The cake is named not directly after the (Schwarzwald) mountain range in southwestern Germany but rather from the specialty liquor of that region, known asSchwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) and distilled from tart cherries. This is the ingredient, with its distinctive cherry pit flavor and alcoholic content, that gives the cake its flavor. Cherries, cream, and Kirschwasser were first combined in the form of a dessert in which cooked cherries were served with cream and Kirschwasser, while a cake combining cherries, and cream (but without Kirschwasser) probably originated in Germany.
Today, the Swiss canton of Zug is world-renowned for its Zuger Kirschtorte, a cookie / biscuit-based cake which formerly contained no Kirschwasser. A version from the canton of Basel also exists. The confectioner Josef Keller (de) (1887–1981) claimed to have invented Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte in its present form in 1915 at the then prominent Café Agner in Bad Godesberg, now a suburb of Bonn about 500 km north of the Black Forest. This claim, however, has never been substantiated.
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte was first mentioned in writing in 1934. At the time it was particularly associated with Berlin but was also available from high-class confectioners in other German, Austrian, and Swiss cities. In 1949 it took 13th place in a list of best-known German cakes, and since that time Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte has become world-renowned.