The Germans are fantastic bakers. I could have chosen from dozens of breads and pastries: pumpernickel, pretzels, seed-filled Vollkornbrot, melt-in-mouth Franzbrötchen and so many more. But I’m a child of the 1960s and I couldn’t resist the German cake of my childhood: the over-the-top architectural construction of chocolate cake, cherries and whipped cream that is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – the Black Forest gâteau.
You need to be careful on this one: most English and American recipes are very sweet. The German recipes have better flavour balance, but do tend to be unbelievably heavy on the cream – I’ve seen recipes specifying over 1 kg of cream for a cake not much bigger than the one I’ve made here. The nice people at Gästehaus Reger, in the heart of the Black Forest, have posted an English language version of their recipe, so I’ve used that as my starting point (dramatically reducing the cream content). By the way, according to Wikipedia, Black Forest gâteau doesn’t actually come from the Black Forest (it was created by a confectioner near Bonn), but they seem to have embraced it with enthusiasm.
German recipes specify jars of sour cherries. Being unable to get these, I substituted frozen black cherries, adding lemon juice to give a sour edge. It’s not perfect, but it worked. I was also short of kirsch – the cherry-based firewater that is the key ingredient of authentic Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, so I had to substitute some blackcurrant schnapps, left over from a trip to Sweden, which gives a similar flavour. I suggest that you don’t go for the cherry brandy that features in many recipes, because it has a very different flavour, stronger and sweeter.
The next problem to solve is your choice of cake tin. Ideally, you want to follow the Germans and use a single tin, slicing the cake into three layers after baking, because you don’t want lots of crusts. However, the cake extremely light and airy due to its mixture of both sabayon and meringue: my 23cm springform tin is about 6cm high and the cake overflowed it by some margin. This required me to trim some rather misshapen excess: use a deep tin if you have one.
This is a fairly complex and time consuming recipe, with two different baked layers and three fillings/drizzles. You will also use and wash up more bowls than you can possibly imagine. But none of this is unduly difficult.
You need to make the base, the cake and the cherry filling far enough in advance that they’re completely cool. The rest is best done at the last minute.
The cherry filling
If you can get jars of sour cherries, use 500g of those and 250g of the juice from the jar in place of the frozen cherries and lemon juice listed below. Also omit the blitzing of cherries and add 30g sugar.
- 750g frozen pitted cherries
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 25g cornflour
- Defrost the cherries. (That’s why I’ve shown this step first – you may want to make your cake layers while this is happening).
- Reserve 12 of the best looking cherries – you will use them later for decoration.
- Blitz half of the remaining cherries to a coarse puree.
- Put the puree and any juice into a saucepan with the cornflour, stir thoroughly and warm gently until thickened.
- Add the remaining cherries and bring to the boil.
- Remove from heat and refrigerate.
The shortcrust base
This is optional (several recipes don’t include one) but it gives a nice contrast of texture and makes the cake easier to handle.
- 120g plain flour
- 3g (around ½ tsp) baking powder
- 25g sugar
- vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
- 1 small egg
- 60g butter, softened
- Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
- Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
- Roll out on a baking sheet to a size slightly larger than your cake tin.
- Bake for around 10 minutes
- Leave to cool
The chocolate cake
- 150g plain flour
- 60g cornflour
- 50g cocoa powder
- 10g baking powder – around 2 tsp
- 6 eggs
- 200g caster sugar
- Vanilla essence to taste – around 1 tsp
- Grease your cake tin
- Sift the flour, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and combine evenly
- Separate the eggs
- Add around 50 ml of warm water to the egg yolks and beat at your mixer’s highest speed for around three minutes, until you have a creamy sabayon-like texture. Add 130g of the sugar and beat for another three minutes.
- Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the remaining sugar, then beat until you have a stiff meringue.
- Combine the sabayon, the meringue and the flour mix and blend thoroughly. Mix it as a gently as you can (avoiding losing the air that you’ve just beaten into the eggs) but enough to be sure that you haven’t left any clumps of unblended flour.
- Pour the cake into your tin, smooth it off so you have a flat top, then bake for around 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean.
- Remove from the springform tin and leave to cool.
The whipped cream filling
- 600 g double cream
- 60 g sugar
- Vanilla essence to taste (around 1 tsp)
- 60 ml kirsch
- Whip the cream for a minute or so.
- Add sugar, vanilla essence and kirsch.
- Whip the mixture until stiff.
- 150ml kirsch
- 20g sugar
- 20g dark chocolate for grating (the amount is very approximate)
- Add 75 ml kirsch to the cherry filling and mix thoroughly
- Add 75 ml kirsch to 75 ml water and 20g caster sugar and mix thoroughly
- If the cake is heavily domed (mine wasn’t), trim off the domed crust.
- Turn the cake over so the crust side is down.
- If your cake overspilled the edges of your tin, trim it so that you have a cylinder.
- Slice the chocolate cake into three slices horizontally. It’s helpful to mark the slices with a toothpick in each one, immediately above each other: this will help you re-assemble the cake into exactly the right place.
- Move the slices next to each other and drizzle them with the kirsch/water/sugar mix.
- Trim the shortcrust base to a circle the same size as your cake.
- Spread some cherry filling over the base – remove any whole cherries so that you’re just spreading the jam.
- Place a layer of cake onto the base (start with the one that was the topmost layer while baking).
- Spread the rest of the cherry filling evenly over the cake. Make sure you get to the edges.
- Reserve around 80g of the whipped cream for decoration: you’ll want to put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle.
- Spread ⅓ of the remaining whipped cream over the cherry filling. Make sure you get to the edges.
- Place the remaining two layers of cake on top, using the toothpicks to orient you as to exactly where to put them. After each layer, spread another third of the whipped cream: the top layer should be very even. (At this point, the Germans would also spread cream over the sides to form a perfect white cylinder. But that’s too much cream for me.)
- Grate the chocolate into shavings with a grater of vegetable peeler, and sprinkle the shavings over the cake. If you’ve put cream over the sides, also dust the sides with grated chocolate.
- Pipe twelve small doughnuts of cream in a circle close to the edge of the cake. Into each doughnut, place a cherry.
You’re done! It was complicated and it was a long haul, but you’ve created a real spectacular, which is light as a feather and tastes fantastic.