A friend of mine had an Octoberfest-themed birthday party, and I asked her what I could bring. She mentioned that she wanted to find a Black Forest Cake, so I volunteered to make one! After all, baking is what I do in my free time.
I did a lot of research to figure out what an authentic Black Forest Cake is. I looked at lots and lots of recipes, and I'm still not entirely sure. All recipes pointed to layers of chocolate cake, cherries, and whipped cream. Several also called for drizzling the cake layers with Kirsch, cherry brandy. Some recipes called for ground nuts in the cake batter. Some American (and/or fancy) recipes call for chocolate frosting, buttercream frosting, unflavored whipped cream frosting (as opposed to whipped cream), or a little coffee (in the cake or in the frosting).
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Other variations: instead of a cake recipe, a few used cake mixes, which I'm not opposed to but I simply don't use. [As long as you have basic ingredients around, the only difference between a cake mix and a simple cake recipe is that the cake recipe involves measuring whole ingredients like flour and sugar.] Some very American recipes called for cherry pie filling, which seems so prototypically American that I couldn't imagine myself using it to make Black Forest Cake. It would likely be very sweet, and would take away some of the control that I have over the flavor of the dessert.
I must have looked at 2 dozen recipes before deciding that I wasn't getting anywhere. My next step was to do an image search for Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Most of those showed whipped cream (or at least, something not chocolate) as a frosting, so I decided that was a must. Next decision: cherry pie filling was out. Next step: it sounded like many European recipes called for a little cherry brandy, and since I already had some, I wanted to use it. That knocked a few more recipes out of the running, and I settled on:
Black Forest Cherry Cake (from Russian, Polish, and German Cooking )
[This cookbook was published in the UK, so I actually had to do a little additional research to figure out what some of these ingredients were! My comments/changes are in bold purple.]
7oz plain chocolate (dark chocolate)
½ cup unsalted butter
3 eggs, separated
½ cup dark brown sugar (I used light brown, with success)
3 tablespoon Kirsch
⅔ cup self-rising flour, sifted
½ cup ground almonds
For the filling and topping
2.5oz plain (dark chocolate)
2.5oz plain (dark) chocolate-flavored cake covering [still not sure what this is, but I think it's candy coating] [I actually shaved curls from a bar of dark chocolate rather than use these]
3 tablespoon Kirsch
15oz can black cherries, drained and juice reserved [mine were dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup]
2.5 cups heavy cream, lightly whipped [I stabilized this so it wouldn't weep, since I was making it hours in advance]
12 fresh cherries with stalks (for garnish)
1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and line a 8-inch deep round cake pan. [I greased but did not line a 9-inch springform pan, since I don't own any 8-inch pans.] Melt chocolate and butter. [Recipe says to do this on the stove; I did it gently in the microwave.] Leave until barely warm.
2. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick, then fold in chocolate mixture and Kirsch. Fold in flour and ground almonds. Whisk egg whites in grease-free bowl until stiff, then gently fold into the mixture.
3. Pour into prepared 8-inch cake pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until firm to touch. [Since I used a 9-inch pan, I check it after 30 minutes, and it was DONE, which I hadn't expected yet. If you use an 8-inch pan, I suggest you check it early.]
4. Allow cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool on rack. Use a long serrated knife to cut cake horizontally into 3 even layers. [I was baking the cake the night before I wanted to decorate it, so I'd be sure that it was cool enough. I let it cool in the pan, and covered it overnight so it wouldn't dry out. I sliced it into layers right before I layered it.]
5. Melt chocolate and chocolate cake covering [candy coating?] together. Cool for 5 minutes, then pour onto a board to set. Use potato peeler to shave off thin curls. [I'd already bought a bar of chocolate for this, so I used a potato peeler to shave tiny curls from it instead.]
6. Mix Kirsch with 6 tbsp [I used 3 tablespoon but didn't realize it called for more until now] reserved cherry juice/syrup. Place bottom layer of cake on serving plate and sprinkle with ⅓ of the syrup.
7. Spread ⅓ of the whipped cream over the cake layer and scatter half of the cherries on top. Place second layer of cake on top and repeat with another layer of Kirsch, cream, and the remaining cherries. Place the final layer of cake on top and sprinkle the rest of the Kirsch mixture on it.
8. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top of the cake. [I ran it down the sides, too, because I thought it made it look prettier.] Sprinkle with chocolate curls and top with fresh cherries. [I forgot extra cherries for topping, but luckily the curls made it pretty.]
I spent a leisurely hour assembling the cake, which is what I expected.
I really, really enjoyed this recipe. It was rich but not heavy. The cherry brandy flavor, both baked into and sprinkled onto the cake, really lingered after you ate it. The unsweetened whipped cream layers were a light contrast to the richness of the alcohol and cake. I enjoyed the cherries sandwiched between the layers of cake and whipped cream, but I wish that I'd included more of them. I particularly wish I'd had cherries to garnish the top with.
Everyone who was at the party was anxious to try the cake, and they all seemed to like it. They particularly noted the kick the brandy gave the cake and the way the brandy lingered on the tongue after the cake was gone (in a good way, they said).
I thought this was a satisfying dessert, although not a particularly sweet one. In fact, the relative lack of sugar in this (for a cake) is what I enjoyed the most; it allowed the cherry, cherry brandy, and chocolate flavors to shine. I think the unsweetened whipped cream layered on this was essential for not weighing the dessert down with sugar; frosting or sweetened whipped cream would add considerable sugar (or density, in the case of frosting) to the cake.
I don't think this was particularly difficult for a layer cake, except that the cake involved whipping egg whites and folding them into the cake batter, something that I'm not entirely sure I do properly. If this recipe seems too daunting, I suggest these steps to streamline it. First, substitute 3 tablespoons of cherry juice for water (or other liquid) in whatever chocolate layer cake you'd like to make, although I do suggest a dark, less sweet cake. You can use layer cake pans or split a cake into layers; I thought 3 layers was fantastic because juice/Kirsch soaks in more evenly, but you could probably do with 2 layers. Omit cherry brandy if you don't have it; use a can (or 2) of dark cherries in syrup, and drizzle 9 tablespoons total of the juice on the layers of cake as you layer it (substituting in cherry brandy for 3 tablespoons of that if you do have it). I highly recommend whipping your own cream to layer the cake with, because its texture and taste was one of the things I loved about the cake, and all alternatives I can think of are sweet. Aside from the sugar, Cool Whip might be a good option; Reddi-Whip or something like that would at least be real dairy, but it might weep/deflate after a little while, which might ruin the cake. A whipped frosting, if it's not too sweet, might also work; it should at least be stable enough to not melt or deflate if your cake sits out for a while.
I can't gush enough about this cake. Authentic or not, it's one of my new favorites. I'll make the original recipe again someday.