula. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer interested in the center comes out clean with only a few crumbs attached.
- Remove the ring of the springform pan and carefully turn cake onto a parchment paper-lined cooling rack, peel of parchment paper from the bottom and let cool completely.
- When the cake is cooled completely use a serrated bread knife to cut the cake into three even layers.
- To make the cherry filling, remove 4 Tbsp of cherry juice from 1.5 cups of cherry juice and combine it in a small bowl with the cornstarch and sugar. Bring the remaining cherry juice in a small saucepan to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Bring back to a simmer while whisking constantly until it starts to thicken. Whisk in the cherries and remove from heat. Add about half of the kirsch to the cherries or leave it out. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
- To make the whipped cream, beat 4 cups of heavy cream (depending on your mixer you might have to whip the cream in two batchein the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at high speed until soft peaks form. Then add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes longer. The whipped cream should be very stiff and spreadable but be careful not to over-whip it. Refrigerate whipped cream until ready to assemble.
- To assemble the cake, put the cake layer that was the top before on a platter. Put the springform ring (or use a cake ring around it to make it easier to assemble the cake. Drizzle some kirsch (or cherry juice) over the cake, then top with half of the cherry mixture leaving a 1-inch border. Top with about 1/4 of the whipped cream, smoothing it out with a spatula.
- Top with the middle cake layer and repeat drizzling with liquid, topping with cherries and cream. Put third cake layer on top (smooth side up). Set aside about ¾ cup of cream for decoration. Spread 1/3 of the remaining whipped cream on top, then remove springform ring and spread remaining cream with a spatula around the sides of the cake until completely covered in whipped cream.
- Decorate sides of the cake with grated chocolate. Pipe 16 swirls of whipped cream on top and garnish middle of the cake with remaining coarse chocolate. Put a cherry on each cream swirl and refrigerate cake until serving.