Featuring layers of chocolate cake filled with cherries and fresh whipped cream, the Black Forest Cake is a classic (and delicious) dessert!
As a Roman history buff, I’m familiar with the Black Forest region in southwestern Germany. The Romans called the Black Forest ‘Silva Nigra’ (literally ‘the dark woods’), and the Roman legions viewed this area as a place to avoid. Germany represented the far reaches of the Roman empire during the time of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD), and the barbaric Germanic tribes caused quite a bit of trouble for the Roman expansion efforts. (Indeed, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, located north of the Black Forest region, led to the massacre of 3 entire Roman legions.) But for all of the Romans’ warnings to avoid the Black Forest, it is actually quite a wonderful place to visit!
Back at the end of June, Laura and I had the chance to take a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine river. We traveled with my mother as well as my sister and her husband. Noticeably missing from that list: Robbie. We left Robbie at home with Laura’s parents (my sister did the same with her daughter), and we took an adult vacation. It was the first time we had left Robbie without one of us around, and we were certainly nervous…but he did great! He loved spending solo time with his Grammy and Pops, and we loved the chance to relax a bit. (We missed the little guy something fierce, but it was nice to vacation like adults!)
But back to our river cruise. I’d never been on a cruise before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Blown away doesn’t even begin to describe that experience! We sailed from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, and I seriously could take the same trip again. This was an incredible trip, and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of doing a river cruise. We were blown away by the staff and service on the Viking Lofn (our boat was named after the Norse goddess of comfort), and it was great to spend time with my family as we wandered through the Rhine River valley.
I’ve got a bunch of fun recipes lined up in the coming months featuring different stops along this vacation, and first up is the Black Forest. (Actually, I’m doing this in backwards order as we visited the Black Forest on our last full day of vacation. But I really wanted to try my hand at making an authentic Black Forest Cake, so this post got slipped up to the front!) The Black Forest is a picturesque region of wooded mountains and gorgeous valleys…and it’s also home to cuckoo clocks in addition to Black Forest Cake.
On our visit, we took a coach from our boat up to Hofgut Sternen, a small town high in the mountains of the Black Forest. In town, we watched a short demo of how cuckoo clocks are made, and then we made our way downstairs to learn more about Black Forest Cake. Yes, we totally shipped a cuckoo clock back home from the Black Forest, and it’s hanging in our family room. Robbie loves to yell “CUCKOO” at the top of his lungs every time the bird pops out! And, yes, we totally ate a slice of Black Forest Cake in the Black Forest. I mean, when in Rome, right?
While nibbling on our slice of cake, Laura and I shared a small glass of kirsch. What exactly is kirsch? It’s a colorless brandy made from the Morello cherries which are common in this part of Germany. Unlike other liqueurs, kirsch is not sweet. In fact, the guy doing the demo of the Black Forest Cake gave us a glass of kirsch and a glass of cherry brandy. He told us “One is for when you wake up, and the other one is for later.” We asked which was which, and he just told us “You’ll find out.” I’m pretty sure the sweet cherry brandy was meant to be the ‘wake-up’ one, although I’m not quite sure. I’ve since learned that kirsch is typically served ice cold as an after-dinner digestif. Those crazy Germans with their brandy for breakfast!
Either way, kirsch is a strong, but unique liqueur. I’m not sure I’ll be pouring another glass of it anytime soon, but it is an essential component of an authentic Black Forest Cake…so use it! (Side note: Kirsch, also known as kirschwasser, is fairly easy to find at large liquor stores here in the States. I found a small bottle in the cordials/mixers section, and it wasn’t too expensive at all.) And, yes, the tiny amount of kirsch in the cherry filling absolutely lends a noticeable flavor in the finished version of the cake. It’s not there just for show! (If you’re worried about the alcohol, I’m guessing it all boils out as you make the cherry filling.)
But finally, the cake itself. Black Forest Cake features a mixture of cherries and whipped cream sandwiched between layers of chocolate cake. The recipe below is directly from Hofgut Sternen, but I’ve included a couple of baking notes from my first attempt at making this cake here at home. Most noticeably, most of the cherry filling should go on the bottom layer of cake. If you put too much weight on the upper layers of cake, it will push the filling from the bottom layer out. Then you’ll have a mess on your hands. I speak from experience here. (This Black Forest Cake almost became a Black Forest Trifle, but I managed to salvage it!)
If you’re looking for a fun dessert, then this Black Forest Cake should go on your list! It’s chocolate. And cherries. And whipped cream. How can you go wrong there? And if you ever get the chance to visit the Black Forest region in southwestern Germany, do it!
This post was inspired by our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River. Click below for other posts inspired by this trip!
Days 1+2: Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Ontbijtkoek)
Day 3: Cologne, Germany (2-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream)
Day 4: Middle Rhine, Germany (Rüdesheim Coffee)
Day 5: Heidelberg, Germany (Flammkuchen)
Day 6: Strasbourg, France (Pain d’Epices)
Day 7: Black Forest, Germany (Black Forest Cake)
Black Forest Cake
For the Cake
- 2 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
For the Cherries and Whipped Cream
- 2 20-oz. cans pitted sour cherries (see note)
- 1 Tbsp kirschwasser see note
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- ⅓ cup powdered sugar
- chocolate bar
- maraschino cherries
For the Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease and flour (2) 9” round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper and set pans aside.
- Using a large bowl, add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla extract; stir until well combined.
- Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and stir until just combined.
- Divide batter evenly into the 2 prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 32-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool for 10 minutes before turning out of pans. Place cakes on cooling rack until completely cool.
For the Cherries and Whipped Cream
- Drain cherries, reserving ½ cup of liquid.
- Using a 2-quart saucepan, combine cherries, ½ cup of liquid, kirschwasser, sugar and cornstarch. Stir until well combined and place over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, for 10-12 minutes, or until sauce has thickened noticeably into a gel-like consistency. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Set sauce aside to cool completely before using.
- Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, whip the whipping cream and powdered sugar together until stiff peaks form. Remove 1½ cups of whipped cream and set aside for decorating cake.
- Using a long knife, slice each layer of cake horizontally into 2 layers. (This will produce a total of 4 thin layers of cake.)
- Using a medium bowl, crumble one of the four layers apart into crumbs; set aside.
- Place one layer of cake on a large platter. Spread 1½ cups of cherry filling on top, then spread 1 cup of whipped cream on top. Repeat process with the second layer of cake, using ½ cup of filling and another 1 cup of whipped cream. Finally, place third layer of cake on top.
- Frost top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (Note: Do not use the reserved whipped cream from above yet.) Pat reserved crumbs into the sides of the cake.
- Using a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, garnish the top of the cake using the reserved whipped cream from above.
- Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, grate chocolate into curls and shards on top of the cake. Garnish with maraschino cherries.