Black Forest Cherry Cake, Gluten Free

Easy Black Forest Cherry Cake. Gluten and mostly dairy-free. The cherries require a designated driver - they're drowned in kirsch.

Though Black Forest Cherry Cake is a confection with a long history, its stateside fifteen minutes of fame came and went in the decade some of you might think are the old days – the 60’s. Others of us just remember the 60’s as that slippery slope to a resurgence of evil shoulder pads.

The beleaguered Black Forest Cake suffered from one identity crisis after another.  Was it chocolate cake or pumpernickel? Was it buttercream or whipped cream? Cherries or Black Forest sour plums? Extra chocolate or no chocolate at all?

The Black Forest region in Germany is actually rather well known for things like wild boar, mushroom and sour plums. I guess after a feast of boar with mushrooms one has to have dessert. So then there was cake that was actually a gateau, a sponge cake doused with Kirsch, or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte piled with fresh sour cherries and cream. Some versions were even made from pumpernickel crumbs and sour cherries. Perhaps that was because no one found chocolate in the Black Forest?

Rest assured, chocolate showed up and pumpernickel retired. Once the chocolate and cherry confection became the darling of the 60’s, making a debut on fancy schmancy restaurant menus, it was all the rage. Later, the dessert became a homemade nightmare when it devolved to being stuffed with canned cherry pie filling as a substitute for properly soused cherries in Kirsch. The cake made a hasty exit in the 70’s when it became less fashionable to eat 4000 calories in one slice of cake.

But consider it reborn (sort of) in a way where you might actually not feel guilty eating it, and find that preparing it is pretty easy. The first thing you have to do is find some really good Kirsch. David Lebovitz has a great post on Kirsch.

We use Clear Creek Kirsch, which David also recommends. I recall that their liqueurs are considered GF. But to be sure, we tested our bottle of Kirsch with an EZ-Gluten test and sure enough – it was fine. Good quality Kirsch is distilled from mashed cherries, not grain. Make sure you pick one that is high quality and only contains fruit – not “natural flavorings” which can hide gluten.

But as always – when in doubt leave it out. If you are not inclined to want soused cherries, marinate it in sugar and orange juice.

You can make the full dairy version of this cake by using heavy cream for the whipped topping with a little sugar and vanilla to taste – and by using milk and butter in your cake. But if you’d like a non dairy-ish version (which this is) use shortening and almond milk in the cake and Truwhip for the topping (or your favorite non-dairy topping).

Truwhip is a fabulous choice if you like to use products where the ingredients can be pronounced easily and it has no bad fats or high fructose corn syrup –  but it says it does contain sodium caseinate which is a milk protein – they also say it is less than 2% of the product.  I can report that in our dairy-annoyed household no one had a problem with Truwhip, but please do what works for you.

We made the semi-homemade version to make it quick work. If you’d like to make the cake from scratch you can use your favorite GF chocolate cake recipe, or this one here or here.

For the non-dairy topping version, follow the directions below. For the a dairy version, use 1 to 2 pints of whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks using 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla added before whipping. Assembly is exactly the same as the instructions below.

Let’s just say, that whatever the reason the cake morphed from pumpernickel to chocolate, I am truly thankful. But really, Black Forest wild boar, mushrooms and sour plums to a chocolate gateau with Kirsch soused cherries and whipped cream? Now that’s imagination. Kudos, Black Forest.

Easy Black Forest Cherry Cake. Gluten and mostly dairy-free. The cherries require a designated driver - they're drowned in kirsch.

Black Forest Cherry Cake, The Easy Version, GF
Use your favorite chocolate cake mix (GF) or make one from scratch. Aside from letting the cherries marinate in the Kirsch and sugar, the whole thing goes together quickly. The longer the cherries sit, the tastier they become. Please refrigerate the cake once the topping is added, but let it sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature before serving. Add those top cherries at the last minute for the best table-side look. Serves about 8 cake-loving people.
Cherry Marinade
  • 600 grams or 3 cups fresh pitted cherries
  • 50 grams granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
  • 4 tablespoons Kirsch (I use Clear Creek Distillery Brand)
Chocolate Cake
  • 1 15 oz. box of GF chocolate cake mix (Betty Crocker preferred)
  • 86 grams of shortening (6 tablespoons) (Spectrum Organic preferred)
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 160 grams almond milk (2/3 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon brewed coffee (decaf is fine)
  • 2 containers nondairy whipped topping (I use Truwhip Brand)
Marinating the Cherries
  1. Pit the fresh cherries and place in a bowl with a lid. Add the sugar and kirsch and stir with a spoon to coat the cherries. Refrigerate for at least one day and two to three days is even better. Stir once in a while.
Chocolate Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray.
  2. In a large bowl blend all the ingredients together on low with an electric mixer. Once the mix is incorporated beat on medium-high until the batter is light, smooth and fluffy. Divide evenly and scrape into prepared pans. Rap pans on the counter top to smooth the batter and get rid of any air bubbles. Bake 18-22 minutes or just until a toothpick comes out with dry crumbs or no crumbs. Remove pans to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Loosen edges of the cake with a knife and flip cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely before adding syrup, cherries and topping. Cakes can be wrapped in plastic once cool (stone-cold) and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to assemble. Bring to room temperature before unwrapping the cake layers to keep condensation from forming. Proceed with the recipe.
  1. Thaw according to directions. Don't stir the topping before applying or it might become to thin to adhere to the cake. Keep chilled but not frozen.
  1. Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Place plastic wrap or parchment paper around the edges to keep the cake plate clean. Poke holes in the layer with a toothpick. Brush on 1-2 tablespoons of cherry liquid from the marinated cherries. Let that soak in and set for 30 minutes before proceeding. Cut enough cherries in half to make a single layer on top of the bottom cake layer. Drain them thoroughly but make sure to keep the liquid.Leave the remaining cherries whole and drain them, too (those will go on top of the cake). Apply the non-dairy topping on the bottom layer as though you were frosting the cake. Add the cut cherries, close together on top of the cake layer now covered with topping. Carefully place the top layer of cake on the cherries and press down just a tiny bit to make everything adhere. Some cherries may try to slide out the side - just use a clean finger to press them back into the layer.
  2. Poke the top layer with a toothpick all over. Apply another 1-2 tablespoons of cherry marinade to the top and let that set for 30 minutes (refrigerate the cake at this point). Apply the remaining whipped topping on the cake just as though you were adding frosting. Pipe little stars or flowers around the edge of the cake or use a spatula to make the outside edge of the top of the cake higher than the center (to keep the cherries from spilling over).
  3. Chill the frosted cake for at least 30 minutes and add the cherry topping right before serving for best presentation. Top with remaining drained whole cherries piled higher in the center. Serve with some of the marinade drizzled over the cake, if you like.

Black Forest Cherry Cake before the cherries on top.


  1. I made your recipe with a few modifications. I used Namaste Chocolate cake mix and followed the directions on the box first adding the coffee and vanilla to the measuring cup before adding the oil and water. I used a chop stick to poke holes and did the top of one layer and the bottom of the other at the same time. Since I was making for a mixed group (GF and non-GF) I made a whipped cream topping. The cake was amazing. Everyone licked their plates clean.

  2. TruWhip contains Casein and is therefore not dairy free.