If there are two things German that Pakistanis are most familiar with, one has to be the character of Janoo German from a well-loved Urdu comedy drama Chhoti Si Dunya; and the other, the ubiquitous yet delicious Black Forest cake.
As a youngster, living in Karachi, I remember the opening day of Sasha’s bakery. My parents’ flat was opposite the bakery, and five-year-old me walked out of the bakery with marzipan and a black forest pastry, loving the cherries, whipped cream and chocolate cake combo.
Soon, the trendier desserts and evolving taste buds took over, and the Black Forest cake migrated to the back burner of my cake desires.
But recent travels managed to transport the sublime German import, now adopted and owned as Pakistani, to the forefront of my dessert dreams. And here I am, finding myself falling in love with the old faithful, yet again.
My curiosity to find out why and how it came to Pakistan has stayed, and has remained somewhat unanswered!
What is Black Forest Cake?
History tells us that the cake took birth in the 16th century in the Black Forest Region located in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. The name Schwarzwald (German for Black Forest) refers to darkened mystique inferred from the romantic German concept of Waldeinsamkeit, or forest-loneliness.
It was during this time that chocolate was introduced in cakes (chocolate had just been welcomed in Spanish royal courts, and was slowly spreading to the rest of Europe).
This region was, and is, famous for its sour cherries and Kirsch or Kirschwasser (a double distilled, clear cherry brandy made from the sour Morello cherry), and a combination of these cherries, crème, brandy and chocolate gave us this wonderful chocolate confection named after this brandy.
According to the Cafe Schaefer website, “Josef Keller (1887-1981) is the inventor of the Black Forest cherry cake. Keller was the pastry chef at the Café Ahrend (today called Agner) in Bad Godesberg. In the year 1915, he created what he called a Schwarzwaelder Kirsch, or Black Forest Cherry.
“Josef Keller established his own café in Radolfzell.
August Schaefer learned the trade as an apprentice to Keller in Radolfzell from 1924 to 1927. After many years of collaboration, Keller gave Schaefer his recipe book which contained the original recipe. His son, Claus Schaefer, the current Konditormeister of the Triberg Café Schaefer, inherited the book and the original recipe and has thus been able to carry on making Keller’s original.”
What does the Pakistani Black Forest cake taste like, since we do not drench it in brandy?
Yeah, we’ve come up with a simple replacement. The cake has multiple layers of sponge cake, and each layer is frosted with whipped cream, cherries, chocolate shavings and a few cherries for decoration. And the drench part (moisture) comes from fruit syrup. The result is delectable, and the cake still possesses a sublime flavour.
I was a pro at baking the Black Forest cake during my Karachi days more than two decades ago. The recipe was lost, and the desire to bake it dimmed much, until my recent encounter with the most delicious Black Forest cake in Fuschl and Vienna, Austria. Browsing the dessert menu, the familiar picture caught my eye and, amongst the many Austrian desserts, the old faithful seemed safe to order. I did!
Needless to say, the Black Forest cake at the Schonbrunn Palace is the best I’ve had. The first bite and I was sold once again. And I ordered a second and a third slice (the entire family dug into it). On my return to Las Vegas, a place I now call home, I went on a quest to find the best BF cake in the city, and I did. Furthermore, the diehard Pakistani in my Pakistani American self, wanted to make the delight at home once again.
Hence I dug up the old recipe, kosher and sans brandy.
Bake it, devour it, own it. A German import that came to the subcontinent, stayed, evolved and became Pakistani. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.
BLACK FOREST CAKE
1 box dark chocolate or devil’s food cake mix (your favourite brand)
1 teaspoon red food colouring
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1/4 teaspoon sugar syrup
1 container whipped icing (cream cheese or vanilla)
1 can (21-ounce) cherry pie filling, divided
Cherries (for garnish)
1 to 2 ounces shaved semisweet chocolate
Bake chocolate cake according to directions on the package, adding one teaspoon red food colouring and one teaspoon vanilla extract. Bake the cake, as directed, in two nine-inch layer cake pans. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack, and then wrap each layer in plastic wrap. Place layers in the refrigerator for approximately one hour.
In a large bowl of the electric mixer, whip together the heavy cream and powdered sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Using a sharp knife, slice each cooled cake round horizontally to make four layers.
Place one layer on a flat plate and brush with two tablespoons of fruit syrup. Fill a plastic bag with whipped vanilla or cream cheese icing (your choice) and pipe a generous ring (at least one cherry high!) around the edge of the first cake layer. Fill the exposed ring of the cake with some of the cherry pie filling.
Place the second layer on top of the first layer. Repeat first layer process with the second layer, and then the third layer. Place the fourth layer on top of the third layer and frost the entire cake with freshly whipped cream.
Garnish the top of the cake with cherries from the pie filling, and fresh cherries. Sprinkle chocolate shavings on top. Gently press chocolate shavings onto the sides of the cake.
Refrigerate for at least two hours prior to serving. Slice while well chilled for best results.