Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)

(jump to recipe)

Considering the fact that I have promised my husband that I’ll be making the traditional Black Forest Cake for his birthday every year, I guess I’ll get plenty of opportunities to do a long post about this in the years to come. Given the specific parameters of this week, I’m going to have to stick with the short format.

What parameters, you ask? I baked this cake in a very rushed manner, in a cluttered kitchen full of dinner prep and in-progress dish cleaning, and in highly sub-optimal lighting conditions (not one decent picture). I assembled and frosted the cake in various stages spread over several hours, in between late evening meetings and a hundred other things to cross off my “this needs to be done yesterday” list.

Before you start thinking that all I make is excuses, let’s talk about cake! Variations of the traditional German “Black Forest Cake” (or “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte” in its native German tongue) are available in some format all over the world, really. It’s quite unlikely that you’ve never heard about it, wherever you are! It’s basically a type of German Chocolate Torte: sturdy chocolate sponge cake soaked in Kirsch (Cherry-infused Brandy) and chopped pitted cherries, stacked one over the other with Kirsch-infused whipped cream in between and all around. It is then covered in an avalanche of bittersweet chocolate shards and topped with whole, pitted cherries for garnish (and a “forest” appearance). The cake isn’t named after the German “Black Forest” mountains themselves, but after the Cherry liquor made from the dark, tart cherries found in the region, which lends itself beautifully to the cream and chocolate combination.

I grew up eating this often in India, and remember it as a moist and rich cake, albeit overly sweet (if I think about it now). More often than not, the Indian version uses Golden Rum instead of the Kirsch, and most typically, basic sugar syrup is used. I don’t believe the Indian version soaks the cake layers in chopped cherries either, but I may be wrong about this. Suffice it to say that it didn’t really project that cherry+chocolate combination front-and-center, and the overdose of overly sweetened whipped cream didn’t help matters either. As a result, it went in the “not so memorable desserts” category for me.

But not for my husband!

Around this time last year we were dating and he mentioned that the Black Forest Cake is his most favorite cake, ever. As a baker with a giant ego, I had to bake this cake for his birthday, only I had never baked it before and was on the lookout for the authentic recipe – one that involves heaps of cherries, is easy on the whipped cream (which is barely sweetened) and uses lots of bittersweet chocolate for contrast. And of course, Kirsch! I stumbled on this recipe and immediately bookmarked it!

I ended up making the recipe as is, the full-size version (2 9-inch cake layers) and it was absolutely divine! Only it took days for us to finish, even with sharing. And as all husbands probably are (I’m still learning), I still had to hear “it’s a bit dry”, or “it’s almost as good as Monginis!” (Monginis is a famous bakery in India). Nevertheless, I dared to make it again this year.

This time around I wanted to make something smaller and more compatible with a weeknight-party-of-2 (in which 1 of the parties doesn’t consume dairy, so really party-of-1), so I adjusted the recipe to halve it, and made it in 2 6-inch cake pans instead.

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Since I was really pressed for time, I wasn’t able to do the chocolate “shards” this time around so I settled for little curls of bittersweet chocolate (it’s more like rubble and dust in some parts, but hey – we are going for the “forest” look so its okay). And of course, fresh cherries are still months out so I used thoroughly drained cocktail cherries for the garnish. Inside the cake though I used thawed, frozen cherries (the ones in Whole Foods claim to be frozen at their peak, and so far I don’t doubt it).

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This isn’t the prettiest cake I’ve ever made but it definitely may be one of the most delicious ones. And the intended audience doesn’t seem to notice the imperfections. Seeing as I went from 2 9-inch rounds to 2 6-inch rounds in one year, I’m guessing next year I’ll be doing a cupcake version of these, and probably a Black Forest Cake Sundae the year after! I’ll have to check how this will sit with my whole “contract” with the husband.

• Recipe •

Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) (adapted slightly from Natasha’s Kitchen)

Makes 1 6-inch double layered Black Forest Cake

For the Cake Layers

5 large Eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated Sugar (not powdered or icing sugar)
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour (I used King Arthurs and it’s the best!)
1/4 cup unsweetened Cocoa Powder (Hershey’s or Ghirardelli’s)
2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted then and cooled to room temperature (in liquid state)
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Equipment

Two 6 inch cake pans
Parchment paper sheets (2), cut into 6 inch rounds
Flour sifter or fine sieve

For the Filling

2 cups (8 oz) bing cherries, pitted, roughly chopped (save the juices if using thawed, frozen cherries)
12 whole cherries for final garnish (you can use Maraschino cherries if fresh, plump cherries aren’t available, just be sure to drain them out on paper towels or else they’ll bleed all over the frosting)
1 1/2 tablespoons Kirsch (a cherry-infused brandy available in most Liquor stores and also in Whole Foods)
Few tablespoons of cold water, if needed

For the Frosting

2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1/4 cup Confectioners/Powdered Sugar (not granulated)
1 1/2 teaspoons Kirsch (a cherry-infused brandy available in most Liquor stores and also in Whole Foods)
2 oz good quality dark chocolate

Bake the Cake Layers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottoms of cake pans with parchment (don’t grease bottoms or sides of the pan or the parchment sheets). Do not use Wax Paper as a substitute for Parchment Paper!

Beat eggs with the beater attachment of a stand mixer for 1 min on High speed.

Lower the speed to Medium, and with the mixer on, add the granulated sugar. Once mixed in, increase the speed to High and continue beating for a full 8 minutes. The batter should look pale yellow and fluffy.

Whisk together the flour and the cocoa powder and sift in thirds into batter, folding with a wooden or rubber spatula between each addition. Do not use the mixer for this. Without deflating the batter, mix untill no streaks of the flour remain, check the bottom of the bowl to be sure! Do not over mix, or the cake will become tough and not remain spongy (which is very important since it has to absorb all that Kirsch!)

Gently fold in the vanilla and stream in the butter, folding as you go and scraping from the bottom to the top. Fold just until mixed, and be careful not to over mix just to make the batter appear more uniform.

Divide batter equally between two prepared cake pans and bake for 18-20, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in the pans for about 10 min, and then run a rubber spatula around edges to loosen the cakes. Transfer to a cooling rack, carefully discard the parchment paper (it should come off easily), and let the cakes cool completely.

Using a long, serrated knife or a cake splitter, carefully slice the cakes in half (you will have 4 thin discs of cake total). Set aside.

Make the Syrup

Place the cherries in a small bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons of Kirsch. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, stirring a few times in between, then drain cherries in a sieve over a bowl.

Save the syrup in a measuring cup and add few tablespoons of cold water to it to get about 1/2 cup of syrup total.

Make the Whipped Cream frosting

When making Whipped Cream, its best to freeze the mixer bowl and whisk attachment for 15-30 min before using.

Beat the heavy cream with whisk attachment on High speed until soft peaks form (about 2 minutes). Add the powdered sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons Kirsch and beat on High until stiff and spreadable (another 2 minutes). Refrigerate until ready to use and even when using, returning to the fridge often so that the whipped cream remains chilled and stiff.

Don’t toss the whisk attachment in the sink just yet, you may need re-whip the frosting while using, in case it starts deflating or warming up.

Assemble the Cake

Spread a couple of tablespoons of the frosting on the cake stand (or the plate) on which you plan to assemble the cake.

Place first cake layer on a cake stand and brush with a quarter of the syrup (couple of tablespoons) using a pastry brush. Cover top with about 1/3 cup frosting and spread evenly (leave a 1/4 inch border because the top layers will weigh down on the bottom layer and push the frosting and syrup out, possibly coloring it). Top with one-third of the chopped cherries.

Repeat with remaining 3 layers and top with the flattest layer.

Transfer about a cup of the frosting to a pastry bag with a large flower tip and refrigerate until ready to use.

On the cake stand, fill the gaps along the sides of cake with the remaining frosting, and then frost the top and sides. Be careful not to dab or press on the soaked cake layers, as that will [unintentionally] color the frosting cherry-red in parts.

I didn’t make the chocolate shards this time but I did the previous time, it’s totally worth the extra effort. For these, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave (in 30 second bursts, stirring in between so as to not burn it), spread it thin over the back of a baking sheet. Refrigerate for 10 minutes and once set hard, use a bench scraper or thin spatula to create bark-like shavings of different shapes and sizes. Be sure to return this to the fridge often as the heat from your hands will warm the chocolate and you’ll have a mess on your hands (and not the good kind). You will also have nothing to put on the cake! This is the more authentic way. Alternatively, you can use a peeler to shave a chunk of chocolate into peels or curls.

Cover sides and top of cake with chocolate shavings leaving a 1 inch border on top to pipe 12 blobs (or tall flowers) of frosting, as a base for each whole cherry (garnish). The decoration for this cake is more rustic so don’t worry if its not absolutely perfect.

Refrigerate the assembled cake for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight) before serving chilled.

2 thoughts on “Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)

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