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Classic Black Forest Cake

Classic Black Forest Cake is a European layer cake made with chocolate sponge cake layers, sour cherry filling, whipped cream and plenty of Kirschwasser.

A black forest layer cake set on a wooden cake stand.

Black Forest Cake is one of the most famous traditional cakes from Europe and has always been a favorite of mine.

You’ve probably noticed that just about any dessert that features cherry and chocolate is called “black forest _______”.

I’d like to take a step back and introduce you to the original, a true Black Forest Cake.

How to make a classic Black Forest Cake:

The classic cake includes four essential components; chocolate cake, real whipped cream, cherries and cherry liquor.

A dousing of Kirschwasser is essential to the classic flavor. European cakes often use liquor as a flavor enhancer.  (If you can’t or don’t do liquor replace the Kirschwasser with cherry juice.)

You can check out my post, Simple Syrup Complex Taste, to learn how alcohol brings out flavors in foods. Or you can just trust me and enjoy.

I’ve seen plenty of Black Forest Cake recipes that use dark cherries. Yes, the cake would still be tasty, but for me there is a reason the classic cake includes sour cherries. The bright flavor of sour cherries is the perfect counterpart to the dark chocolate and rich cream in the cake.

I’m lucky to have a sour cherry tree. I preserve and freeze the cherries and use them all year to make pies, cobblers and cakes.

If you don’t have access to fresh sour cherries the best substitute would be frozen or jarred sour cherries packed in their own juice. In a pinch, you could use cherry pie filling between the layers of this cake.

Scroll through the process photos to see how to make a Classic Black Forest Cake:

two side by side photos showing how to use corn starch to thicken sour cherry cake filling.
Cook the cherries with the sugar until boiling. Stir in the corn starch slurry and bring it to a boil to thicken.
Cherries, whipped cream, kirschwasser syrup and chocolate cake assembled on a table.
Gather all the components for the cake.
two side by side photos showing how to build the layers for a black forest cake
Brush the layer with lots of Kirschwasser syrup. Pipe a dam of cream around the layer. Spread the cherry filling inside the dam and top the cherries with cream.
showing how to wrap the sides of a black forest cake with plastic to prevent it from drying out.
Wrap the sides of the cake with plastic so the cake doesn’t dry out. Refrigerate several hours or over night before serving.
a slice of four layer black forest cake on a pink plate

If you want to try a delicious twist on the classic, check out this recipe for Black Forest Cake Roll glazed with chocolate ganache.

You might also be interested in these other classic European cake recipes. Sacher Torte is a delicious combination of chocolate and apricot and White Chocolate Sacher Torte is an innovative, delicious and beautiful riff on the classic cake.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

a slice of black forest cake on a pink plate

Classic Black Forest Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

The classic European layer cake made with sour cherries, chocolate, cream and plenty of Kirschwasser.

Ingredients

Cherry Filling

  • 3 cups (24oz, 672g) fresh or frozen pitted sour cherries and their juice (see note)
  • 1/2 cup Kirschwasser
  • 1/4 cup (1.25 oz, 35g) corn starch
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 224g) granulated sugar

Assembly

  • 1 recipe Chocolate Genoise baked in two 8" pans
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kirschwasser
  • 2 cups (1 pint, 480ml) heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz, 42g) confectioner's sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Chocolate shavings or mini chocolate chips

Instructions

Prep the cherries

  1. Combine the cherries and their juice with the Kirschwasser, set aside for at least 3-4 hours (I like to soak the cherries the night before baking).
  2. Drain 1 cup of juice from the cherries, reserving it for later.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with another 1/4 cup of the juice. Combine the cherries and any remaining juice with the granulated sugar in a saucepan.
  4. Cook over medium heat until the sugar melts and the liquid begins to boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir the cornstarch slurry into the cherries. Cook until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Transfer the cherries to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Chill until you're ready to assemble the cake.

Assembly

  1. Combine the reserved cup of cherry juice with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of kirschwasser. Remove 12 nice looking cherries from the cherry filling and set them aside for garnishing the top of the cake.
  2. Split each cake horizontally into 2 layers so you have a total of 4 layers. Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar and vanilla to stiff peak. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with 1/2 of the whipped cream and leave the rest of the cream in the bowl.
  3. Set one layer of the cake onto a cardboard cake round or a serving plate. Brush the layer with 1/4 of the cherry/Kirschwasser syrup. Pipe a dam of cream around the edge of the layer.
  4. Spread 1/3 of the cherry filling within the border. Spread 1/4 of the cream from the bowl over the cherries.
  5. Add the second and third layers of the cake in the same way. Top with the final layer and brush the remaining syrup on top. Spread the remaining cream from the bowl evenly over the top of the cake and use the rest of the cream in the bag to pipe 12 rosettes evenly spaced around the top of the cake.
  6. Wrap the sides of the cake in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.
  7. To serve, place one of the reserved cherries on each rosette and then scatter chocolate shavings (or use sprinkles or mini chocolate chips) over the center of the cake.

Notes

1. If using fresh cherries (as I did), stem and pit the cherries and save the juice. If using jarred or canned cherries use the cherries and the juice. Depending on the type of cherries you use, you may need to adjust the amount of sugar in the syrup to taste.

Did you make this recipe?

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