This easy Black Forest Cake (also known as a schwarzwälder kirschtorte or black forest gateau) is made with rich layers of moist homemade chocolate cake, sweet cherry pie filling, and a silky and not too sweet ermine buttercream frosting. We like to leave the sides "naked" to showcase the layers of cherry filling and creamy frosting!
Paul and I lived in Frankfurt, Germany for a summer during law school and while we were there, I sampled plenty of black forest cake. Traditional black forest cake has layers of whipped cream, sour cherries, chocolate shavings, and chocolate sponge cake brushed with a sour cherry liqueur called kirschwasser or just kirsch.
As much as I wanted to love the slices I picked up from German bakeries, they just weren't as good as the ones I grew up on and enjoyed every year for my birthday since I was probably 8 years old.
My family-friendly version of black forest cake is less traditional since it's made without alcohol but it's one that I grew up with. I hope my German friends can forgive me for taking liberties with the original! If you are looking for more authentic German recipes, I actually have quite a few on here like my German Apple Cake or Apple Strudel.
The recipe comes from my Aunt Becky, who passed away when I was a senior in high school. It’s precious to me because she used to make it and I remember asking her to share her recipe with me. Every time I make this I am reminded of her.
Why We Love This Recipe
- The chocolate sponge is moist and soft, unlike the drier German versions which are intended to absorb more of the kirschwasser. Cakes (or tortes) in Germany often tend to be made with less fat like butter, buttermilk, or sour cream, which means they tend to be drier.
- Cherry pie filling makes an excellent replacement for sour cherries and cherry liqueur. The gel part soaks into the chocolate cake layers to make them extra moist and bind the whole cake together and the sour cherries add a wonderful tartness.
- We use an ermine buttercream instead of whipped cream for an extra silky, but slightly more substantial frosting. It's less sweet than typical American buttercream frosting but pairs perfectly with the chocolate and cherries, making this black forest cake truly one-of-a-kind.
How to Make This Recipe
Start by beating butter and sugar together for 3-4 minutes until creamy and light. This can be done with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla and eggs, mixing well and scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add ⅓ the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Be sure to continue scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add hot water to the batter, mixing until smooth. The hot water causes the chocolate flavor of the cocoa powder to "bloom" for a more intense chocolate experience. Divide the batter evenly between two 8-inch cake pans that have been lined with a circle of parchment paper on the bottom and sprayed with baking spray.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F until the cake starts pulling away from the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean with just a few crumbs on it. If it comes out completely clean, that's often an indicator that the cake has actually been overbaked a bit, so it's okay for there to be crumbs on the toothpick - you just don't want it to be wet from uncooked batter
Invert the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, carefully slice each cake layer in half horizontally to create 4 layers of cake. If the cakes bake up rounded up top, you should first level them off, although I have found that mostly unnecessary with this chocolate cake recipe as long as I use room temperature ingredients when preparing the batter.
I like to use a long, serrated knife and start by slicing in 1 to 2 inches all around the circumference of the cake, then slicing the rest of the way through.
Carefully transfer one of the cake layers to a cake stand and cover with a generous amount of the cherry filling (storebought or homemade filling work just as well). Make sure to use the gel too, as that will soak into and moisten the cake layers.
Cover the cherries with a second layer of cake, then spread with half of the ermine frosting. Check to see that your cake layers are level before adding the next layer of cake and repeating the pattern of cherries, the last layer of cake, and topping the whole thing with the rest of the frosting.
I keep things very simple by decorating the cake with any remaining cherry filling spooned into a circle on top of the cake. For a fancier presentation, you could drizzle it with melted chocolate, use chocolate shavings, pipe on swirls of whipped cream or additional frosting, or use fresh cherries for a garnish.
Traditionally yes, however not in my family friendly version!
Because this recipe is made with ermine frosting instead of whipped cream, it can sit out on the counter overnight as long as it is covered to keep it from drying out. If you choose to use sweetened whipped cream for your layers instead of the ermine buttercream, then yes, you should refrigerate this cake.
Yes! In fact, we think it's even better the next day once the cake has had a chance to absorb some of the moisture from the cherry filling.
This cake will be good for 2-3 days at room temperature, or 3-4 days in the fridge. I don't recommend freezing this cake though because it doesn't defrost as well as others.
- I prefer not to frost the sides of this cake, leaving it in a "naked" cake style. A traditional black forest cake usually covers the top and sides with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, which you could definitely do.
- When possible, I like to make this cake a day in advance because it's even better the second day once the cherry filling has had a chance to really soak into the chocolate cake, similar to how the kirschwasser is used to moisten and flavor the chocolate sponge of the original.
- Use room temperature ingredients for best results. It really does make a difference and you will end up with cake layers that bake more evenly instead of rounding on top.
- Measure accurately, especially with the flour, using the spoon and sweep method. It's easy to add too much flour to your baked goods if you scoop flour out of the container it is stored in. You'll get more consistent results in your baked goods if you first whisk the flour a bit to loosen it up, then spoon it into a measuring cup and leveling it off with a knife.
- For a darker chocolate cake, use dark or dutch-processed cocoa powder and replace the baking soda with the same amount of baking powder + ½ teaspoon of baking soda.
More Favorite Cake Recipes
- The Most Incredible Chocolate Bundt Cake
- Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
- The Best German Chocolate Cake Frosting
- S’mores Cake
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Black Forest Cake Recipe
- 1 cup salted butter, softened (227g)
- 2 cups granulated sugar (400g)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled (375g)
- 6 Tablespoons cocoa powder (45g)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk (240ml)
- 1 cup boiling water (236ml)
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour (31g)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup whole milk (240ml)
- 1 cup salted butter, softened (227g)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 (21-ounce) cans cherry pie filling
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 8"-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
- Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together and add alternately with the buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Add the boiling water and mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool completely on baking racks.
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, salt and milk over medium-high heat and cook until it thickens to form a roux or thick sort of pudding almost, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely, stirring while it cools.
- Once the roux is completely cool, cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl for 2-4 minutes, until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla. Then, while beating, add in the cooled flour/milk mixture and beat well until the frosting is smooth and creamy.
- To assemble the Black Forest cake, first level off any dome so that each layer of the cake is nice and flat, then slice each cake horizontally into two layers so that there are four evenly sized cake rounds.
- Set the first cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand, then cover with ⅓ of the cherry pie filling. Gently lay the next cake round on top of the cherries and spread with about ½ of the ermine buttercream to create a nice layer of frosting (I don't always use the entire batch of frosting so it might be a little less than half).
- Add the third layer of cake on top of the buttercream and top it with ⅓ of the remaining cherries. Add the fourth cake layer and cover it with the remaining frosting, then top with remaining cherry pie filling in the center without going all the way to the edges of the cake. Do not frost sides of cake.
- Let the cake sit for 8-12 hours or more for the chocolate cake layers to absorb some of the cherry filling, then slice and serve.
- Homemade Cherry Pie Filling: If you want to make your own cherry pie filling, you will need about 4 ½ cups.
This post was originally published in October, 2016. The photos and content were updated in November, 2021.