This is the best black forest cake recipe ever made! Even better than store bought cake! It features sky high layers of unbelievably soft and moist chocolate cake, cherry filling, and airy whipped cream. Perfect for any celebration (or no celebration)!
We're doing it!! We're finally making black forest cake!
Don't run away!
I know black forest cake can be über intimidating, especially when you're first starting out with baking. But we're going to go into excruciating detail in this post about the different components of this recipe, so you can feel confident making this showstopper.
Fun fact: black forest cake was actually the very first cake I ever made - I was 12, it was for my mom's birthday, it was not good, my mom was very nice and diplomatic about it. Thankfully my dad had the forward thinking skills to buy a store bought cake as a back up...
But safe to say I've learned a thing or two in this time. And I'd say this recipe is better than store bought black forest cake! Bold statement, but I think you'll agree after making it yourself!
What is black forest cake?
Black forest cake is essentially layers of chocolate cake, cherry filling, and whipped cream all towered together!
Black forest cake ingredients:
The ingredients for this black forest cake are very similar to the ingredients for these black forest cupcakes. The recipe was doubled, annnnd there are a few tiny additions I've made just because cakes can be a bit fussier than cupcakes (more detail below).
Black forest cake can be broken down into 5 main components: the chocolate cake, the cherry filling, a simple syrup to brush on the cake layers, whipped cream frosting, and (optional) decorations. It sounds like a lot of hoopla, but the ingredients repeat quite a bit, and you probably already have most or all of them on hand.
To make the black forest chocolate cake, you will need:
• cake & pastry flour: this yields a more tender and soft cake when compared to regular all-purpose flour! If you don't have any on hand, here's how to make cake & pastry flour at home using all-purpose flour and cornstarch!
• cocoa powder: I used unsweetened cocoa powder - for a deeper color to your cake, you can use Dutch-process cocoa powder instead
• baking powder & baking soda: the combination makes for a nicer rise and texture!
• unsalted butter: if you've made any of my other cake recipes, I may have already spoken about how I typically love to use a combination of butter and oil ... but not this time! Butter is all you need - the cake is moist enough thanks to the addition of sour cream, and also thanks to the simple syrup that we brush onto the cake layers!
• vanilla extract
• boiling water: this helps bloom the cocoa powder and intensify its chocolaty flavor!
• espresso powder: also optional, BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! The cake won't taste like coffee, but it WILL also help intensify the chocolate flavor!
• buttermilk: I like buttermilk in this recipe more than regular milk because it gives the cake a lighter, airier, and more tender texture. If you don't have any on hand, here's how to make your own buttermilk using regular milk and vinegar/lemon juice
• sour cream: one of my favorite additions to a cake! This adds SOOOO much flavor, richness, tanginess, moistness, and rise to the cake!
To make the cherry filling, you will need:
• cherries: I used fresh (and I pitted them using a metal straw), but you can also used canned!
• sugar: for sweetness and to help draw out moisture from the cherries
• cherry liquor: 100% optional and it still tastes amazing! It's just what they typically put in store bought black forest cake
• cornstarch: to thicken the filling
• water: to dissolve the cornstarch
To make the simple syrup, you will need:
• sugar + water: the syrup helps make the cake extra moist and soft (like a traditional store bought black forest cake!) The cake itself has less sugar than a conventional cake of this size, which is to make sure it's not overly sweet
To make the whipped cream frosting, you will need:
• heavy whipping cream
• powdered sugar: it may sound like a lot of sugar, but it's the main stabilizer for the whipped cream to make it easier to work with and less prone to liquefying - the sweetness should be perfect though!
• vanilla extract: optional, but delicious!
* All of the decorations are optional! You most certainly can serve the cake simple with frosting on the outside.
For the decorations, you will need:
• fresh cherries
• chocolate: I used chocolate in two ways: I shaved a bit on top of the cake, and I melted some down to make the chocolate shards on the side of the cake (more on how to make the shards below!)
How to make chocolate shards/bark:
The chocolate pieces on the outside of the cake may look crazy complex, but they're actually super easy to make! To make it, melt chocolate, pour it onto a piece of parchment paper, and spread it out into an even layer.
Then, while the chocolate is still melted, roll the parchment paper into a tube. Chill the rolled chocolate tube until set. Carefully unroll and break the chocolate into shards. Use to decorate!
The chocolate cake:
One of the main things I didn't love about the dreaded black forest cake that I made when I was 12 was the cake. I probably messed something up along the way (I was a kid!), but even so, the cake didn't taste very similar to a classic black forest cake. So that was one thing I really wanted to focus on in this recipe!
If you do a quick google search of "black forest cake recipes" you'll get some recipes that swear by using a chocolate sponge cake for the cake layers, and some recipes that have adapted their own chocolate cake recipes. Sponge cake did not taste the same as my favorite store bought black forest cake, so I decided to go with the latter option and make my own variation for the cake!
And I really feel like this chocolate cake recipe hits the nail on the head in terms of flavor, texture, and moisture! Here are the key ingredients that made this cake the best (in my humble opinion!): cake & pastry flour, butter, sour cream/buttermilk combo, and espresso.
These ingredients together make for THE MOST soft, flavorful, moist, chocolaty cake in town!
Fun fact #2 in this post: for the longest time, I actually thought black forest cake was a wintery dessert. I ONLY RECENTLY FOUND OUT CHERRIES ARE A SUMMER FRUIT. I'm too embarrassed to say when I found out exactly, so therefore I won't. But my family has always had black forest cake on our dessert table during Christmas/New years. And I'm not changing that!!
Stay with me, I'm actually getting to a point ...
Although I prefer using fresh cherries in homemade black forest, you can for sure use canned cherries. You can also make the cherry filling when cherries are available in your grocery store and freeze it for later in the year!
So we've officially made black forest cake a year round treat!
Check out these other chocolate recipes!
Black Forest Cake Recipe
For the cherry filling:
- 3 cups cherries washed, stems removed, pitted and sliced in half
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cherry liquor (optional - it's delicious with or without it!)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons cold water
For the chocolate cupcake:
- 3 cups cake & pastry flour
- ⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 & ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 & ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract optional
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup buttermilk
For the simple syrup:
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup boiling water
For the whipped cream topping:
- 4 cups cold heavy whipping cream
- 1 & ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
For decorating (optional):
- 12 ounces semi-sweet Baker's or couverture chocolate, plus more for shaving on top of your cake
- fresh cherries
- Make the cherry filling: In a large saucepot, combine cherries, sugar, and cherry liquor. Set over medium high heat and bring to a boil, mixing often to prevent scorching on the bottom. Once the mixture boils, reduce your heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the cherries have released a significant amount of liquid and soften to your liking.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water to create a smooth slurry. Slowly drizzle the cornstarch slurry into the cherry mixture, stirring well as you do to prevent clumps. Continue boiling the mixture until it thickens significantly (about 1 minute).
- Transfer the cherry filling to a bowl, and set aside to cool completely to room temperature before using. Store in the fridge if you don't plan on assembling your cake right away.Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of 2 (9 inch) cake pans, and line the bottom with parchment rounds. Lightly dust the sides with flour, and set aside.
- Make the chocolate cake: In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar. Beat butter and sugar together until the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter, and the mixture is slightly pale and fluffy. I usually do this by hand and it takes about 2 minutes or so.
- Add your eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in your vanilla extract as well, and set aside.
- In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine hot water and espresso powder. Mix together until the espresso powder is fully dissolved, and set aside.
- Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture. Start with about ⅓ of the dry ingredients, and mix until about incorporated (some streaks of flour are fine). Add your sour cream and buttermilk, and mix until combined. The mixture will look grainy and separated, but that's normal! Mix in another ⅓ of the dry ingredients. Pour in your coffee (it's okay if it's hot), and mix it into the batter. Finish off with the final ⅓ of your dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between your 2 cake pans, and spread into an even layer. Bake the cakes in the center of your preheated 350°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool the cakes for about 10 minutes in the pans, then carefully turn them onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom, and set aside to cool completely to room temperature. (Optional) Chill your cakes for 20 to 30 minutes to make it easier to slice and stack.
- Make the simple syrup: In a medium bowl, combine sugar and boiling water. Whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved. It should dissolve just fine with ¼ cup of water, but if you find some sugar isn't melting, heat the mixture in a pot or in your microwave until fully dissolved. Set aside.
- Make the whipped cream frosting: In a large bowl, combine heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream until it reaches stiff peaks (about 5 to 10 minutes on high speed). Cover and chill until ready to frost. It's best to use up the cream within 30 minutes before it starts to lose its stiffness.
- Assembly: Cut the tops off the cakes to level them. Cut each cake in half horizontally so you have a total of 4 cake layers.
- Place one layer on a cake stand or plate. Pipe a boarder of whipped cream along the edge of the cake. Fill the center with an even layer of cherry filling. Place another layer of cake on top. Spread about 1 cup of whipped cream onto the top of this layer, then top with another layer of cake. Again, pipe a boarder of whipped cream around the edge of the cake layer, and spread some more cherry filling into the center. Top with your final cake layer.
- Spread the remaining whipped cream frosting on the top and sides of the cake to fully cover. (If you'd like to decorate the top, reserve about ¾ of a cup of frosting for later)
- (Optional) Decorations: Pipe swirls on top of your cake with any remaining whipped cream frosting. Place a cherry on top of each swirl. Sprinkle some shaved chocolate onto the center of the cake (I just took a chocolate bar and shaved it with a vegetable peeler).
- To make the chocolate shards, melt chocolate in your microwave or over a bain-marie. Pour the chocolate onto a large piece of parchment paper, and spread it out into an even layer. Roll the parchment paper into a tube, rolling the chocolate along with it.
- Chill the chocolate in your fridge or freezer for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm. Unroll the parchment paper and break the chocolate into shards. Arrange the shards along the side of the cake. Slice and serve (finally)!