Black Forest Cake is a show-stopping dessert. Rich chocolate cake is moistened with an extra flavorful cherry syrup and then layered with freshly whipped cream, cherries, and chocolate shavings in this recipe. It's great for a special holiday or a summer picnic.
If you find yourself looking to expand your dessert repertoire, this Black Forest Cake will not disappoint.
What Is Black Forest Cake?
Black Forest Cake is based on the German dessert "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte," which translates to "Black Forest Cherry-torte." Though some may think Black Forest Cake is named after a mountain range in the country, that is actually a myth. It's named after the kirsch made from Black Forest Cherries. If the cake doesn't have the kirsch, it can't be called Black Forest.
Fresh, Canned, or Frozen Cherries for Black Forest Cake
For this recipe, I prefer to use either frozen or fresh cherries. I would stay away from canned cherries.
I call for sweet cherries in the ingredient list because they are easier to find, but sour cherries are more traditional. If you use a sour variety, I'd recommend increasing the sugar a bit to help compensate for the differing levels of sweetness. Or you could do a combo if you really want—it's up to you!
I'm generally not a big fan of canned or jarred fruit—outside of quality maraschino cherries like Luxardo, which are great for decorating this cake if using frozen cherries for the filling and if fresh cherries are out of season.
However, I have seen other versions of this cake made with canned or jarred cherries. If you’re in a pinch go ahead and use them, but this recipe has not been tested for that swap. You may need to reduce the sugar to compensate for the extra sweetness in canned and jarred fruit.
Swaps and Substitutions
- Kirschwasser or kirsch is a clear cherry brandy. It enhances the cherry flavor of the syrup used to brush the cake layers for Black Forest Cake. If you don't want to buy a whole bottle just for this recipe, you can substitute another brandy or even rum.
- To make the syrup non-alcoholic: Use a bit of almond extract in its place or simply omit the kirschwasser altogether.
Tips and Tricks for Making Whipped Cream
You want your ingredients and equipment to be as cold as possible to make whipping the cream easier. Don't let heavy cream sit on your counter while you get things ready. Place your bowl and whisk—both preferably metal—in the freezer for 30 minutes or more to get nice and chilled.
If you want to make and layer this cake more than one day in advance, the whipped cream could weep. A great way to ensure that your whipped cream lasts longer is to stabilize it. There are a few different ways to do this, but one of the best is gelatin.
To stabilize whipped cream using gelatin, “bloom” unflavored gelatin in a little bit of water. Heat it in a microwave until melted. Then add the melted gelatin into the cream while it's whipping and it will remain strong and full of air.
- For step by step instructions on how to make stabilized whipped cream read our post on How to Make Whipped Cream and scroll to the section, “How to Keep Whipped Cream from ‘Melting’”
How to Make Black Forest Cake Ahead of Time
You can make the cake rounds one or two days ahead of when you plan to assemble and serve the cake. (Don't cut them in half or brush with the cherry syrup.)
- To store the cake rounds: Tightly wrap each cooled cake round individually in plastic wrap then refrigerate until needed.
- To freeze the cake rounds: Tightly wrap in an additional layer of foil and freeze the cakes for up to three months.
How Far Ahead Can You Assemble the Cake
Because this cake is naked, meaning the sides aren’t frosted and the cake layers are exposed, there is a greater chance of it drying out. Also, whipped cream breaks down over time, unless you stabilize it, so it’s best to assemble this cake close to when you plan to serve it.
But if you absolutely need to, you can assemble it up to a day ahead. Take these steps to ensure success.
- Brush the edges of the cake with the cherry syrup to help keep it moist.
- Use stabilized whipped cream to be on the safe side.
- Wrap plastic wrap or parchment paper around the outside of the cake between assembly and serving.
How to Store Black Forest Cake?
Once assembled this cake is best stored in the fridge because whipped cream tends to weep if left at room temperature for too long.
I recommend waiting to assemble the cake until as close to serving time as possible. For anyone who needs to fully assemble the cake more than a few hours in advance, be sure to follow the steps listed above for assembling this cake in advance.
When serving, it depends on the temperature and how long you plan to take between slices whether it should be stored in the fridge. If it's particularly warm and/or there will be about an hour or more before the next slice, I'd recommend storing it in the fridge.
Once sliced, place plastic wrap or parchment against the cut side of the cake to keep it from drying out. Once done serving, be sure to return the cake to the fridge.
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Black Forest Cake
If you’re making this during the height of cherry season then by all means use fresh cherries, but if cherries aren’t in season, frozen fruit works great too. And if using fresh, feel free to use extras to decorate the cake instead of Luxardo cherries.
- For the chocolate cake:
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 1/4 cup (246 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed dark brown sugar
- 1 3/4 cup (219 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (86 grams) cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon chocolate or vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup hot coffee
- For the cherry filling and syrup:
- 24 ounces frozen sweet fresh cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup (49 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons Kirschwasser
- For the whipped cream:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- To decorate:
- Shaved (preferably) dark chocolate
- Luxardo maraschino cherries or fresh cherries
Preheat the oven and prepare the pans and bowls:
Heat the oven to 350 ̊F. Place parchment paper circles in the bottoms of two 8-inch wide, 1 1/2-inch deep round cake pans; coat the pans with nonstick spray.
Place the bowl and whisk (stand mixer, hand mixer, or stand-alone bowl and whisk) you’ll use for making whipped cream in the freezer.
Make the cake:
To a large bowl add both the granulated and brown sugars, breaking apart any large clumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the hot coffee to form a fairly loose batter.
Divide the batter and bake the cake:
Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
Let the cakes cool for 30 minutes in the pans before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool for 30 minutes more.
Note: If you don't want to finish assembling the cake, let the cakes cool completely and wrap each cake round individually in plastic wrap, then foil and refrigerate for a few days or freeze the cakes for up to three months.
Cook the cherries:
While the cakes are cooling, put the cherries and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has softened and released a lot of its juice, 15 to 20 minutes.
Strain the fruit. Reserve both the liquid and the cherries. You will use them at different stages. (You should have about 1 cup cherry juice.)
Make the cherry syrup:
Return the cherry juice to the saucepan over medium heat and reduce until thick and syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. You should have about 1/3 cup once it’s reduced. Stir in the Kirschwasser.
Cut the cake rounds and brush them with syrup:
The cakes could be slightly sticky or tacky. To prevent them from sticking once sliced, place them on a square of parchment or have a large cake lifter or metal spatula nearby to help with transferring the rounds.
Cut the cakes in half horizontally so you have 4 circles. Using a pastry brush, brush the cut sides and the edges of the cakes with the cherry syrup, to prevent them from drying out. You should end up using all of the syrup, but it's okay if there's a little bit leftover. Let the liquid soak in and wait for the cakes to finish cooling, about 30 minutes.
Make the whipped cream:
Remove the bowl and whisk from the freezer. Using either a stand mixer, an electric hand mixer, or brute force, add the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and extract to the bowl; gradually increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks, but isn’t lumpy. If using a stand mixer this comes together within a couple of minutes so don’t walk away.
If making stabilized whipped cream find instructions for that here.
Assemble and decorate the cake:
Place one cake round on a plate cut-side up and top with a quarter of the whipped cream. Spread within a half inch of the edge and then scatter with a third of the cooked cherries; place another cake round on top and repeat for two more layers. Place the last cake round cut-side down on top and spread with the remaining whipped cream.
Decorate with the shaved chocolate and cherries as desired.
This cake is best eaten the day it's assembled or the following day. But you can still enjoy any leftovers for a day or two after that so nothing goes to waste.