Birthday cakes don’t always have to be in cake form. Our son, Adam, has a great fondness for Black Forest cake which is greeted with only tepid interest by most of the other family members. I thought that doing a deconstructed version for Adam’s birthday might give solve the great divide. Accordingly, I used a recipe for traditional Devil’s Food Cake to make one 8″ round cake to be cubed for the small trifles and used the rest of the batter to make cupcakes. Done. Everyone happy.

The extra cherry compote can be used to top yoghurt or ice cream. If you’re suffering from a surfeit of cherries and would rather save some deliciousness for later, it freezes really well for up to a year. 



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Deconstructed Black Forest Cake

A fresh alternative to a traditional favourite, these individual trifles have all the components of Black Forest cake without the fuss.



For the cherry compote

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) fresh cherries
  • 50 g (1/4 c) sugar
  • 2 tsp kirsch (or another fruit-based liqueur)
  • Optional: 40g (1/3 c) dried sour cherries

For the chocolate cake

  • 240 g (2 c) all-purpose flour
  • 64 g (3/4 c) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 340 g (1 1/2 c) milk or water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 170 g (3/4 cup or 12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 350 g (1 3/4 c) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs

For the whipped cream

  • 1 c cold heavy cream (36% butterfat)
  • 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar


  • chocolate shards


Make the cherry compote

  1. Wash, stem and pit the cherries.
  2. Add the cherries and sugar to a large lidded saucepan. Cook over medium heat, covered, stirring frequently to encourage the juices to flow (about 10 minutes). Use a larger saucepan than you think you need – the cherries bubble up quite a bit while cooking.
  3. Add the sour cherries, if using, and cook until the cherries are wilted and completely cooked through (about 5-10 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the kirsch. Let cool before storing or serving. The juices will thicken as the compote sits.

Make the cake

  1. The cake recipe makes two 8″, two 9″, one 13 x 9″ cake or 24 cupcakes. This recipe needs only one 8″ round cake, so I usually use the rest of the batter to make 12 cupcakes, a popular item for the non-Black-Forest-Cake Fans (aka granddaughters).
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour whichever pans you’re using and/or line the cupcake pan with paper liners.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the milk or water and the vanilla. Set aside.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and salt until fluffy and light (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add a third of the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Add half of the wet ingredients and mix until blended. Repeat, adding another third of the flour, then the remainder of the milk until the last of the flour is added. Scrape the bowl as necessary and mix each addition only until it is incorporated.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans.
  7. Bake the cake(s) for 30 to 35 minutes (the cupcakes will take only about 15 minutes), until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  8. Remove the cake(s) from the oven, cool them for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove them from their pans. Cool completely before assembling or frosting.

Make the whipped cream

  1. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar on medium-high speed until medium peaks (just short of stiff peaks) (about 3-4 minutes).

Assemble the trifles

  1. Cut the cake into 1″ cubes and divide among eight small glass compote dishes. Spoon cooled cherry compote onto the cake cubes and top with a dollop of the whipped cream. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can pipe the whipped cream for a pretty pattern. Top with chocolate shards if using.


  • The cherry compote can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. It can be frozen for up to one year.
  • You may wonder about using confectioner’s sugar vs granulated sugar for whipped cream. I used granulated sugar for years, until I learned that confectioner’s sugar contains a bit of constarch, which helps the whipped cream retain its shape. Finally, the answer to why my desserts sometimes collapsed after a day in the fridge. Professional bakers sometimes even use gelatin in whipped cream to prevent this occurence, but I’ve stopped short of that step; the confectioner’s sugar seems to provide a happy medium.
  • Author: Helen Kain


  • Serving Size: 8

I purchased the footed glass compote dishes from Amazon. 

Fine Cooking has a great video on how to make chocolate shards if you’re interested. I had always assumed one shaved blocks of chocolate using a vegetable peeler but ended up with a powdered mess. The Fine Cooking method is easy and fun! I love having a stash of chocolate shards to add a touch of glam to trifles, ice cream sundaes or cupcakes.