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German Black Forest Cake

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Authentic German Black Forest Cake or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. This is the best-known German gateau there is. Three layers of chocolate sponge filled with cherries, Kirsch, and whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate shavings. Amazing!

THE cake when it comes to German baking. The famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or Black Forest Cake. Everybody in Germany knows its name, everybody ate it, many people have baked it as well. Despite its impressive looks, the black forest gateau is easier to make at home than you might think.

Just bake one chocolate sponge cake and fill it with a thickened cherry and Kirsch sauce and whipped cream. Sprinkle the sides with chocolate shavings. That’s pretty much it! Compared to the Dobos Torte or the Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, this black forest gateau is really easy.

schwarzwälder kirschtorte on a black background.

Origins of the German Black Forest Cake

1934 was the year when the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte was mentioned in a written form for the first time. By 1949 it had already become one of the best-know German cakes and nowadays it holds the crown: the most popular and widely known German cake.

However, the history of the black forest gateau goes way back. There are quite a few theories regarding its origins, and none of them can be proven beyond any doubt nowadays. All theories agree though that it was created in Schwarzwald, a German region where the cherries needed to make Kirschwasser grow.

Other unofficial theories claim that the gateau got its name from the chocolate shavings on the sides which resemble a black forest. Or from the traditional costumes worn by the women in the Black Forest region: black rocks like the chocolate streusel, white blouses like the whipped cream and red pom-poms resembling cherries on their hats.

black forest gateau on a platter decorated with cherries.

What do you need for the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte?

Sponge:

  • Flour: I always use pastry/cake flour (Weizenmehl 405). It makes the sponge lighter, airier, it helps it rise better in the oven.
  • Other ingredients: eggs, sugar, corn starch, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, vanilla extract.
eggs, flour, vanilla, sugar in bowls on the table.

Cherries:

  • An authentic black forest cake is always made with jarred morello (sour) cherries (Amazon affiliate link). I’ve seen recipes written in English on the Internet using fresh cherries, but I have never seen or tasted a real German black forest gateau made with fresh cherries. They are ALWAYS canned.
  • You will need one standard jar of canned cherries in light syrup, which weighs 350 g/ 12.4 oz after draining. The cherries are already pitted (although there is one lost pit in each jar I’ve ever opened). They are canned in light syrup, which is perfect to use for making the filling. Strain the cherries and keep the juice.
  • If the cherries you have don’t come in light syrup, use cherry juice instead.
  • Canning cherries has a long tradition in Germany, the season is short, and the trees are always full, the best and easiest thing you can do is to can the fruit. I can dozens of jars every summer, I never have to buy them in the store. If you make just a small amount for baking this cake, you will not have to can the fruit, of course.
  • What NOT to use: maraschino cherries, I saw recipes using them and I cringed…

Kirschwasser:

  • A German brandy made from double distillation of cherries and their stones. It is clear, not sweet, and quite pungent. It is usually served after dinner as a digestif in a small glass, a regular offering in restaurants. But it can also be used to make cocktails.
  • If you are using Kirsch, you should not serve the cake to children, pregnant women, or people dealing with alcohol issues.
  • If you don’t want to use, leave it out and replace it with the same amount of cherry juice. The gateau will not be quite genuine anymore, but still a delight.
  • And if you would like to try another cherry and Kirsch combo, you have to make these Cherries in Kirsch, they are divine!

Whipped cream:

  • Heavy cream with a fat content of 35 % is best for whipping. If the cream you are using has a lower percent, you might not be able to whip it quite well, it might be too soft.
  • As the standard German heavy cream sold in supermarkets only has 30% fat, I use cream stiffener (Sahnesteif) to help it stiffen properly. But whenever I get the chance, I buy the 35% fat cream for whipping, it’s simply better.

Vanilla sugar:

  • Not readily available everywhere in the world, but a key ingredient when it comes to making this black forest cake. German home baking relies a lot on vanilla sugar, vanilla extract is not much used around here, I only buy it because I post recipes for the whole world and not just for Germany.
  • If you cannot get it all, you can, of course, replace it with vanilla extract to taste.
ingredients for making cake with cherry filling.

How to make vanilla sugar?

Use an empty vanilla pod, leftover from another recipe. Chop it roughly and process it in the food processor until fine. Mix with granulated sugar and store in a well closed jar.

Chocolate shavings:

  • In Germany, buying chocolate shavings is quite common. The packet they are sold in has a picture of a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte on it, so you know that’s exactly the stuff you need and exactly how much of it you need for one torte.
  • If you cannot get already shaved chocolate, just shave the amount you need on a coarse grater.

Other ingredients: corn starch, sugar.

slice of black forest gateau on a small plate.

How to make German Black Forest Cake?

Make the chocolate sponge:

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of a springform (about 24 – 9.5 inches) with baking paper. Don’t line or butter the sides of the form.
  • Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites for one minute. Slowly start adding half of the sugar you’ve measured before and the vanilla extract, and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 5-7 minutes depending on your mixer. (1)
  • Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thick, creamy, and of paler color. (2)
  • Carefully add to the egg white mixture and fold in with a spatula. (3)
mixing eggs for making batter in bowls.
  • In another bowl, mix flour, cocoa, corn starch, and baking powder. Sieve over the egg mixture and fold in carefully with a spatula. Don’t stir! (1)
  • Pour the batter into the prepared springform. (2)
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes depending on your oven. (3)
  • You will know that the cake is baked through when its sides don’t stick to the form anymore and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean with only a few crumbs attached.
  • Remove the ring of the springform and turn the cake onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper. Let cool completely before filling.
collage of three pictures of making chocolate sponge.

Make the cherry filling:

  • Drain the cherries but reserve the juice. Reserve 14 very nice-looking cherries for decorating the cake.
  • Measure 250 ml/ 8.5 fl. oz/ 1 cup juice (1) and remove 4 tablespoons, you will need them to make the corn starch slurry (2).
  • Place the rest of the juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil. (3)
  • In the meantime, mix the corn starch and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the 4 tablespoons of reserved juice. (2)
  • Whisk the slurry into the simmering juice and let thicken while whisking continuously. It will happen almost instantly. (5)
  • Add the cherries, stir well and remove from the heat. (6)
  • Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
  • Add 3 tablespoons Kirsch and stir well.

How about using fresh or defrosted cherries?

  • If using fresh cherries, pit them and then weigh them, you will need about 350 g/ 12.4 oz.
  • Measure 250 ml/ 1 cup cherry juice and remove 4 tablespoons for making the corn starch slurry.
  • Place the rest of the juice and the cherries in a saucepan. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes or until softer.
  • In the meantime, mix the cornstarch, and 50 g/ 1.8 oz/ ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the reserved 4 tablespoons juice.
  • Whisk the slurry into the cherry pot, making sure that there are no lumps. Let thicken for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Let cool completely, add Kirsch, and proceed with the recipe.
inside layers of a black forest gateau filled with whipped cream.

How to whip the cream?

  • Heavy cream with at least 35-36% fat content is best for whipping. Lighter whipping cream with about 30% fat content will probably need some help for keeping its shape, I always use Dr. Oetker’s cream stiffener (Whip it) for that purpose. (Amazon affiliate link)
  • Make sure that the cream is very cold, straight from the fridge. The bowl and the beaters should be clean and very cold as well. Place them in the fridge for about 30 minutes if you have the time. It’s not mandatory, but it helps.
  • Whip the heavy cream in at least 2 batches. I prefer to do it in 3 batches just to make sure that the cream is properly whipped.
  • If you try to beat it all at once, there will still be some too soft cream at the bottom of your bowl no matter how good your mixer is or how large your bowl.
  • By beating it in 3 batches (3 bowls), you will also know exactly how much you need for each step of the assembling process: 1 batch for the first layer, 1 for the second, and the 3rd batch for covering the cake and piping some rosettes on top of it.  
  • Whip the cream shortly on medium-low speed. Slowly start adding the vanilla sugar (and the cream stiffener if using) or pour in some vanilla extract. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.
  • Don’t overbeat! In this case, the buttermilk will separate, and you will get homemade butter instead of whipped cream.
slice of german gateau on a plate close up.

Assemble the gateau:

  • Cut the chocolate sponge into 3 even layers using a serrated knife. Reserve the bottom layer for the top, it is usually the best looking one, meaning the most even one. (1)
  • Assemble the gateau directly on the serving platter, transferring would be difficult. Place two pieces of parchment paper, which are slightly overlapping in the middle, on the platter. Place the layer that was on top on the platter. This way you will be able to decorate the German black forest cake with cream without making the platter dirty. Once you are finished decorating, very carefully pull the paper from under the cake.  
  • Drizzle the first layer with 1-2 tablespoons Kirsch or cherry juice. Cover with the cherries, leaving a narrow border at the edge of the torte. (2)
  • Top with 1/3 of the whipped cream and smooth it with a spatula. (3)
  • Place the second cake layer on top. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons Kirsch or juice. (4)
  • Cover with 1/3 of the whipped cream. Smooth. (5)
  • Place the third layer on top. (6)
collage of six pictures of filling a cake with cherries and cream.
  • Transfer about 4 tablespoons of the remaining whipped cream to a piping bag. Use the rest of the cream to cover the top and the sides of the cake. (1)
  • Trace the cake slices in the whipped cream on top. I use a special cake divider for this purpose, it can divide it into 14 or 16 perfect wedges. It’s nice to have but it’s not mandatory, you can trace the slices without it as well. (2)
  • Decorate the sides of the cake with the chocolate shavings. I use a dough scraper to do that. Sprinkle chocolate shavings on the platter near the edge of the cake and lift them onto the sides of the cake with the scraper. (3,4)
  • Pipe cream rosettes on each slice and place one of the reserved cherries on top. Sprinkle some of the leftover chocolate shavings in the middle.
  • Very carefully pull the parchment paper from under the cake.
  • Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
collage of four pictures of covering a cake with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Can you make the black forest gateau in advance?

  • You can bake the sponge up to 2 days in advance. Let it cool completely, wrap well in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out, and keep it at room temperature (or refrigerated if it is very warm). You can also freeze it.
  • Make the cherry filling up to 2 days in advance, let cool, cover, and keep refrigerated. Stir well before using.
  • Only whip the cream and assemble the cake on the day you are serving it.
  • Leftovers should always be kept refrigerated. They will still taste great over the next 1 or 2 days, but I would not keep them any longer than that.
close up layers of chocolate cake with cherries and cream.

Tips

Most important tip! Always use a digital kitchen scale in baking, it guarantees for best results.

Make the sponge one day in advance when possible. A sponge that has the time to set overnight is much easier to cut, you will get cleaner, even slices and less crumbs.

Make sure that the oven is already preheated when the batter goes in. If it must wait for the oven to heat up, the baking powder will lose its power and the cake will not rise nicely.

Only line the bottom of the springform with parchment paper, NOT the sides. Also, don’t grease the sides either. The cake will not rise properly if the sides of the form are greased, because the batter will just slide down.

Don’t open the oven during the baking time or the cake might collapse. Only open after the first 25 minutes to check if it’s ready.

Tools needed:

  • Springform, about 24 cm – 9.5 inches. A 26 cm/ 10.2 inches is fine as well, but the cake will be a touch flatter. Don’t use a smaller one though, there is too much batter for a smaller tin.
  • Hand-held mixer or stand mixer.
  • Long serrated knife for cutting the layers.
  • Spatula, preferably an offset one, but a straight regular one will work as well.
  • Dough scraper for lifting the chocolate shavings onto the sides of the cake.
  • Cake divider: very nice to get those perfect slices, but still optional.
  • Piping bag and nozzle of choice.
  • All Amazon affiliate links.
black forest gateau on a tall platter.

More German cakes:

black forest gateau on a platter decorated with cherries.

German Black Forest Cake

Yield: 14
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Authentic German Black Forest Cake or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. This is the best-known German gateau there is. Three layers of chocolate sponge filled with cherries, Kirsch, and whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate shavings. Amazing!

Ingredients

  • Sponge (Note 1):
  • 5 eggs (Note 2)
  • 200 g/ 7 oz/ 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 125 g/ 4.4 oz/ 1 cup cake/ pastry flour (Note 3)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 50 g/ 1.8 oz/ 1/3 + 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 15 g/ 0.5 oz/ 1 /8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Note 4)
  • Cherry filling:
  • 1 jar of morello/sour cherries in light syrup, 350 g/ 12.3 oz weighed after draining, keep the juice (Note 5)
  • 250 ml/ 8.5 fl. oz/ 1 cup cherry juice (from the jar of cherries or from a bottle if using fresh or defrosted cherries)
  • 30 g/ 1.2 oz/ ¼ cup corn starch
  • 25 g/ 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (Note 6)
  • 3 tablespoons Kirsch (leave out for a non-alcoholic cake)
  • Heavy cream and decoration:
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch (or use cherry juice instead)
  • 800 ml/ 27 fl. oz/ 3 1/3 cups heavy cream (preferably 35-36% fat content) (Note 7)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar or 1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, to taste (Note 8)
  • 14 nice-looking cherries reserved from the jar
  • 100 g/ 3.5 oz dark chocolate shavings or coarsely grated chocolate

Instructions

Sponge:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of the springform (about 24/ 9.5 inches) with baking paper. Don’t line or butter the sides of the form.
  2. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites for one minute. Slowly start adding half of the measured sugar and the vanilla extract. Continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 5-7 minutes depending on your mixer.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thick, creamy and pale. Carefully add to the egg white mixture and fold in with a spatula.
  4. In another bowl, mix flour, baking powder, cocoa, and corn starch. Sieve over the egg mixture and fold in carefully with a spatula. Don’t stir!
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared springform. Bake for about 25-30 minutes depending on your oven. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean with only a few crumbs attached.
  6. Remove the ring and turn the cake onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper. Let cool completely.


Cherry filling:

  1. Drain the cherries but reserve the juice. Reserve 14 very nice-looking cherries for decorating. Measure 250 ml/ 8.5 fl. oz/ 1 cup juice and remove 4 tablespoons, you will need them to make the corn starch slurry.
  2. Place the rest of the juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil.
  3. In the meantime, mix the corn starch and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the 4 tablespoons of reserved juice. Whisk the slurry into the juice and let thicken while whisking continuously. It will happen almost instantly.
  4. Add the cherries, stir well and remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
  5. Add 3 tablespoons Kirsch and stir well.
  6. See the blog post for instructions on how to prepare the filling with fresh or defrosted cherries.


Heavy cream:

  1. Make sure that the cream is very cold, straight from the fridge.
  2. Whip the heavy cream in at least 2 batches. I prefer to do it in 3 batches just to make sure that the cream is properly whipped. (See blog post for more on that).
  3. Whip the cream shortly on medium-low speed. Slowly start adding the vanilla sugar (and the cream stiffener if using) or pour in some vanilla extract. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat!


Assemble:

  1. Cut the cake into 3 even layers using a serrated knife. Reserve the bottom layer for the top of the cake, it is usually the most even one.
  2. Assemble the gateau directly on the serving platter. Place two pieces of parchment paper, that are slightly overlapping, on the platter. Place the layer that was on top on the platter.
  3. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons Kirsch or cherry juice. Cover with the cherries, leaving a narrow border at the edge of the cake. Top with 1/3 of the whipped cream and smooth it with a spatula.
  4. Place the second cake layer on top. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons Kirsch or juice. Cover with 1/3 of the whipped cream. Smooth.
  5. Place the third cake layer on top.
  6. Transfer about 4 tablespoons of the remaining whipped cream in a piping bag fitted with a nozzle. Use the rest of the cream to cover the top and the side of the cake.
  7. Decorate the sides of the cake with the chocolate shavings. I use a dough scraper to do that. Sprinkle chocolate shavings on the platter near the edge of the cake and lift them onto the sides of the cake with the scraper.
  8. Trace the slices of the cake in the whipped cream on top, you should have 14 slices (I use a cake divider for perfectly sized slices).
  9. Pipe a cream rosette on each slice and place one of the reserved cherries on top. Sprinkle some of the leftover chocolate shavings in the middle.
  10. Very carefully pull the parchment paper from under the cake.
  11. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Notes

  1. Always use a digital kitchen scale in baking, it guarantees for best results. (Amazon affiliate link)
  2. Medium Germany, large US.
  3. Cake or pastry flour works best, it makes the cake airy and light.
  4. Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder is typical for Germany, but natural would be fine as well in this recipe.
  5. Sour cherries in light syrup are what we always use for this cake in Germany. If using fresh or defrosted cherries, check the blog post for instructions on how to prepare them for the filling. (Amazon affiliate link)
  6. You will need 50 g/ 1.8 oz/ ¼ cup sugar if using fresh or defrosted cherries.
  7. If using heavy cream with under 35 % fat content (typical for Germany), you will need 4 packets of Dr. Oetker Whip it (Sahnesteif) to help the cream get stiffer and hold its shape. (Amazon affiliate link)
  8. The use of vanilla sugar is typical for a German cake recipe. See the blog post for instructions on how to make vanilla sugar at home. Otherwise, use pure vanilla extract to taste.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 399Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 132mgSodium: 123mgCarbohydrates: 39gFiber: 1gSugar: 24gProtein: 5g

Nutritional information is not always accurate.

Chris

Sunday 25th of July 2021

So, I just tried baking the cake base for the first time and I followed everything to the letter, (I chose to bake it for 26:30m), but don't understand why the cake is still sticking to the form. Even though the toothpick test showed that it was ready by being completely clean.

I only noticed a part of the cake splitting, when I opened the latch and it started to stick. So, I quickly closed it again and put it back in the oven for about 3 minutes. Then I took it out and tried it again. I saw no differences and used a cake spreader to loosen up the sides (which was a mistake as I've now cut a little bit of the non-stick material off) and then stuck it back into the oven for another 3 minutes.

I still stuck a little, but the sides were now dry and I didn't want to risk overcooking the cake now that it had been in for 32 minutes and 30 seconds.

When I removed the springform, its sides were covered by cake. About 80% of the springform was covered in it.

Not sure what happened here.

Chris

Monday 26th of July 2021

I think I might have found a solution to the sticking .

So, after leaving my 2nd attempt alone for 1 and a half hours (by coincidence) and after a little more research, I stumbled across something using a much less destructive method.

They got one of those plastic flexible spatula, dipped it inside hot water (I boiled it) and then very gently and smoothly slide it in-between the cake and springform. Give it a wiggle and shimmie along for a little bit until the spatula starts to meet a bit of resistance and has gone dry and cooled down. (You shouldn't be shimming this for more than the length of your pinkie for reference) Then dip it back into the hot water and repeat.

Sure, it'll warp your spatula, that's why you make sure to have one that you don't mind using just for that purpose and then whichever side it's warped to, you face that side away from the cake, so that it doesn't cut directly into the cake.

Viola, it came out nicely with much smoother edges around the sides of the cake and less batter around the insides of the springform and you don't damage the springform!

Chris

Friday 11th of June 2021

Hi, I just saw this and this looks to be the most authentic looking black forest gateau that I've seen! All the others just don't look like as described. They don't look German if that makes sense and they don't look like a black forest with their shavings! I mean, they look great, but they never look anywhere near as authentic as yours!

Also, didn't know that they don't use fresh cherries for the authentic version and that's what I've been trying to find. The most authentic and best recipe that I can recreate!

Anyway, I do have a question. How dark would you recommend the dark chocolate be for the shavings, also how would you recommend that the shavings be created to be like the ones you got? As I preferred the look of your shavings over everything else that I found on the net.

Last question. If you were to improve upon it, while keeping it as authentic as possible. What would you do differently?

Chris

Friday 11th of June 2021

@Adina,

That's great to hear!

Could you share the brand of shavings you used? There might be a company where I live that specialises in selling German food stuffs and they might have what I'm looking for. It would be really convenient if they did! :)

I also have another question that I forgot to ask.

I don't recall what the the cake tastes like or if I ever had one, but I can somewhat imagine it. However, what kind of drink would you recommend to go with it? I imagine a strong coffee afterwards would do the trick. Not strong as in black coffee, nor a creamy one. But just a strong coffee. Not to drink while devouring said cake, but afterwards. Kinda like when you sit down with a cup of hot cocoa kind of feeling.

I also imagine that the coffee would really compliment the strong cherry flavours of the black forest gateau too! :)

Adina

Friday 11th of June 2021

Hi Chris. Thank you for your nice comment. The recipe is as authentic as it can be, I've been living in Germany for almost 20 years now,I've eaten and baked this cake more often than I can remember. And I have never seen it made with fresh cherries (never even heard of it). The shavings are semi-sweet chocolate (about 40-50% cocoa) and they are bought, the box they are sold in has the picture of the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte on it, they are especially made for this cake. I can image you could recreate them at home, but I've never done it myself, there was never the need for it. I suggest melting chocolate, spreading it in a very thin layer on baking baking or foil and breaking it into small pieces once it's solid. I can't promise that they would be as fine and thin as the bought ones though. Good question about improving. I mentioned that it's possible to leave out the alcohol if baking for kids as well, but the Kirsch it's an important part, so don't leave it out unless you absolutely have to. Otherwise, I cannot think of anything else, the cake tastes just as it should taste and it's great. :) Happy baking!

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