Pretty please with a cherry on top? Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

I don’t even have to ask what kind of cake my husband wants for his birthday. The answer is always Black Forest cake. And who can blame him? Layers of chocolate cake, black cherries, and swirls of pillowy whipped cream? Yes, please! In the past I’ve opted for the store-bought variety but this year, with a little extra time on my hands and more baking experience under my belt, I decided to make my own. There are literally hundreds of recipes out there, but most seem to fall under two main camps: the traditional German style or a sweeter North American variation. Since my husband grew up in Central Europe, I knew he would appreciate the traditional variety so I set out to find a recipe that would result in a rich, but not overly sweet, dessert. Unfortunately, a lot of the traditional Black Forest cake recipes seem to require the same amount of time and energy as a multi-day Olympic event. I wasn’t ready for that kind of effort, but I still wanted to come as close as possible to the real deal. I used a basic chocolate cake recipe but followed two main rules that were common among all the recipes claiming to be for ‘authentic’ German Black Forest cake (or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte): (1) Do NOT use cherry pie filling; and (2) It MUST contain Kirsch.

I sampled the Kirsch before I started baking and I have to be honest – it was awful. I gagged. I was actually scared I would ruin the cherries by soaking them in it. But since it’s not a Black Forest cake without it, I took a leap of faith and just went for it. Miraculously, some kind of liquor-cherry magic happened! The result was amazing. It gave the cherries a great flavour that was able to stand up well to the chocolate cake and the whipped cream made a perfect, light frosting. I decorated the cake with a sprinkle of dark chocolate shavings and a few more cherries on top.

Is this a true Black Forest cake that will please even the most discerning German grandmothers? Probably not. But it’s an easy and delicious take on the classic chocolate-cherry dessert. I’ll definitely be making this one again.


Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Cherry Filling

  • 1½ cups canned sour cherries, drained (reserve ¼ cup cherry juice)
  • ¼ cup Kirsch

*If you can’t find Kirsch, or would rather not use alcohol, you can substitute additional cherry juice in its place.

Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Here's everything you'll need

Here’s everything you’ll need

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Whisk together the sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of a mixer for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops. Lightly tap the sides of each pan to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, combine the cherries with the Kirsch and the reserved cherry juice. Save a few cherries for decorating.

To make the whipped cream, place the cream, icing sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl. Whip on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate the whipped cream until needed.

To assemble the Black Forest cake, level the cakes and turn one over onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cherries from the Kirsch mixture and place on the cake layer. Top with about ¾ cup whipped cream and spread over the cherries. Turn the second cake over onto the cream and cherries, cut side down. Peel off the parchment paper. Use the remaining whipped cream to frost the top and sides of the cake, reserving ½ cup for decorating. Garnish with chocolate shavings, piped whipped cream, and the remaining cherries. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Garnish with a few swirls of whipped cream and top each with a cherry.


2 thoughts on “Pretty please with a cherry on top? Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte)

  1. Oh I wanted to see what it looks like after u cut it!!! Do u think it was really sweet? Do u think I’ll need to cut down the sugar? (I always half the sugar amount when I bake)

    Sent from my iPhone


    • The cake got served up too quickly for me to get a good picture of a slice. Sorry!
      I sometimes cut down on the amount of sugar when baking as well, but in this case I think the 2 cups of sugar works. Neither the cherry filling nor the whipped cream are very sweet, so you need a little sweetness in the cake itself. If you still want to reduce the sugar, I would say cut down on 1/2 cup AT MOST. Any more and this recipe might not work out. Happy baking!

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