Black Forest gâteau and Black Forest cake are the English names for the German dessert Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (pronounced [ˈʃvaʁt͡svɛldɐ ˈkɪʁʃˌtɔʁtə]), literally “Black Forest cherry-torte”, where it originated.
Typically, Black Forest gateau consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and cherries. It is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings. In some European traditions, sour cherries are used both between the layers and for decorating the top. Traditionally, kirschwasser, a clear spirit made from sour cherries, is added to the cake. Other spirits are sometimes used, such as rum, which is common in Austrian recipes. In India, Black Forest cake is generally prepared without alcohol. German law mandates that kirschwasser must be present in the cake for it to be labelled a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. True Black Forest gâteaus are decorated with black cherries.
The dessert is not directly named after the Black Forest mountain range in southwestern Germany but rather from the specialty liquor of that region, known as Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) and distilled from tart cherries. This is the ingredient, with its distinctive cherry pit flavour and alcoholic content, that gives the dessert its flavour. Cherries, cream, and Kirschwasser were first combined in the form of a dessert in which cooked cherries were served with cream and Kirschwasser, while a cake combining cherries, cookies / biscuits and cream (but without Kirschwasser) probably originated in Germany.
The confectioner Josef Keller (de) (1887–1981) claimed to have invented Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte in its present form in 1915 at the then prominent Café Agner in Bad Godesberg, now a suburb of Bonn about 500 km north of the Black Forest. This claim, however, has never been substantiated.
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte was first mentioned in writing in 1934. At the time it was particularly associated with Berlin but was also available from high-class confectioners in other German, Austrian, and Swiss cities. In 1949 it took 13th place in a list of best-known German cakes, and since that time Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte has become world-renowned.
The record for the world’s largest authentic Black Forest gâteau was set at Europa Park, Germany on 16 July 2006, by K&U Bakery. Measuring nearly 80 m² and weighing 3,000 kg, the cake, which was 10 m in diameter, used up 700 L of cream, 5,600 eggs, 800 kg of cherries, 40 kg of chocolate shavings, and 120 l of Kirsch. On 9 December 2012, a team led by chefs Jörg Mink and Julien Bompard made Asia’s biggest Black Forest cake at the S-One Expo in Singapore. The 500-kg cake was made from 165 L of cream, 1,500 eggs, 68 kg of cherries, 60 kg of chocolate shavings, and 10 L of Kirsch.
Swedish “Black Forest cake”
A Swedish cake called Schwarzwaldtårta is related to the traditional Black Forest gâteau only by name. It consists of layers of meringue with whipped cream in between. The whole cake is also covered with whipped cream and decorated with chocolate.
- 175 g butter, plus extra for greasing
- 75 g dark chocolate
- 300 g plain flour
- 375 g raw caster sugar
- 25 g cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 medium eggs
- 200 g buttermilk (or natural yoghurt)
- 425 g can pitted cherry, 2 tablespoons juice reserved, rest drained
- 100 g morello cherry jam (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons kirsch (or more juice from a can if you want it to be non-alcoholic)
- 500 ml double cream
- 3 tablespoons icing sugar
- 1 small punnet fresh cherries (optional)
- Heat oven to 180°C. Grease and line the base of 3 x 20cm cake tins. Boil the kettle. Put the butter and chocolate broken into chunks in a small pan and gently heat, stirring, until completely melted.
- Mix together the flour, raw caster sugar, cocoa and baking soda with a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk (or yoghurt) together. Scrape the melted chocolate mixture and egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add 100 ml boiling water and whizz briefly with an electric whisk until the cake batter is lump free.
- Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25 minutes, swapping the tins round after 20 minutes if they’re on different shelves. To test they're done, push in a skewer and check that it comes out clean.
- Prick the cakes a few times with a skewer. Mix together the 2 tablespoon reserved cherry juice and the kirsch (or more juice) and drizzle over the cakes. Cool the cakes.
- Mix together the remaining drained cherries and jam.
- When the cakes are cool whisk the remaining cream and the icing sugar together until softly whipped. Spread over two of the cakes, then spoon over the jam/cherries mixture. Stack the cakes together. Spread the remaining cream over the third cake and sit on top of the other cakes. Decorate with the fresh cherries and serve.