The Fat Duck’s Black Forest Cake

A seven-layer chocolate-cherry extravaganza combining juicy cherries, velvety ganache, dense chocolate cake, airy mousse…I could go on. Respectfully ripped off from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook, even my pragmatically streamlined version of the recipe takes most of a day to make, but behold: The Lazy Duck’s Black Forest Cake.

Black Forest Cake

Hopefully you can see the layers, which are (from top to bottom):

1. Dark chocolate-cherry ganache icing – originally chocolate mousse and chocolate spraypaint
2. Cherry ripple vanilla mousse – originally kirsch mousse
3. Flourless chocolate cake
4. Morello cherries (from a jar) – in the original, fresh cherries soaked in kirsch
5. (layered with) Dark chocolate ganache
6. Whipped milk chocolate ganache – aerated chocolate in the original
7. Honey madeleine

[two months later as I write this post, I’ve realised that the flourless chocolate cake layer was in the wrong position – it should have been layer 3., (in between the cherry/ganache layer and the cherry jam vanilla mousse) – so the instructions below in terms of assembly are for what I should have done, rather than what I actually did]

One of our closest friends turned 30 a few weeks ago, days after my husband’s birthday (his 31st). Neither my husband nor I are great at gifts. The first Christmas we were dating, he gave me a DVD, and I gave him a high-visibility cycling vest and informed him that wearing it would reduce his risk of dying on the road by 10%. Over five years later, I still haven’t watched the DVD, but more worryingly, he has stopped wearing the vest.

Anyway, this gift inadequacy has led to a few panicked situations, as we search our house for something we can give to the people having us round for dinner, or that time when I realised on the way out of the office that nice people wrap their presents and had to use office supplies to make a card and wrap a package in the centre pages of Financial News.

However, for this birthday, my husband bought our friend a gift months in advance, and I offered to make a cake for the party. His wife already had something in mind – a black forest cake, something they’d eaten together on one of their first dates but I’d never attempted. Feeling confident, I immediately committed to it, replying “Schwarzwälderkirschtorte you say? Jawohl! (which I think means, will have a go – first time lucky!)” and set off in search of a recipe. I’d settled on a lovely-looking version when I saw in the comments underneath a reference that would change my weekend completely.

The Fat Duck Black Forest Cake. By Heston Blumenthal. Boom.

Apparently Heston analysed all the components of a Black Forest Cake, reverse-engineering it and then, I assume, reverse-reverse-enginneering it to construct the perfect composite, the platonic ideal of the form. According to the extract I read on Google books, they tried vast numbers of iterations of flavours and textures, innovating but retaining the spirit and sensation of the original. By definition, then, surely, it would be the best recipe I could make for our friend?

I only realised weeks later that I referenced this cake before in a previous post, as an Everest of a recipe, a challenge that exists in the world but too difficult to contemplate attempting. And I have to admit upfront that I swapped out those elements which would have required, you know, hardware (specifically an aerator and a paint sprayer – neither of which I had lying around and full of chocolate) so I replaced the aerated milk chocolate with a whipped milk chocolate ganache, and I replaced the decorative sprayed chocolate that gives the cake a suede-like surface texture with a healthy sense of perspective.

This recipe is really epic, sorry – but the individual components of this cake are all very do-able (e.g. ganache – which according to my mother, is so easy that it doesn’t really count as a layer), and to be honest, a subset of the layers (e.g. flourless chocolate cake, jarred cherries and ganache) would be an attractive and tasty dessert.

Mindful of Heston Blumenthal’s instruction to use only the fanciest of schmanciest for each ingredient, I bought all the ingredients from Lidl and replaced the £30 Kirschwasser with no kirsch (well, not quite – I used syrup from the jarred morello cherries to soak the sponge, and used cherry jam to marble the vanilla mousse). And it was, in my opinion, maximally delicious – I’d much rather flavour the mousse with expensive jam than cheap alcohol, which, let’s be honest, was the only type I’d have considered buying.

Recipe: The Lazy Duck’s Black Forest Cake

Adapted, lazily, from In Search of Perfection, by Heston Blumenthal.

I read a range of magnificent blogs before starting out on this quest, as (shhh!) I don’t own the actual cookbook. Primarily this funny and impressive one from In Search of Heston, this elegant one from My Angel Cafe, and this helpfully photographed one by Monitor Munching. In addition to the no-hardware adaptations, I made one large sheet cake instead of three little cakes, which was easy to transport in the tin and lift out onto a board.

I’ve made a few edits to the recipe that I used which relate to structural integrity for the last two layers – basically for a multi-layer cake, the general rule is that you want the layers to decrease in density as they layer up, to cut cleanly and avoid denser top layers making the middle squidge out. That basically means a bit more gelatine in the mousse and a bit more cream in the chocolate cherry ganache, and this is the recipe I’ll use the next time I bake it (maybe my own 30th?)

Shopping List

(I did one big shop and bought almost everything from Lidl)
100g unsalted butter
13 free-range eggs
35g honey
1tsp baking powder
2tsp vanilla (or 1tsp and half a vanilla pod)
60g plain flour
1Tbsp cornflour
30g icing sugar
200g unrefined caster sugar
265ml whole milk
600ml whipping cream
200g milk chocolate
500g 70% dark chocolate (Lidl – the Ecuador one has a lovely flavour)
15g good-quality cocoa powder
4 sheets of leaf gelatin
350g jar morello cherries (Lidl)
4 Tbsp morello cherry conserve/jam (e.g. Lidl – with as little sugar as possible)

One thing the amazing Heston doesn’t do is suggest equipment substitutions. It’s probably unnecessary, but in the spirit of pragmatism, I’ve suggested some in [square brackets].

recipe 7: Honey Madeleine Base

You can bake this the night before, I suggest in a large traybake (mine is 20 x 30cm).

1. Line the traybake with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 200C
2. Melt the butter in the microwave (30 seconds at a time on 50% heat, when 2/3 melted just stir until fully melted) [or in a small pan] and leave to cool
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat one egg and 30g (2Tbsp) honey together until thick and pale, on a medium speed for about 5 minutes, until pale and mousse-like. [or use a hand whisk and bowl]
4. Sift in 60g plain flour (4 Tbsp), 1 tsp baking powder and 30g (2Tbsp) icing sugar, fold in to the egg-honey mixture using the slowest speed on the mixer [or fold in with a spatula]
5. Add 1Tbsp milk and fold in until just combined, being careful to not overbeat (finish with the spatula to make sure)
6. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and ensure it is spread evenly, right into the corners. Bake for 10 minutes (it should be golden) and then turn the temperature down to 100C and bake for another 20 minutes (check after 15 that it isn’t burning) until deep golden brown (it will crisp up as it cools).
7. Cool in the tin and cover overnight or until you are ready to proceed.
8. For the next step, carefully invert the cooled madeleine layer onto a large piece of cling film (leaving a margin of a few inches on each side). Keep the baking paper in the tin for using in the chocolate cake layer.

recipe 6. Whipped milk chocolate ganache

1. Melt the 200g of milk chocolate in the microwave (broken into pieces, on high for 30 second bursts until half melted, then stir to fully melt) or in a bowl over simmering water. Leave to cool slightly
2. Whilst the chocolate is melting, whip 200ml of whipping cream with 1tsp vanilla until it holds soft peaks (which droop slightly at the ends). Fold the cream into the melted chocolate, a third at a time, until fully combined. You should have a stiff-ish mousse-like ganache.
3. Spread the ganache in an even layer over the madeleine.

Recipe 4. dark chocolate ganache

(yes this is out of order, but do this layer before the chocolate cake so that it has time to firm up)
1. Heat 100ml whipping cream with 1tsp honey and a pinch of salt over a gentle flame. Meanwhile, break up 100g of the dark chocolate and get out the butter.
2. When the cream is starting to agitate at the edges, but before it boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate and a generous teaspoon of butter (20g)
3. Swirl around so that the chocolate and butter is immersed, but avoid stirring too much as this can cause the ganache to split. Wait a minute or so before gently stirring with a wooden spoon until the ganache is smooth and combined – but stop immediately if it looks oily and the chocolate looks grainy, as it might split. If this happens let it cool more before mixing.
4. Let the ganache cool and then scrape into a piping bag (or a relatively sturdy freezer bag) and refrigerate for a few minutes whilst you get on with the cake. Don’t let the ganache get too hard as it will be impossible to pipe without re-softening.

Recipe 5. Flourless chocolate cake

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and use the same tin as you used for the madeleine layer, re-lining with baking paper if necessary.
2. Melt 65g of the dark chocolate in the microwave, and meanwhile separate 7 eggs, slipping the yolks into the plastic bowl of a stand mixer and 5 of the whites into the metal bowl. (reserve and fridge/freeze the two extra whites for future use)
3. Beat the egg yolks with 65g of caster sugar using the paddle attachment, until pale and mousse-like. Sift in the cocoa and mix in on the slowest speed, and whilst the whisk is running add the melted, cooled chocolate, one spoonful at a time.
4. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and 65g of caster sugar using the whisk attachments until soft peaks form. Fold one-third of the egg-whites into the chocolate mixture to slacken it, then fold in the rest just enough to combine (don’t worry too much about the odd streak)
5. Scrape carefully into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes – it should be a bit wobbly in the middle, but not liquid. Let it cool in the parchment-lined tin.
When cooled, carefully lift it out using the parchment, as the madeleine-ganache layer in the clingfilm will need to go into the tin.

Recipe 3. Cherries and chocolate

1. Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup, and arrange the cherries in rows along the top of the madeleine-ganache layer in the tin. Then pipe the dark chocolate ganache from recipe 4. evenly in between the rows (by snipping away a corner of the freezer bag and squeezing it out like toothpaste)
2. Carefully invert the flourless chocolate cake on top of the cherries/ganache, using the baking parchment to help you. Using a silicone pastry brush, generously apply the cherry syrup to the flourless chocolate cake layer (or just pour it carefully)
3. Make sure the cling film is making a vertical edging to the cake and is tied securely (as in the photo)

Recipe 2. Cherry-Vanilla Mousse

(nearly there!)
1. Soak the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes or according to packet instructions
2. Separate 5 eggs, dropping the yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer (you don’t need the whites for this recipe – reserve for healthy omelettes, adding protein to chicken soups or meringue) Beat the egg yolks with 70g caster sugar and 1Tbsp cornflour until white and mousse-like.
3. Whilst beating the egg yolks, heat the milk in a small pan with 1tsp vanilla, or the seeds from half a vanilla pod (store scraped-out pods in sugar to infuse it), keeping the flame low so that the milk does not boil.
4. Whisk the egg-yolk mixture on the lowest speed and slowly add the milk, a quarter at a time, to temper the yolks and avoid the eggs scrambling.  Then return the milk-egg mixture to the pan and heat gently (don’t let it boil), stirring and scraping the sides and base of the pan with a heatproof spatula. The mixture should thicken slightly so that when you draw your finger over the spatula, a distinct line is formed in the mixture. Remove from heat.
5. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves and add them to the warm custard, stirring until the gelatine has melted. Leave to cool slightly.
6. Whip 220ml of the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. Whisk 1/3 of it into the cool/lukewarm custard, and then gently fold the rest in to combine. Spoon in 3-4 generous dessertspoons of the cherry conserve and fold in to give a marbled effect.
7. Pour the mousse over the cherry-syrup-soaked flourless chocolate cake (the clingfilm should hold it in) and leave to set in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Recipe 1. Chocolate-Cherry Ganache Icing


The first attempt when I got the layers in the wrong order and 24 hours later it all subsided a bit – still delicious though!

(last step!)
1. Heat 80ml whipping cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form at the edges. Meanwhile, break up the chocolate and get out the butter and cherry jam.
2. Remove the cream from the heat and add 65g chocolate, 2 Tbsp (30g) butter, 4Tbsp (60g) cherry jam and a grind of (Maldon or sea) salt if desired. Stir in with a wooden spoon until smooth and uniform, and when the ganache is not piping hot but still pourable, spread it in a uniform layer over your now-completed cake, coming into as little contact as possible with the icing layer so that it is nice and shiny.

And now you are done! Let it all firm up in the fridge, and to serve, lift it out using the cling film onto a board, and carefully remove the cling film from underneath the cake. Slice it into rectangles and enjoy.


5 responses to “The Fat Duck’s Black Forest Cake

  1. Amazing! What a mission, but it looks incredible. The masochist in me is very tempted to have a go!


  3. Pingback: Big Sur Bakery’s Brown Butter Peach Bars | lowceilingedkitchen

  4. Pingback: Chocolate Beetroot Celebration Cake + chocolate dipped things | lowceilingedkitchen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s