This Black Forest Poke Cake is the perfect combination of tart black cherries, rich chocolate cake, sweet condensed milk and mascarpone whipped cream. Poke cakes are a fun take on a simple sheet cake. If you haven’t tried making one yet, now is the time!
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I am so pleased with this recipe! It’s absolutely delicious. I appreciate that you might think that tipping an entire can of condensed milk over a cake is tooth aching insanity! But I promise that with the moist chocolate cake and unsweetened mascarpone whipped cream topping, it is perfectly balanced.
How To Make Black Forest Poke Cake – Step by Step Video
What is Poke Cake?
I don’t think poke cakes are something that have ever hit the UK in a big way but they’re massive in the US. Basically poke cake is a simple traybake cake which then gets lots of holes poked into it.
I don’t mean skewer size holes like with a lemon drizzle type cake either. I mean big old holes poked in with the wrong end of a wooden spoon.
A topping largely consisting of condensed milk is then poured over the cake so that it drops down into the big holes and also forms a bit of a layer over the top of the cake.
Usually another layer like frosting, ganache or cream finishes the cake.
For another classic chocolate based US dessert which is little known in the UK, you should also try my Classic French Silk Pie. It is so good!
What is Black Forest Cake?
Black Forest Cake or Gateau is a cake of German origin consisting of layered chocolate cake, tart cherries and fresh whipped cream. It usually contains Kirsch which is a cherry flavoured brandy based liqueur.
Over time the term “black forest” has become oft used to refer to any baked item with a combination of chocolate cake, cherries and cream. Like many classics, many of us play fast and loose with such terms.
I know that this isn’t a traditional recipe. But realistically, as its a delicious combination of flavours which are easily recognisable, this is what I’m going to call it!
Black Forest Poke Cake
My version of a Black Forest Poke Cake is basically a cream topped cherry and chocolate tray bake. It starts with a dark, rich and moist chocolate cake which is loosely based on my Chocolate Muscovado Cake recipe. I’ve added cocoa, insisted you use dark chocolate and replaced the muscovado with light brown sugar. And then I’ve mixed in a bunch of black cherries.
The topping layer uses a whole can of condensed milk. I’ve mixed in some cherry juice which is thickened with cornflour. This makes the mix tasty, a bit less runny and a beautiful mauve colour. I’ve not included alcohol in this recipe but this would be the ideal place to slosh some in.
Once the cake and topping has cooled, the whole thing is topped with a mix of mascarpone and thick double (heavy) cream. Most mascarpone cream recipes include sugar for sweetness but I’ve kept the topping unsweetened so that the cake has a great balance overall.
Finally it’s finished off with some more cherries. They look so retro, I love them! I will make a confession at this point. I forgot to include the grated chocolate on top of the cake. I’ve included this extra garnish in the recipe but you’re not seeing things – muppet me forgot this bit on shoot day!
How to Serve Black Forest Poke Cake
This is a complete dish so you do not need anything else! Unless you really fancy some ice cream on the side, in which case I wouldn’t judge you.
Because of the mascarpone cream, the cake is best kept in the fridge. It’s pretty great eaten cold but it is much better left for 10 or 15 minutes to come up to room temperature. This is one cake that I definitely do not warm up as the cream layer would not thank me.
Make Black Forest Poke Cake into a Feast
I truly believe that you can make any dish into a proper feast! Whether thats a feast for one after work on a Tuesday, a casual feast for four on a Friday evening or a feast for 12 for a special occasion!
A traybake is an ideal dessert for a buffet type meal. It will sit quite happily and is easily sliced for even and un-messy portioning.
Don’t forget to head over to my Feast Collection pages to find all of my tips and tricks to help you host a fun and stress-free feast. Plus remember to check out my recipe index to create your own awesome Feast!
Ingredients for Black Forest Poke Cake
I am a huge fan of canned fruit and I use it a lot. I am a particular fan of tinned peaches in everything from compote to crumble. So for this recipe I turned to a tin of black cherries in a light syrup. This worked perfectly as I was able to utilise the juices and cherries themselves.
Using tinned cherries means that I can easily make this cake year round. Frozen cherries are another great option which are now fairly readily available. Just leave the same weight of cherries to defrost – they should produce some of their own juice as they warm.
When fresh cherries are in season, you can use these too. But they will need a little dealing with first. For every 250g fresh cherries, simmer them with 1 tbsp white sugar and 250ml of water until the cherries soften a little.
Don’t go crazy stirring or moving them around too much as you want them to largely remain whole. Allow the mixture to cool before treating the cherries and juice per my instructions for using a tin.
Whilst I am never one to insist that you use the finest quality chocolate, in this case I would like to insist that you at least you dark/plain/bittersweet chocolate.
The sponge cake element of this poke cake is intentionally dark and rich to counteract the sweet topping.
Tins of condensed milk are fairy readily available. Please don’t be alarmed about the ratio of condensed milk to cake – I promise it is absolutely correct!
You can make homemade condensed milk although the tins are easy and cheap so I haven’t yet tried this myself.
Mascarpone is a mild Italian cream cheese. It is rich and thick and made from double cream. I like the richness that it adds to the whipped cream topping.
You can use regular cream cheese but it must really be full fat. Equally you could skip the cream cheese entirely and top just with unsweetened whipped cream.
I’ve discussed substituting the tinned cherries for fresh cherries and the mascarpone cream for straight whipped cream. And to be honest, there aren’t a tonne more variations to be had.
Except adding booze. I haven’t included any alcohol in this recipe despite kirsch (cherry brandy) being traditional in black forest cakes. It is easy to add some in however. Simply substitute the cherry juice in the recipe with cherry flavoured alcohol. I have an especially delicious cherry vodka from Poland that I sometimes like to include.
For a stronger booze hit, You can add a further tablespoon to the cream topping before it is whipped.
Make it Vegetarian or Vegan
Sometimes it pays to ensure that cheese is vegetarian before assuming that desserts are vegetarian suitable. Good news in this case as mascarpone is a vegetarian cheese.
There are a range of substitutions needed to make the recipe vegan suitable:-
- Butter -> vegan spread or butter substitute
- Egg -> 1 tbsp vegetable oil or liquid egg substitute
- Dark chocolate -> Vegan dark chocolate
- Condensed milk -> Coconut condensed milk
- Cream -> Vegan cream alternative
Nothing should be difficult but I would caution that I haven’t tested these substitutions.
Make it Allergy Friendly
This recipe is free from nuts.
Gluten Free: To make the recipe gluten free, replace the plain flour with a gluten free flour.
Dairy Free: I would recommend following the suggested substitutions to make the vegan version of this cake above. Although the egg does not need to be replaced.
Egg Free: Replace the egg in the recipe with 1 tbsp vegetable oil or the packet suggested amount of vegan liquid egg replacer.
Please note that this recipe may contain other allergens not referred to above and any variations suggested have not been tested unless otherwise stated. For more information regarding any dietary information provided on this website, please refer to my Nutritional Disclaimer.
Equipment Notes for Black Forest Poke Cake
To make the base of this Chocolate Cherry Cake, I either use my Kenwood Stand Mixer or a large mixing bowl and an electric hand whisk which is just as effective. It is a little harder with just a wooden spoon but most certainly can be done.
I make the recipe as written in a 28cm rectangle brownie tray. To ensure the cake remains the right dimensions and thickness, I do recommend trying to stick to a pan this size.
A comprehensive list of the equipment used to make this recipe is included in the main recipe card below. Click on any item to see an example. There are no hard and fast rules so many items can be sensibly substituted to achieve the same results.
The chocolate cake with condensed milk topping can be made up to a couple of days in advance. Or even wrapped well and frozen for an extended time.
The mascarpone cream however will not keep or freeze well. I would not make up the cake in full until the day that it is going to be served. It will keep for a number of hours in the fridge so doesn’t need to be immediate. Making it up the night before wouldn’t be the end of the world but that it the max I would push it too.
Leftover Black Forest Poke Cake
Just keep digging in until its all gone. You do need to keep the cake in the fridge due to the fresh topping and I would reccomend giving it 20 minutes to come to room temp before cracking on with eating it – it will be tastier than when it is fridge cold.
Black Forest Poke Cake Tips
Be firm but gently when making the poke holes. The top will crackle but this is to be expected.
Spend a little bit of time to make the cream topping look nice but don’t stress. The best tip I have is to swirl c shapes all over to create the nice swirl. Don’t push too hard as you’re doing it either.
The sponge will be gooey. If you want a firmer cake, you can lower the oven temperature a little and cook it longer.
Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you try making this recipe – I want to know what you think and if you made any substitutions, how did it turn out?
Still Have Questions?
Simple! Just contact me and I will do my best to help as quickly as I am able. Head over to my Contact Me page, any of my social media channels or post a comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll see what I can do.
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More Chocolate Recipes
Black Forest Poke Cake
- 425 g Tinned Black Cherries
- 170 g Dark Chocolate
- 125 g Salted Butter
- 200 g Light Brown Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
- 75 ml Boiling Water
- 100 g Plain Flour (All Purpose)
- ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
- 1 tbsp Cornflour (Cornstarch)
- 397 g Condensed Milk
- 200 ml Double Cream (Heavy Cream)
- 150 g Mascarpone
Make the Cake
- Start by turning the oven to 180c fan | 350f and putting a kettle of water onto boil. Line a 28cm (11”) brownie tin.
- Open and drain 425g Tinned Black Cherries. Keep the juice to the side. Reserve 12 nicely shaped cherries for the garnish and set the rest to the side.
- Melt 150g Dark Chocolate in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the hob. Set aside to cool.
- Cream together 125g Salted Butter and 200g Light Brown Sugar in a large mixing bowl. You can use a hand whisk or stand mixer. Whisk until light and fluffy.
- Add 1 Egg and whisk to combine.
- Beat in the slightly cooled melted chocolate along with 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder and 50ml reserved cherry juice.
- Beat in 100g Plain (All Purpose) Flour along with 75ml Boiling Water and ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda). The mixture will be relatively thin.
- Gently fold in the remainder of the tinned black cherries.
- Pour the batter into the lined brownie pan and smooth it out. Make sure to push it into the edges.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
Make the Filling
- After the cake has been in the oven for around 15 minutes, add 1 tbsp Cornflour to a small saucepan. Add enough cold water to make a thick paste.
- Add 150ml reserved cherry juice and stir to thoroughly combine before slowly heating. Keep stirring until the juice thickens.
- Take the juice off the heat and stir in 397g Condensed Milk.
Poke & Fill the Cake
- Once the cake has baked and before it cools, use the end of a thin wooden spoon or other utensil to poke holes all over the cake. Stop just short of going all the way through the cake to the bottom.
- Pour the condensed milk filling over the cake. Make sure it goes into all the holes. Leave the cake to fully cool.
Make the Topping
- Add 200g Double (Heavy) Cream to a bowl with 150g Mascarpone. Whisk together until soft peaks. Be careful not to over whip or it will go grainy. Under whisk rather than over whisk.
Top & Finish the Cake
- Take the cooled cake out of the tin and remove all the linings.
- Dollop the topping over the now cooled cake. Use a spatula to spread it nearly to the edges of the cake. Use the spatula to make a pleasing swirly pattern.
- Grate 20g Dark Chocolate over the top of the cream (I forgot this step – don’t judge me). Add the 12 cherries for the garnish in a 4×3 grid pattern.
- Slice and serve!