Christmas Eve is a special occasion for our family. We decorate the house, light the candles, serve charcuterie and Christmas ale, and eat an indulgent meal. At the end of the night we somehow have room for dessert — my aunt’s rum cake, a yule log from our local bakery, or another kind of homemade treat.
With my impending move drawing nearer, this year our Christmas was all about traditions. I thought it’d be really special to make a German recipe for Christmas Eve to celebrate our heritage. After much deliberation, we decided it was a toss up between Black Forest Cake and German Chocolate Cake. But with a little persistence from my dad, Black Forest Cake won. Last July, my parents sailed down the Rhine on a river cruise where they ate Black Forest Cake in the Black Forest itself. My dad loves German Chocolate Cake, so I knew that it if he wanted Black Forest Cake for this special meal, then it must be good. And seeing as I’d never had it before anyway, I would finally have an excuse to try it too.
Black Forest Cake is a chocolate cake with layers of whipped cream frosting, cherries, Kirsch (cherry liqueur), and cherry juice. It’s then topped with more whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and cherries. There are a few steps in the recipe, but with a little time it can come out looking really pretty (This was my first cake!). I adapted my recipe from Pretty. Simple. Sweet. This cake is a winner, and it’s now in my binder along with my other beloved family recipes.
The cake is moist from the cherry juice and Kirsch, and the cake isn’t too heavy because the whipped cream is so light and fluffy and because the sour cherries offset the sweetness of the chocolate cake. The Kirsch can be substituted with more cherry juice for the kiddos or for those who don’t want the liqueur taste. The Kirsch was strongest on the day that we made it, but let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days and that taste tones down quite a bit.
As for the cherries, I made it with sour cherries, but I think that next time I’d like to try maraschino cherries to satisfy my sweet tooth. I might even use sour cherries with maraschino cherry juice, or vice versa. You can also use real cherries if they’re in season. The possibilities are endless. The world is your cake!
Black Forest Cake
1¾ cups (250 g/8.8 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
⅔ cup (65 g/2.3 oz.) natural unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups (400 g/14 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup (120 ml) vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
1 cup (240 ml) hot water
Cherries & Cherry Syrup
1 cup canned sour or maraschino cherries, drained
½ cup cherry juice from canned cherries
¼ cup Kirsch (cherry liqueur) or extra cherry juice
Whipped Cream Frosting
3 cups heavy cream, cold
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1½ cups whipped cream frosting
2 bars (200 g/7 oz.) Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate premium baking bar, or other preferred chocolate
Fresh whole cherries or canned cherries
- Chocolate Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Generously butter two 8 inch cake pans that are at least 2 inches high. Dust pans with cocoa powder, then tap to remove the excess.
- In a large bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, oil, vanilla, buttermilk, and hot water. Add the hot water slowly to prevent cooking the eggs. Whisk until smooth. Add wet mixture to dry mixture, and mix until just smooth but don’t overbeat. The batter should be thin.
- Scrape batter into buttered pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then unmold the cakes. Once unmolded, let cakes cool on a wire rack or wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Once cooled, cut each cake layer in half horizontally.
- Cherries & Cherry Syrup: Drain the canned sour or maraschino cherries and reserve the juice. In a medium bowl, add drained cherries, Kirsch, and cherry juice. If not using Kirsch, substitute with ¼ extra cherry juice. Let cherries soak at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Drain cherries, keeping both the cherries and syrup. Set aside.
- Whipped Cream Frosting: Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat cold heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff.
- Assembly: Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Brush with 1/3 of the cherry syrup. Cover with 1 cup whipped cream frosting. Top with 1/3 of the cherries, then another cake layer. Repeat twice more with remaining layers. Top with the last cake layer, but do not soak the top with syrup. Frost the top and sides of the cake with whipped cream. If desired, reserve 1½ cups of the whipped cream to decorate the top using a pastry bag and a flower tip. Top cake with fresh whole cherries or canned cherries. Shave chocolate, then cover the sides and top with chocolate shavings. Store cake in the fridge, covered, for up to 4 days.