The first thing you need to know about Café Schäfer’s Black Forest Cherry Cake is that it isn’t named after that region in Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg. The second thing? Watch out for the cherries. They are 56 percent alcohol.
Master baker Claus Schäfer doesn’t stay still and that’s a good thing. Although the owner and chef of Café Schäfer in Triberg isn’t supposed to open the pastry shop until 10 am, a group of tourists are already waiting at the door at 9. He grouses about this. “If they want to buy everything in the shop, they should order in advance.” Besides, he adds, he can’t finish his cakes on time with all the interruptions. By 10 am, three Canadians are mumbling — disappointed — that the cakes aren’t finished. Schäfer acts exasperated, but he actually seems pleased with business on a rainy Monday in September.
Many restaurants and pastry shops in Germany serve Black Forest Cherry Cake (“Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte”), but Schäfer’s version is special. He owns the original recipe, dating back to the early 1900s
For the uninitiated, the cake is a sloppy tower of three layers of chocolate sponge cake, spread with a cherry sauce then mortared together with thick, cherry schnapps-spiked whipped cream. The cream is fresh, so it’s high in fat but low in sugar, which adds to the deliciousness. It’s then topped with chocolate shavings and ringed with more cherries. The secret to his cake, Schäfer says, is that everything is made from scratch and locally sourced. The chocolate sponges are made fresh every morning with real ingredients. “None of that biscuit mix,” he scoffs. The homemade sauce is made from cherries grown in the region.
You taste the liquor with the first bite, but it’s not overwhelming.
Customer Merce Iniesta from Catalonia
Which leads to the other secret: booze. What differentiates his cake is what Schäfer calls “cherry water” — watered-down schnapps distilled not far from his shop in Triberg, located smack in the middle of the Germany’s Black Forest. It’s 56 percent proof before it’s watered down — that’s stronger than most liqueurs — and the master baker sprinkles it liberally over the fresh chocolate biscuit layers once they have cooled a bit. This is after he has already splashed about two fingers of the undiluted schnapps into the cream before whipping it. “You can put too much in though,” he warns.
His customers agree. Merce Iniesta from Catalonia says she was a little wary of trying the Black Forest Cherry Cake here. Versions she’s tried in the past were too strong. “This is delicious,” she says “You taste the liquor with the first bite, but it’s not overwhelming.”
Schäfer, who is in his 70s, claims to hold the original 1915 recipe, which was passed down to his father, then to an apprentice, in 1929 from Josef Keller, the chef who created the cake in northern Germany. Schaefer washes his hands and runs up to his office to pull out the recipe book from his safe. The instructions are written in old German handwriting and barely legible, but Schäfer says he learned everything from his father.
While Schäfer talks, his wife, Crista, is busy serving a steady stream of customers. Some pensioners order coffee. Three American women visiting from Nebraska and New York say they made a special stop to test the cake and see the giant cuckoo clock in town.
The three Canadians also have returned. “I’m enjoying this,” says Aisheen Por, a 31-year-old banker from Toronto. She especially likes the touch of schnapps. “It’s a soft cake. The texture is good, not too sweet. Soft. Moist.”
In less than 20 minutes, the first cake is gone. More tourists arrive. Crista cuts into the second cake. Their Black Forest Cherry Cake has become so popular with foodies, tour operators are now booking tastings, she says. She shows off a monthly calendar.
Schäfer, who hasn’t sat down in an hour, says he needs to go back to start on some more cakes. He doesn’t assemble too many in advance — otherwise the whipped cream can melt. He starts with two, then makes another four, then another four. On busy days, he will make up to 15 cakes. That’s 240 pieces of cake per day.
Meanwhile, the lonely apple crumble on the shelf nearby is still waiting for one order.
Go There: Café Schäfer
- Location: It’s hard to reach but worth the drive. From Freiburg it’s about an hour along small, meandering roads to Triberg. Address: Hauptstraße 33, 78098 Triberg im Schwarzwald, Germany. Map.
- Hours: The shop is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, and on Saturdays 8 am-6 pm and Sundays 11 am-6 pm. Closed Wednesdays.
- Cost: A slice of cake costs 4 euros, or about $4.40.
- Pro tip: Work up a pre-cake appetite by hiking or biking around the Black Forest or visit some of the cuckoo shops in the area.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.