It was my birthday a few weeks ago and, despite my family being more than capable of making a decent cake, I insisted on making my own (I really like making cake so it was essentially a birthday present to myself). I had been dreaming of black forest gateau for weeks, but despite much searching I couldn’t quite find the perfect recipe for a vegan version. Thus the great black forest gateau experiment began, and while I’m not claiming this is the perfect recipe, my aunt did say it was, and I quote, ‘the best vegan cake I have ever had’. And she is vegan. (I am choosing to ignore the very real possibility that she was just being nice because it was my birthday).
I wanted a chocolate sponge that was dark and decadent, fudgy but light enough to be able to plough through a large slice without needing a significant time-out. I also wanted three layers because I deserve it, but I’ve included the quantities for two layers if you’re looking for more of an everyday ridiculously extravagant gateau. This differs from a standard vegan sponge by including some syrup in addition to the sugar, as well as some vegan yogurt, both of which add a little extra moistness. As well as plenty of cocoa powder there is also a few tablespoons of strong coffee – I wasn’t looking for a coffee flavour, but a small amount can add extra depth to the taste of chocolate. I used decaf coffee, but regular would be fine, or a coffee replacement drink. If you don’t want to use coffee at all you could replace it with the same quantity of non-dairy milk.
There seems to be a vast disparity in black forest gateau recipes when it comes to cherries. Tinned, fresh, and frozen cherries are used in varying combinations, often with morello cherry jam or cherry syrup. Kirsch is the classic alcoholic addition, though some recipes do without and one even advocated kirsch and cherry brandy, and if you don’t have either to begin with you are looking at one very expensive cake. I’ve tried to keep things simple here – a tin of cherries in light syrup suffices for the filling and I like to reserve a couple of tablespoons of the syrup and add a little kirsch to make a drizzle for the sponge. I then use fresh cherries for the top because firstly they are delicious and secondly they look nice.
If you don’t have kirsch knocking about in the cupboard, standard brandy would do just as well, or indeed cherry brandy, though this is much sweeter than kirsch so you might want to reduce some of the sugar accordingly. Apparently some Austrian recipes use rum (thanks Wikipedia) and while I can’t vouch for its flavour in the cake, if I had rum and didn’t want to buy more liqueur then I would definitely try it. Of course, you can also omit the alcohol entirely and it would still be delicious.
For the cream, there are two options here depending on what you can get hold of. The easiest option is Elmlea Plant Double. This is a great new double cream alternative that whips up like double cream to create a silky smooth pillow-y pile of deliciousness. It takes a bit longer to whip up than dairy cream but seems almost impossible to over-whip. Coconut whipped cream would do just as well, with the obvious addition of a slightly coconutty flavour. You’ll need to refrigerate your cans of coconut milk for a couple of hours so the cream separates from the liquid, then you can scoop it out and whip it like cream. Make sure you buy a coconut cream that has a high fat content (50%+) and doesn’t contain guar gum – Sainsbury’s own brand is a good option.
I would be lying if I told you that the cake in the pictures was exactly as I intended… I had initially envisaged a neat layer cake with the sponge exposed and maybe the odd dribble of cherry sauce artfully cascading over the whipped cream filling. What actually happened was that everything sploodged out quite dramatically so I grabbed an icing scraper and turned it into a naked-style cake (I have attempted one of these before and it looked rubbish and I’m beginning to wonder if stuff only works when I intend to do something entirely different). I actually think I prefer it this way and it’s a good back-up if you attempt a neater finish and don’t quite manage it. If you don’t have a icing scraper (which is essentially just a thin piece of plastic with a straight edge) then a spatula or a palette knife would be fine – just scrape a flat edge around the sides of the cake, filling in any gaps between the sponge layers and leaving some of the sponge exposed.
Finally, a really simple dark chocolate ganache serves both as a kind of cement for the fresh cherries on top and as a finishing flourish, drizzled over everything. As you can see from the photos, I have not gone for precision when it comes to ganache drizzling, but then again I’ve always preferred the rustic look when it comes to cake decoration. This is partly because I don’t necessarily find cakes that are finished to perfection quite so appetizing, and partly because my attempts at finishing a cake to perfection have always ended up looking a little rustic anyway…
Besides the most important part of cake, as far as I am concerned, is how it makes you feel when stuffed into your mouth, and on that front this cake will not disappoint. It is wonderfully moist and intensely chocolaty, with delectably sweet cherries and a little spike of alcohol, balanced with lashings of cool, velvety cream, which together make me, and I hope will make you, feel very very happy.
Please let me know if you give this a go! I’d love to see how you get on – you can comment below or tag me on Instagram @greedybearbakes.
Vegan Black Forest Gateau
A decadent and indulgent vegan black forest gateau, with moist and intensely chocolaty sponge, deliciously sweet cherries and cherry sauce, a little hit of alcohol and soft, pillowy piles of whipped cream. Divine.
Vegan, Nut-free, Soya-free options
Quantities are for 3 layers, or 2 layers in ( ).
For the sponge:
- 225g (150g) vegan butter or spread (I use Naturli Vegan Block)
- 5 tbsp (3½ tbsp) syrup (agave / maple / golden / brown rice)
- 3 tbsp (2 tbsp) strong coffee (sub decaf, coffee alternative or non-dairy milk)
- 2 tsp (1½ tsp) vanilla extract
- 415ml (280ml) non-dairy milk (soya or oat work best)
- 4½ tsp (1 tbsp) cider vinegar
- 100g (65g) vegan yogurt (I use coconut yogurt)
- 400g (270g) plain flour
- 85g (55g) cocoa powder
- 4½ tsp (1 tbsp) baking powder
- 1½ tsp (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda
- ¾ tsp (½ tsp) salt
- 260g (190g) caster sugar
For the cherries*:
- 1 x 400g tin cherries
- 3 tbsp kirsch or brandy (optional)
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1–2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
- 1 tbsp corn flour
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 150g fresh cherries
For the cream:
- 300ml (200ml) Elmlea Plant Double OR 2 (1) x 400g tin full-fat coconut cream**
- 2 tbsp (4 tsp) icing sugar
For the ganache*:
- 100g dark chocolate
- 60–75 ml non-dairy milk
- If you are using coconut milk for the whipped cream place the tin(s) in the fridge. Start the sponge by putting 225g (150g) vegan butter or spread in a small saucepan along with 5 tbsp (3½ tbsp) syrup and 3 tbsp (2 tbsp) strong coffee, and place over a low heat. While this is melting, pre-heat the oven to 170C and grease 3 (2) 20cm cake tins, and line the bottom with baking paper. Measure 415ml (280ml) non-dairy milk in a jug or small bowl, stir in 4 tsp (1 tbsp) cider vinegar, and set aside. Once the butter has melted in the saucepan, remove from the heat, add 2 tsp (1½ tsp) vanilla extract and leave to cool.
- In a large bowl add 400g (270g) plain flour and sift in 85g (55g) cocoa powder, 1½ tbsp (1 tbsp) baking powder, 1½tsp (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda, ¾ tsp (½ tsp) salt and 260g (190g) caster sugar. Whisk until completely incorporated.
- Add 100g (65g) non-dairy yogurt and the cooled butter mixture to the soya milk and stir until combined. Then add the wet into the dry ingredients – you’ll need to work quickly from this point as the bicarb will start reacting with the vinegar as soon as they are mixed together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk vigorously until completely incorporated and you have a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the 3 (2) tins trying to split the mixture as equally as possible. Bang the bottom of each tin a couple of times on the work surface to release some of the air bubbles before baking in the oven for 25–30 minutes. The cakes are done if an inserted skewer comes out clean, and the sponge springs back if you press it gently. Leave to cool in the tin for 5–10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.
- Open the tin of cherries and measure out 2 tbsp of the syrup into a small bowl, and add 1 tbsp kirsch or brandy. Use a skewer or cocktail stick to poke holes in the surface of the cakes, about an inch apart and about three-quarters of the way through the sponge, then brush the syrup and kirsch mixture over the cakes using a pastry brush, until all of the liquid has been absorbed (you may not want to use all of the liquid if you are only making two-layers). Strain the rest of the syrup from the cherries into a small saucepan, along with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp lemon juice (optional but it balances nicely with the sweetness). Stir over a medium–low heat until the sugar has dissolved. In another small bowl or jug, mix 1 tbsp corn flour with 1 tbsp cold water until smooth, then pour into the syrup while stirring or whisking constantly. Bring to the boil then simmer until the mixture is thick and translucent. Stir in the remaining 2 tbsp kirsch or brandy (you can add a little more or less as you prefer), then taste and add a little more lemon juice or sugar if needed. Add the cherries back in and leave to cool.
- If using coconut cream, remove the tin(s) from the fridge and open – the cream should have separated and formed a solid layer at the top. Scoop this out, trying to avoid transferring any liquid with it, then whip with an electric whisk until light and airy. Sieve in 2 tbsp (4 tsp) icing sugar and whisk again until incorporated. If using Elmlea Plant Double, simply pour into a bowl, sieve in the icing sugar and whip with an electric whisk to stiff peaks (or as close as you can get). You can put the cream in the fridge until the cakes have completely cooled.
- Once the cakes have cooled entirely, make the ganache. Chop 100g chocolate very finely and place in a small heat-proof bowl or mug. Heat 75ml non-dairy milk in a small saucepan over a medium heat, until hot and steaming but not boiling. Pour over the chopped chocolate, leaving about a tablespoon of milk in the pan, and leave, without stirring, for 5 minutes, while you start assembling the cake.
- If you are making the 3 layer version I would recommend using dowel rods to keep everything in place (I didn’t have any so used bamboo BBQ skewers instead which worked reasonably well). Stick three rods in the bottom layer of the cake, evenly spaced, then slather the base layer with just over a third of the cream. Pile on half of the tinned cherries and syrup – it’s important the cherries are completely cool and it’s a good idea to concentrate them in the centre of the cake as they are liable to slip out of the side otherwise. Place the second cake layer onto the rods and slide down until resting on the cherries and cream, then add another generous third of cream and the remaining tinned cherries and sauce. Place the third layer on top, snip of the rods to the exact height of the cake. Return to the ganache, and stir until completely smooth, adding the remaining milk if it’s too thick to be easily pourable. Spread a thin circle of ganache in the centre of the cake and pile the remaining cream around the edge. Arrange the fresh cherries in a pile on the ganache, using extra to keep them in place. If your cream and cherries are starting to sploodge out of the sides of the cake, use an icing scraper, spatula or palette knife to scrape around the edges until you have a stylish naked cake effect and can pretend that that’s what you intended. Drizzle the remaining ganache over the top of the cake. For two layers, you shouldn’t need rods, and you’ll have half of the tinned cherries left over (see notes below).
*I’ve kept the quantities for the cherries and ganache the same whether you are making 2 or 3 layers. As the ganache is only for the top layer you’ll need the same amount regardless. You could do half quantities for the cherries and syrup if you’re making 2 layers and only want to use them in the filling, otherwise you could also use them on the top layer instead of, or in addition to, the fresh cherries, or have them on the side.
**Make sure your coconut milk doesn’t contain guar gum as it will often fail to whip up. I use Sainsbury’s own brand.