Unlike the confusingly named German Chocolate Cake, this Black Forest cake actually does hail from Germany. Start this impressive dessert by baking moist devil’s food cakes; while they cool, toss canned or jarred cherries with a cherry syrup reduction mixed with kirsch. Brush the cake layers with the syrup, and spread the cherries and some whipped cream between the layers. Frost the outside with more of the billowy whipped cream and decorate with chocolate shavings and cherries. Serve this dessert for a special birthday or holiday celebration.
What to buy: Make sure you get dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup, not cherries packed in light syrup or water. If you can find them, these Bada Bing Cherries from Tillen Farms have great texture, and you can use a single 13.5-ounce jar for the filling instead—just make sure you remove the stems first.
Special equipment: You’ll need a pastry brush for this recipe.
Game plan: You can prepare the cake layers up to 1 day in advance—just wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Alternatively, you can prepare the entire cake up to 1 day in advance, refrigerate it, and then let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
- Yield: 1 (8-inch) layer cake, or 8 to 10 servings
- Difficulty: Hard
- Total: 3 hrs 20 mins
For the cake:
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for coating the pans and parchment
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for coating the pans and parchment
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cherries and syrup:
- 1 (15-ounce) can dark sweet cherries in heavy syrup
- 2 tablespoons kirsch or cherry-flavored liqueur
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the whipped cream:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 6 cups cold heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 (4-ounce) piece semisweet chocolate
- 12 fresh cherries with stems, maraschino cherries with stems, or jarred sweet cherries with stems
For the cake:
- Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Cut out 2 (8-inch) rounds of parchment paper. Coat 2 (8-inch) cake pans with butter, place the parchment rounds in the pans, and coat the parchment with more butter. Coat the pans and parchment with flour and tap out any excess; set aside.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and cocoa, and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- Whisk together the measured flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until combined; set aside.
- Place the measured butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fluffy and light in color, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
- Return the mixer to medium speed. Add the eggs 1 at a time, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until just combined (the mixture will look slightly curdled). Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
- Add a third of the reserved flour mixture and turn the mixer to low speed, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Add half of the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until just incorporated. Continue with the remaining flour mixture and chocolate mixture, alternating between each and ending with the flour, until all of the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Stop the mixer, remove the bowl, and stir in any remaining flour streaks by hand, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and spread it into even layers. Bake side by side on the rack for 15 minutes. Rotate the pans from left to right and continue baking until the cake edges slightly pull away from the pans and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry with just a few crumbs, about 14 to 15 minutes more.
- Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of each cake, turn them out onto the rack, and slowly peel off and discard the parchment rounds. Flip the cakes over and let them cool completely. Meanwhile, make the syrup.
For the cherries and syrup:
- Place a fine-mesh strainer over a small saucepan and pour the cherries and their syrup through the strainer. Cut the cherries in half and place them in a medium bowl.
- Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the kirsch and lemon juice.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the syrup to the reserved cherries and stir to combine; set aside. Set aside the remaining syrup until ready to assemble the cake, letting it cool completely, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream.
For the whipped cream:
- Place the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. While stirring constantly, pour in 1 1/2 cups of the cream. Place the pan over medium heat and, stirring constantly, bring to a boil (the mixture will be lumpy, but it’ll smooth out). Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool completely, about 1 hour.
- When the cornstarch-cream mixture has cooled, pour 2 1/4 cups of the cold cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until tracks begin to show in the cream, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on, slowly add half of the cornstarch-cream mixture (about 3/4 cup) and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining 2 1/4 cups of cream and remaining half of the cornstarch-cream mixture. Place in the bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.
- When the cakes are cool, use a serrated knife to trim a thin layer from the top of each to expose the interior; discard the scraps and set the cakes aside. Using a skewer, poke holes all over the tops of the cakes, going about halfway through the layers.
- Place 1 cake cut-side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Use a pastry brush to brush half of the reserved cherry syrup (about 1/4 cup) over the cake. Spread 2 cups of the whipped cream evenly over top of that, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Using a slotted spoon, evenly scatter all of the reserved cherries over the whipped cream, leaving any syrup in the bowl. Leaving a 3/4-inch border, dollop 2 cups of the whipped cream over the cherries and spread it into an even layer to enclose the cherries.
- Place the second cake cut-side up on top of the whipped cream and press down gently. Brush the top cake with the remaining half of the syrup.
- Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (If desired, you can reserve up to 2 cups of the whipped cream for piping decorations on the top or base of the cake.)
- Line a work surface with a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Holding the solid piece of semisweet chocolate with a paper towel in one hand, use a vegetable peeler to shave the chocolate onto the paper. Using your hands, press the chocolate shavings into the sides of the cake in an even layer. Evenly place the cherries around the top border of the cake. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 day. If refrigerated, let the cake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.