Black Forest gateau’s revival a cause for celebration

This Germanic indulgence could make an easy and contemporary Christmas cake

Black Forest gateau

Black Forest gateau


Black Forest gateau is having something of a revival this year. This poor neglected classic has spent decades consigned to 1970s history books, along with prawn cocktail, beef Stroganoff and bottles of Liebfraumilch.

Now, a new generation is starting to realise what they’ve been missing out on. They weren’t brought up on the dry, mass-produced frozen concoctions masquerading as Black Forest gateau. They’ve come to this Germanic indulgence with fresh eyes and realised how utterly divine it can be. A homemade Black Forest gateau is absolutely perfect as a celebration cake and even an easy, yet contemporary Christmas cake.

This is a light, fluffy chocolate sponge, doused in cherry syrup (and, or kirsch if you prefer) then layered with juicy cherries and billowing cream. I’ve gone to town and topped this version with chocolate buttercream decorated with cherries, chocolate shards, crumbled Crunchie bar and cake sparklers.

It’s a good idea to have a practice run with cake sparklers. There’s a knack to lighting them all at once, so having a second set on standby is very useful. I’d recommend constructing the gateau on its final serving board or stand, rather than trying to move it once all the layers are in place. The cherry syrup makes the sponge beautifully moist but also very difficult to move without the whole thing collapsing.

Ideally, try to build the layers on a plate which will fit in the fridge and is smart enough to take to the table. It can then sit happily in the fridge overnight, ready for any sparklers to be added at the last minute before its grand entrance.


Makes one 20cm cake

8 eggs
225g caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

For the cherry syrup:
2 x 400g cans pitted black cherries, in syrup
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour (mixed with water to form a paste)
3 tbsp kirsch liqueur (optional)

For chocolate buttercream:
100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp hot water or milk, as required

For decoration:
200g dark chocolate, melted
400ml cream, whipped stiffly
1-2 Crunchie bars, crumbled


1 Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius, fan, or equivalent. Grease and base line three separate sandwich cake tins (or fully line a single 20cm high-sided cake tin).

2 Using an electric whisk, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, until doubled in size and pale in colour.

3 Sieve together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cocoa powder. Gently fold the sieved ingredients into the whisked egg mixture. Divide the batter evenly between three lined cake tins (or one cake tin). Transfer to the middle shelf of a preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes for individual cakes (or 50-60 minutes for one large cake). Once baked turn out on to a wire rack (for a single cake divide into three layers once cooled).

4 For the cherry syrup: While reserving the cherry juice, place the cherries from the tin in a bowl (pit the cherries if not already pitted). Set aside some extra cherries for decorating the top of the cake. Place the juice from only one can of cherries into a saucepan with the 50g caster sugar. Stir over a medium heat, then add in the cornflour. Bring to a boil, add the kirsch (if using). Simmer for a few minutes to allow the mixture to thicken. Pour the sauce over the cherries in the bowl.

5 For the chocolate buttercream: Using an electric whisk, beat the butter to a soft, creamy consistency. Sieve together the icing sugar and cocoa and gradually beat into the butter. Add the vanilla extract and hot water and beat till smooth.

6 For chocolate shards, pour melted chocolate on to a large piece of baking parchment and spread to 1mm thickness with a spatula. Chill briefly. Once hardened, gently break into shards. 

7 To assemble the cake: Place a layer of chocolate sponge on a cake platter. Brush the top of each sponge with the cherry and kirsch syrup. Spread with whipped cream. Scatter with cherries. Repeat with the next layer of sponge.

8 For the top layer, spread buttercream evenly over the third sponge. Place it on top of the cake. Decorate with cherries, chocolate shards and smashed pieces of Crunchie. Serve with lit sparklers.

Variation: Keep it colourful with juicy clementine segments (instead of Crunchie).

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