Black Forest Gateau – origins, controversies, and step-by-step recipe

Black Forest Gateau

At last, a proper article + recipe for the site’s flagship cake. It’s got words and everything.

The Black Forest gateau, a.k.a. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, is a traditional German layer cake that may or may not have been invented by the witch from “Hansel and Gretel”. It typically comprises dark sponge, white filling, kirsch (a type of German cherry booze), and either sour cherries (if you’re a purist) or ordinary cherries (if you’re not). The present cake is an instance of the non-purist variety. The reason for my non-purism: I dislike sour cherries. Strongly. In fact, “dislike” is probably too mild a word in this context. “Detest” would be more accurate. “Abhor” even. Those horrible, squishy, sour things. For those of you lucky enough not to have any first-hand experience with sour cherries, they taste like a cross between gone-off ordinary cherries and liquid arsenic.

sour cherries

Just look at them.

The other non-purist thing about the present cake is a regrettable lack of kirsch. I didn’t mean anything by it – I simply didn’t have any kirsch on hand. So I used whatever I had in the cupboard (rum). However, little did I know at the time that by omitting kirsch, I was not only breaking away from tradition, but I was also (sort of) breaking the law. According to Wikipedia, “German statutory interpretation states Kirschwasser as a mandatory ingredient, otherwise the cake is legally not allowed to be marketed as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte”. How fascinating is that? I can’t decide what’s more incredible – the fact that Germany has a legislation about cake, or the fact that I’ve apparently (sort of) violated said legislation. Either way, this certainly adds a touch of danger to what could otherwise be just an ordinary, legal cake. You have been warned.

Hansel and Gretel

Possible origins. (Illustration by Arthur Rackham)


100g unsalted butter
100g sugar
4 eggs
100g dark chocolate
50g flour
50g cornflour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
80g ground almonds

1l whipping cream
500g cherries

A bit of rum and/or milk for soaking
Chocolate shavings for decoration

The Recipe

First, separate the eggs and leave the whites in the fridge for the time being. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together and then add the softened butter.
Melt the chocolate in a separate bowl and then stir into the egg mixture.
Add the flour, cornflour and ground almonds, and stir until you have lump-free batter.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and then slowly and gradually fold into the cake mixture. Stir slowly.
Very slowly.
Once you’re done with the slow stirring, pour the mixture into a greased 22cm cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven (180C) for 40min.
Allow the cake to cool down.
Cut the cake in half horizontally. Soak the sponge with a milk-and-rum mixture (or your preferred soaking medium – extra points if you use kirsch) and arrange half of the cherries (cut in halves or quarters) on the bottom half.
Whip the cream and spread about one third of it over the bottom half. Then cover with the top half. Sprinkle some rum/milk over the top.
Cover the whole cake with the rest of the whipped cream, leaving some aside for the top decorations.
Sprinkle with chocolate shavings.
Use the remaining whipped cream to create piped decorations around the edge of the cake.
Put the remaining whole cherries on top.
Make sure to leave the cake in the fridge overnight before you cut it. I know I’ve said this many times before, but this time I really mean it.
Black Forest Gateau

As you can see, whatever my version of the Black Forest gateau lacks in traditional ingredients, it more than makes up for with appearance. One might call this an overcompensation; a superficial failure; a woeful case of all style, no substance; etc. I do generally frown upon superficial things, but if the substance is sour cherries, then superficiality is more than justified.
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About Sonja Kudei

Sonja Kudei is a writer and web developer based in London.

2 Responses to “Black Forest Gateau – origins, controversies, and step-by-step recipe”

  1. Excellent. I hope the German authorities haven’t caught up with you.