I wish cafeterias would stop selling German Chocolate Cake. Years of two-dollar slices squooshed between the sides of disposable plastic food containers have done much to weaken the reputation of this really rather lovely treat.
Real German Chocolate Cake is not the cloying coconut frosting sandwiched by crumbly insipid layers so commonly found in deli refrigerator cases and hospital waiting rooms. It’s not meant to sit next to dishes of congealed tapioca and fruit salad at the lunchtime food-by-the-pound places.
Real German Chocolate Cake can be something elegant. When done well, it is practically regal: moist forkfuls of rich and complex chocolate cake layered with a simultaneously light and creamy coconut filling all covered in a blanket of whipped ganache. It’s supposed to leave you feeling satisfied, perhaps a little bit dizzy. Good German Chocolate Cake will make you swoon, not leave you wishing you’d gone with the pudding.
This recipe is adapted from the dessert genius, David Lebovitz, with a just a few small changes from his original recipe, all of which I’ve detailed for you here:
- The filling, which traditionally contains nuts, was made with only coconut because my boyfriend doesn’t like nuts in cake. I also doubled the amount because it’s my favorite part and I love a nice thick layer of it (also I love being able to clean the bowl afterwards…mmm!).
- I never keep buttermilk around since I use it so rarely, so I used a tablespoon of vinegar added to a cup of milk and left on the counter for ten minutes. It works perfectly (really you’re just looking for a bit of acid to react with the baking soda.)
- For the frosting I used half bittersweet and half unsweetened chocolate because I wanted a really dark frosting to contrast with the sweetness of the coconut filling. I also left out the corn syrup listed in the original recipe. Instead, I cooled the ganache and whipped it in my mixer until it was double the volume and light in color. While not the prettiest of frostings, it was absolutely heavenly and I confess to eating quite a bit of it straight from the mixer bowl. (Actually, I think it was awesome enough to eat on its own as an OMG so good and easy chocolate mouse.)
- I added a generous ring of shredded unsweetened coconut around the top
Oh! And one more thing. This cake will be awesome tonight, but if you wait until tomorrow, it will be even more amazing. The filling will have absorbed just a tiny bit into the cake and the whole thing will taste even richer. It will also keep remarkably well left out on the counter for up to 5 days (we didn’t even bother covering it, although you probably should).
I made this cake for my boyfriend's and my New Year's Eve dinner; a very sweet way to close out 2008. Since it's just the two of us here, we each helped ourselves to a slice (or two!) everyday for the first couple days of the new year and would have gladly kept going had I not had to sense to wrap up the half that was left and send it home with my dad when he stopped by one night. He brought it into work where his coworkers reportedly fell all over themselves devouring it in a matter of minutes.
German Chocolate CakeAdapted from David Lebovitz/ Makes one huge 9-inch layer cake—enough for several days (or servings) of deliciousness!
For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (can be replaced with 1 cup whole milk mixed with 1 tbsp vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups sugar
6 large egg yolks
6 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon salt1 cup chopped pecans (optional—can replace with 1 cup coconut if you don’t want nuts in your cake)
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted
For the syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum, vodka, or coffee or coconut liqueur
For the chocolate icing:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 ½ ounces unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
To make the cake:Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt chocolate w/ the water in the microwave (30 seconds at a time). Stir until smooth and let cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, allowing each one to incorporate.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Mix in half of the dry ingredients, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.
In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.
Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there's no trace of egg white visible.
Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.Cool cake layers completely.While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.
To make the filling:Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan (if using) pieces in a large bowl.
Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon
Pour the hot custard immediately into the coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)
To make the syrup:In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the rum or alcohol of your choice.
To make the icing:Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with 1 ½ ounces of butter. Heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife. Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush with the syrup. Spread ¼ of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top. Repeat until you’ve used all the layers and all the filling (include a layer of filling on top). Ice the sides with the chocolate frosting and sprinkle coconut over and around the top edges.
To assemble the cake: