The much-maligned Black Forest cake is a boozy, fruity delight, even if its name (and history) may not be quite what it seems…
Why the story of Germany’s most famous dessert is all in a name
Germany is known for many great things. But its haute cuisine – rather unfairly – isn’t one of them. For travellers, the ghost of too many beery schnitzels isn’t easily forgiven, even as local delights such as knödel (dumplings) often go unnoticed.
One dish, though, has suffered more than most. If you lived through any part of the 1980s, you’ve tasted Black Forest cake – layers of sponge, cream, chocolate and cherries with a big hit of booze. It won over British palates from the early ’70s on, scaling the heights of dinner party chic before hurtling on to every Berni Inn menu.
Traditional Black Forest cake only uses kirschwasser (a double-distilled cherry brandy) made in Germany’s south-west. And it’s tough to get. A litre requires 10kg of cherries and sells for about £45. Each of the area’s 14,000 distilleries produces only tiny amounts, which is why it’s so special.
But the Black Forest is no stranger to culinary feats. In Baiersbronn you’ll find two of Germany’s 11 three-star Michelin restaurants. “It’s perhaps unsurprising given its proximity to Alsace,” writes chef and author of The German Cookbook, Alfons Schuhbeck. “The cooking shares much with eastern France.” Yet here’s the kicker: its iconic dessert may not even be from the region.
Josef Keller was said to have created the dessert in 1915, 400km north of the Black Forest in Bad Godesberg. He took its name from the liqueur, though others say it comes from its resemblance to the traditional Black Forest dress of white shirts, black dresses and berry-like bollenhut hats.
But in the years since Keller’s death, the cake has come home. His ‘original’ recipe is now served only at Cafe Schäfer in the Black Forest town of Triberg. Pay it a visit or make your own ( see below for Alfons’ own version) – just don’t forget the kirschwasser.
Fruit of the forest? Whether or not it comes from the region, Black Forest cake certainly doesn’t disappoint
The German Cookbook (Phaidon, £30) by Alfons Schuhbeck is out now