Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri

Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte

Black Forest cake is a classic if ever there was one. The combination of chocolate cake perfumed with Kirsch syrup, sweetened sour cherries, and whipped cream is a memorable treat. Though the cake originated in Germany, it is copied and used all over Europe and called a Foret Noire in French and Foresta Nera in Italian. I first tried this version of it in the early seventies, when I was a student in culinary school, and have loved it ever since. Strangely, it comes from the American edition of a French cookbook, Modern French Culinary Art (World Publishing, 1966) by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, who was for many years the head chef at the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. This cake is well worth the time it takes to prepare it, but be smart and bake the cake layer the day before, so you will have less work to do when the time to assemble it arrives.

One 9-inch cake, about 16 servings

Chocolate Almond Sponge Cake

9 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) blanched almonds, finely ground in the food processor
3/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/3 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder, sifted after measuring
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

Kirsch Syrup

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup Kirsch

Cherry Filling

2 pounds sour cherries, canned or frozen, drained
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Kirsch
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Whipped Cream

3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings and confectioners' sugar for finishing

One 9-inch spring form pan, 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep, buttered and the bottom lined with a disk of buttered parchment or wax paper

  1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. For the cake, separate 8 of the eggs. Set aside the 8 egg whites, and in the bowl of an electric mixer combine the 8 yolks, the remaining 1 whole egg, and the water. Whisk by hand to break up the egg and yolks and whisk in 2/3 cup of the sugar. Place on the mixer with the whisk attachment and whip the mixture on medium high speed until very light in texture and color, about 5 minutes.
  3. If you only have one mixer bowl, scrape the whipped yolk mixture into a large mixing bowl and wash the mixer bowl (and whisk, if you only have one) in hot soapy water, rinse, and dry.
  4. Stir the almonds, breadcrumbs, cocoa, and flour into the yolk mixture, one at a time.
  5. In a clean dry mixer bowl whip the 8 egg whites with the whisk attachment on medium speed until they are very white, opaque, and beginning to hold a very soft peak. Increase the speed to medium high and whip in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a stream, continuing to whip until the egg whites hold a firm peak.
  6. Stir about a quarter of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a large rubber spatula.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  8. Bake the cake until it is well risen and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges dry, about 35 to 40 minutes.
  9. Invert the cake onto a rack. Lift off the pan and remove the paper. Let the cake layer cool completely.
  10. For the Kirsch syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Cool the syrup, then stir in the Kirsch.
  11. For the cherry filling, combine the cherries, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid stirring and breaking up the cherries. Cook until the cherries have exuded their juices. Remove the pan from the heat temporarily.
  12. Whisk the Kirsch and cornstarch together in a small bowl and stir in a couple of spoonfuls of the hot cherry liquid. Return the remaining cherries and liquid to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture, continuing to stir until the filling has thickened and the juices are clear, about 1 minute. Use a spoon to remove 16 of the best looking cherries from the filling and reserve them for decorating the cake later on. Scrape the rest of the filling into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until it is cold.
  13. For the whipped cream, combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip with the whisk attachment on medium speed until soft peaks form.
  14. To assemble the cake, slice the cooled cake layer into three equal horizontal layers with a sharp serrated knife. Reserve what was the bottom of the cake layer to serve as the top of the cake, as it will have the smoothest surface.
  15. Place one cake layer on a cardboard and use a brush to moisten it with about 1/3 of the Kirsch syrup. Spread the layer with half of the cooled cherry filling. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream over the cherry filling.
  16. Top with the middle cake layer and repeat with the syrup, remaining cherry filling, and another 1/4 of the whipped cream.
  17. Place the top cake layer on the whipped cream, with the side that was the flat bottom of the cake layer uppermost, and moisten with the remaining syrup. Spread the whole cake evenly with another 1/4 of the whipped cream, using an offset spatula.
  18. Use the remaining whipped cream to pipe 16 rosettes around the top border of the cake, using a 1/2-inch star tube (Ateco #844). Top each of the rosettes with one of the reserved cherries.
  19. Use a metal spatula to press chocolate shavings against the side of the cake and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of chocolate shavings on the top center of the cake. Dust the chocolate shavings on top of the cake with a little confectioners’ sugar.

Serving: Serve this cake for a special occasion. It makes a marvelous birthday cake.

Storage: Keep the cake refrigerated at all times or the whipped cream will melt. Try to use up the cake on the day it is assembled, as by the next day the whipped cream will already acquire a stale taste.