The German countryside is always a picture-perfect destination, especially at this time of the year when cherry blossoms flood the horizon and the smell of fresh blooms fill the air. The beauty of the forested regions of this country is a scene stunning enough to lift anyone’s spirit.

But there is one thing in rural Germany that truly lifts a tired spirit: Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, more popularly known as the Black Forest Gateau.

Origin of the Black Forest Gateau

Who could resist layers of chocolate sponge cake, topped with cherries, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings? Indulging in Black Forest cake is simply a divine experience for both the ordinary sweet-tooth diner and the connoisseur.

Black Forest Gateau
Who could resist the layers of a slice of Black Forest Gateau? (Photo Credit: Black Forest Cake by Flickr user larryjh1234)

And it is not surprising that this cherry-topped cake originated from a place where, for centuries, couples traditionally planted a cherry tree before their wedding day (no wonder cherry trees are all over the place). Bad Godesberg is a typical German town surrounded by the Black Forest. However, in the Black Forest region at the southwest end of Germany, eating a Black Forest Gateau is almost poetic. The forested areas are among the world’s richest natural habitats and are known for their thick foliage, rare woods and, most of all, the cherry trees.

It was in the year 1915 when pastry chef Josef Keller, inspired by the scene of red cherries amid the Black Forest backdrop, invented what he called the Black Forest Cherry or the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte. It was a dessert like no other and it took Keller months to perfect. He baked four layers of chocolate sponge cake, covered each layer with frosted whipped cream, decorated it with generous amounts of chocolate shavings, and topped it with plump, red cherries. A little Kirschwasser, or cherry schnapps, is added to the whipped cream to spike up the flavor. The cake layers are also brushed with cherry schnapps to seal in moisture and give a pleasurable boost.

Black Forest Germany
The Black Forest is made up of 11,400 square kilometres of rapidly changing landscape. (Photo Credit: Black Forest Trail Vista (1) by Flickr user nicholas_t)

However, some food historians claim the Black Forest Cake actually traces its origin from Switzerland. The Swiss call Black Forest Gateau the schwarzwaldtorte, or Black Forest Tart. Here, they don’t lace the cake with cherry schnapps but make the whipped cream extra special with unique flavors.

Switzerland’s chocolates are the best in the world. Swiss chocolatiers are among the best chocolate manufacturers that produce sweet delights as truffles, mousses, pralines, and chocolate cakes. It is said that the Swiss live by bread and chocolate, and that their favourite past time is eating chocolate laced with sweet wine, whisky, or Cognac.

What’s In a Name?

We can only thank Germany’s Black Forest for giving us the best cherry schnapps and the best torte one can ever indulge in. In appreciation of the Black Forest region’s love for the then newly invented recipe, chef Keller named his new confection the Black Forest Gateau.

In another version of the history of the Black Forest Gateau, the legend of Sleeping Beauty comes to the fore. We all know the famous line “as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony”. These colours inspired the women to weave their traditional dress according to the colours of the black forest. Thus, their favourite cake was also patterned after the colours of their own dress: the blouse is white like the whipped cream, the Bollenhut (a hat used by German women when dancing) that looks like the cherries on top and, the black dress looks like chocolate savings.

Black Forest Cake Around the World

Versions of the famous Black Forest Gateau recipe have been made over the past centuries all over the world. In India and other Asian countries where cherry schnapps is expensive and rare, the Kirsch liqueur is replaced with tinned cherry syrup. Whipped cream and maraschino cherries, and loads of shaved chocolate are used generously, just like the original gateau.

In the US, Martha Stewart has made her own version of the cake by using US-made chocolates and making the whipped cream lighter than what is indicated in the original recipe.

And in other countries like Australia and New Zealand, Black Forest cake is given an added twist by putting a little more brandy or using dark chocolate.

Wherever we are in the world, the Black Forest cake has remained a favourite treat during birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations. But no matter where you eat it, it is almost impossible to get enough of this delicious, sweet treat that never fails to keep our spirits up.

Pack Your Bags

The Black Forest is one of the sunniest and warmer regions in Germany, with temperatures decreasing in the autumn. The winter months attract bitter cold temperatures, especially in the higher elevations. As a part of Germany the currency is the Euro (EUR). The time zone is CEST (Central European Summer Time) – UTC/GMT +2 hours.

Getting There

Located in southwest Germany, the Black Forest is made up of 11,400 square kilometres of rapidly changing landscape. In the west it is bordered by France and in the south by Switzerland. Its location means there are multiple ways to get to the Black Forest, including to the capital Freiburg. Flying into Germany, Switzerland, or France are all possible – as are travel by bus, train, and personal car.

Don’t Miss

One of the top attractions in Germany’s Black Forest region is the spa town of Baden-Baden which attracts 55,000 tourists yearly. The place is a favourite destination for Europe’s rich and famous, as it had been for 150 years, when Royalty and aristocracy used to enjoy bathing in its warm mineral waters.

Further Information

The Schwarzwald website provides all the information you need to make the most of your time in the Black Forest region. From hiking to absorbing the culture, they will keep you busy.

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About Heather Tucker

Heather is a writer, photographer and explorer of the world with bylines in Archaeology Magazine, Porthole Cruise Magazine, Taste & Travel, amongst others. She is addicted to pen, paper, hotels, organisation and hippos. In addition to Travel Gluttons, you can find her over at Cloggie Central.


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