It’s not the Black Forest if that’s what you were thinking you goof. Whatever gave you that dumb idea? The birthplace of Black Forest cake was a small university town called Tübingen, which truth be told is only a stone’s throw from the real Black Forest in the extreme southwestern corner of Germany, right along the border with France and Switzerland. No doubt the forest did influence the thinking of the pastry chef who invented it, a fellow by the name of Erwin Hildebrand. He was the one who first conceived the magnificent combination of chocolate spongecake, sour cherries, whipped cream and kirsch — in 1930.
It was actually nothing terribly new. Residents of the Black Forest area had been eating sour cherries with whipped cream and a splash of their local grog (cherry brandy or kirsch) for decades. Cakes made with cherries were also common, especially in nearby Switzerland where they made their own Black Forest Cake with cherries, nuts, spongecake and whipped cream. Hildebrand, it seems, simply combined the available elements in a somewhat novel way, with heavy emphasis on chocolate spongecake, kirsch, and chocolate shavings.
Why all the chocolate? Some say it was the deep, dark brown-black trunks of Black Forest fir trees inspired him. Others that his black, white and red color scheme imitates the traditional dress of the area: black skirts, white shirts and hats with red pompoms on the tops. I’m wearing that to my next dinner party.
Truly I have no idea whether any of this is true. My guess is a little of all of it all went into Hildebrand’s creative hopper. What is clear, however, is that his cake was it hit. Within two or three years it was being served in cities and towns all over Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The first printed recipe appeared in a professional cookbook in 1934. It would probably have spread around the world in another few years had the Second World War not broken out in 1939. Even with that (monumental) interruption it was being enjoyed everywhere from London to New York to Hong Kong by the late 50’s. Which really shows the power of a good cake, no?