It was back to the 1970’s this weekend with this German classic, the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, better known in English as the Black Forest Gateau. As we had friends for dinner, the beloved decided to embrace the theme so we preceded it with Prawn Cocktail (with an Asian twist) and Duck a L’Orange – more 1970’s Berni Inn you really can’t get, but it was a delicious meal.
The Black Forest Gateau is much maligned here, but still hugely popular in Germany. Why maligned? Well the perfect recipe got ruined over the years by ghastly over sweet, under alcoholed versions which ended up making this creamy chocolate confection the butt of much culinary opprobrium. All of which is deeply unfair as this is a classic cake that deserves its place in the panoply of cakes, with the proviso that it has to be done properly.
The Black Forest is in South West Germany on the border of France and Switzerland, and it is quintessentially cliche’d southern German – beautiful valleys and lakes, cuckoo clocks, dirndls, lederhosen ….. and of course the cake.
The irony is that it was not invented there. Josef Keller, a baker in Bad Godesberg in Bonn (on the Rhein) is credited with inventing it in 1915 (mid First World War which is surprising given the food shortages brought on by the British naval blockade of Germany at the time), and it gets its name from the cherries and schnapps used in the cake that are produced in the Black Forest. He did later move to a village on the edge of Lake Constance (known as the Bodensee in German) just outside the Black Forest, so he at least brought his confection home.
It grew in popularity from that point on, and in the Black Forest itself is the most bought cake in the Konditorei’s of the region. So synonymous with the Black Forest has it become, that there is now an annual Black Forest Gateau festival in the region which draws in professional and amateur bakers from all around.
So what makes the perfect Black Forest Gateau? Well firstly you need Kirsch – a schnapps distilled from cherries, and preferably Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser made from Black Forest cherries. This goes into the syrup that is soaked into the sponge and into the cream that is such a major part of this cake. Frankly if you can’t get hold of this don’t bother. I have seen recipes recommending rum or brandy as a substitute, but don’t be tempted. This cake has to ooze cherries from every pore and brandy or rum would ruin it. The good news is that Kirsch is pretty easy to find on the internet.
You also need cherries, and preferably sour cherries to provide a tangy counter balance to the richness of the rest of the cake. Now these are hard to come by here in the UK, and my order from Germany did not arrive in time, but as an alternative you can use Cherries in Kirsch which Tesco and Waitrose sell, with lemon juice added to add a citrus kick.
The sponge is a genoise chocolate sponge, but with cornflour and baking powder added to lighten it up even more than the normal sponge.
The traditionalists also put a shortcrust pastry Kirsch flavoured base under the cake, partly to ensure the cake can be moved around as the sponge gets quite wet. I didn’t for my recipe, but a thin cake board is an essential for this cake, partly because it gets so large, but mainly because the Kirsch soaked sponge needs some support if you want to get it on a cake stand.
And finally cream. There is over 1 litre of cream in this cake, but it needs stabilising as whipped cream tends to weep after a couple of days of storage. Now the Germans have various powders in little packets they use for stabilising cream that again are hard to come by. Sahnesteif is one of them which I ordered on Amazon.de thinking I had ordered 30 little packets, only to find I had ordered 30 little packets of 5 – so 150 in total (they are going back!)! SanApart is another which will turn cream into cement in seconds if too much is used (I know from experience). For the cream in the middle I used Agar rather than gelatine to provide a set, and for the cream on the top I used SanApart for the first time which proved very troublesome, but basic Chantilly will do.
Agar is an interesting gelifier (if that is not a word it should be). It comes from seaweed, is vegan friendly, is mainly used in Asian cookery and once activated turns into a gelly at 35C and melts only at 95C. Gelatine on the other hand comes from animal bones, and only gellifies at 15C and melts at 50C. Agar is therefore a better choice if want the gelly to hold and set without refrigeration.
Last there is the chocolate. Traditionally you normally cover the sides in grated chocolate but I wanted to practice my tempering and chocolate collar skills, especially after last week’s feeble (albeit first) attempt, so I went for the collar. This time my inner Pollock did not desert me and I got the random white splatter just as I wanted by flicking white chocolate using a pastry brush. Also by using acetate rather than baking parchment the chocolate had a shine on it that just doesn’t happen when you use parchment. Pleased? Very. And I think it adds a touch of class to the cake that the traditional grated chocolate doesn’t have.
So how hard is this cake to do? Actually not that bad if you coat the sides in grated chocolate. The chocolate collar adds a good hour to the process and is fun to do so try it, but it is not a necessity. The cake itself is enormous – 10 inches wide by 4 inches high so you need many hungry mouths to eat it.
This cake needs to stand in the fridge for at least 6 hours before final decoration, preferably overnight, so leave yourself time.
- 26cm cake tin
- 10cm high expandable mousse mould
- piping bags
- large star piping nozzle
- 10cm by 1m acetate strip
- food thermometer
For the Sponge
- 7 medium eggs (at room temperature)
- 240g caster sugar
- pinch of salt
- 150g plain flour
- 50g cocoa powder
- 50g cornflour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 60g unsalted butter (melted)
- 20g sugar
- 20g water
- 100ml Kirsch schnapps
- 700g (1 jar) of sour cherries in juice (cherries in kirsch will also do – 2 jars)
- 45g cornflour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- juice of half a lemon (whole lemon if using cherries in kirsch)
- 60g sugar
- 700ml double cream
- 25ml Kirsch schnapps
- 65g caster sugar
- 200ml water
- 15g Agar (9 small gelatine sheets will do as well)
Top and Sides
- 300g double cream
- 150g icing sugar
- 16 Glace cherries
- 150g dark chocolate
- 300g dark chocolate
- 100g white chocolate
- 10cm x 1m acetate strip (or baking parchment if you don’t have one)
- heat the oven to 190C/170C fan
- grease and line 26cm cake tin
- combine the sugar, salt and eggs and whisk until thick (it should form distinct ribbons when running off the whisk and takes 15-20 minutes of whisking)
- sift the cocoa, baking powder, flour and cornflour together and fold carefully into the egg mixture taking care not to knock too much air out
- finally fold in the melted butter – watch this as it can sit in a big pool at the bottom of the bowl if you don’t fold it thoroughly
- pour into cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes
- allow to cool
- once completely cool, divide into 3 even slices
- turn the top slice over as this will become the bottom of the stack , and use the bottom slice on the top so you have a perfectly flat top
- combine the water and sugar and heat until sugar is completely dissolved
- take off the heat, allow to cool slightly and then add the Kirsch
- brush over each of the 3 sponges and allow to soak
The Cherry Filling
- drain the juice in the jar into a pan
- stir in the sugar, lemon, cinnamon
- whisk in the cornflour until smooth
- bring to boil until the mixture thickens stirring all the time
- press through a sieve if there are any lumps
- add the cherries and set aside to cool
The Cream Filling
- add the water and agar together, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes – this is essential to kick off the gelling qualities of the agar – and then set aside
- whisk the sugar, kirsch and cream together until stiff
- add 2 tablespoons of cream to the agar mixture and stir in
- then add the agar mixture to the rest of the cream and whisk together
- put the bottom sponge on a thin 10inch cake board
- cover with the cherry mixture leaving 1cm around the edge
- place the mousse mould around the cake
- pour half of the cream over the cherry mixture and smooth flat
- place the middle sponge slice on top and press down
- spoon the rest of the cream mixture on top and smooth flat
- place the last sponge slice on top and press down
- cover and place in the fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight
Cream Decoration – Part 1
- whip your cream and icing sugar together until stiff
- put into a large piping bag with a star nozzle in the end
- smear a thin layer around the edge sufficient to cover the sponge and act as a glue for the chocolate
- spread the rest over the top keeping enough to make cream swirls around the edge
- set aside the piping bag in the fridge for final decoration
- lay out your acetate on top of a sheet of baking parchment
- chop your chocolate
- set up 2 bain maries (perspex bowls over boing water with the water not touching the bowl)
- melt 2/3rds of the chocolate in the bain maries
- once the chocolate has reached 50C (45C for the white chocolate), take it off the heat
- add the remaining chocolate and stir continuously for about 15 minutes until it reaches 30C (26C for the white chocolate)
- using a pastry brush create a splatter effect across your acetate by dipping the brush in the white chocolate and gently flicking the brush
- allow to set slightly for 3 minutes
- pour the dark chocolate over the acetate and spread over the edges gently using a palette knife
- allow the chocolate to set so that it doesn’t run off the acetate but is also still flexible (about 5-10 minutes)
- lift the acetate wrap it chocolate side facing the cake around the cake
- place the cake somewhere cool (not the fridge as it will dull the chocolate) and do not remove the acetate for at least one hour
- pipe 16 swirls around the edge of the cake
- place 16 glace cherries on the top
- take a bar of chocolate and scrape a knife across the top creating chocolate curls
- pile the curls in the middle of the cake using a spoon (your hands will melt the curls)
Finally – Lift carefully onto a cake stand and admire!