The Black Forest Cake is loved by connoisseurs all over the world: from Chile to Pakistan to Fiji – and is often even claimed by countries as a national specialty. Very few people know that the famous cake comes from Germany.

It is thanks to the younger generation that the Black Forest gateau has been dusted off. It suddenly appeared all over social media thanks to a wave of nostalgia for the 90s. Today, the cake belongs to no one and yet to everyone. It is the Danish butter cookie of the dessert world – a European cultural asset that transcends borders.

Traditionally, chocolate sponge cake is soaked in kirsch and refined with fluffy whipped cream and cherries. But the further the cake travels from its origins, the more it is modified to suit the tastes of people from other countries: in Muslim countries, for example, alcohol is often omitted. In recipes in Singapore, the cherry even disappears and is replaced by blueberries.

In Germany the cake is considered stale. And so far it’s not entirely clear where it really comes from. Some say it is the Black Forest region, others say it is Berlin. And then there is the Tübingen city archivist Udo Rauch, who traces the origin of today’s most famous cake in Germany to a pastry chef in a Tübingen café. Among other things, he refers to a handwritten dated photo from 1936 that shows the confectioner making a Black Forest cake. Regardless of its origins, it has gained a wide following even though Germany is not particularly known for having a culinary influence in the world. 

It is thanks to German emigrants that the Black Forest cake became famous around the world. Missionaries, chefs in upscale hotels, people fleeing the Nazis. They all spread the recipe wherever they lived or traveled. 

Today, many pastry chefs are reinterpreting the nostalgic cake: for example, it is served as a Swiss roll in a restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts, and in a jar at a newly opened Indian-inspired bakery in Chicago. The Black Forest cake may be outdated, but it is a good piece of nostalgia.