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Where does German Chocolate Cake come from? Germany, right?

Wrong. Texas. The cake was created by Sam German, an immigrant from Germany who, with many other Germans, settled in Central Texas. This distinctive cake, with its caramel-coconut frosting, has found a home across the country. Growing up in Oregon, this cake was a staple of every local bakery. They all tried to outdo each other with thicker and thicker frostings. The cake is so sweet a diabetic just walking by could develop problems.

This version of the recipe, from Rose Levy Beranbaum, reverts to the original. No sweet frosting on the sides, just that rich caramel topping. Rather than use a box of “German Chocolate,” Rose uses cocoa powder and boiling water. Rather than butter, Rose uses oil. I wondered, looking at those differences, if the cake would have the familiar taste and lightness I expected. This recipe was a delicious success, with a chocolate flavor that is not overpowering. And the crumb in this cake is light and delicate. In fact, the baking instructions here tell you to remove the cakes from the pans as soon as possible. I followed Rose’s recipe to the letter and, as a reward, I could enjoy every bite.

German Chocolate Cake

Yield: 1 two layer cake

Cake Ingredients:

¾ cup +2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup boiling water
½ cup canola oil at room temperature
4 large eggs separated +2 egg whites at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ cup cake flour
⅔ cup bleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt


Grease the sides of two 9 x 2″ round cake pan. Coat the pan bottoms with shortening and top with parchment rounds.

Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F

In the bowl of a stand mixer, by hand, whisk the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. To speed cooling, place it in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Add the oil and yolks to the mixer bowl. Attach the whisk beater. Starting on low speed gradually raise the speed to medium and beat for about one minute, or until smooth and shiny, and resembling a buttercream. Scrape down the sides bowl. Beat in the vanilla for a few seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift the flour mixture onto a large piece of parchment. Add half of the flour mixture to the chocolate and beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture. Raise the speed to medium-high heat for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bottom of the bowl. The mixture will be very thick. On low speed, add the egg whites. Gradually raise the speed to medium-high heat and beat for two minutes. The batter will now be like a thick soup. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into prepared pans. Each will be about one quarter full.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the centers. During baking, the batter will rise almost to the top of the pans and a little higher in the middle. They will start to lower just before the end of baking. To prevent the collapse of the delicate foam structure, while still hot, the cakes must be unmolded as soon as they have baked. Have ready a small metal spatula and three wire racks that have been coated lightly with nonstick coating spray. Leave the oven on to toast pecans for the filling.

Immediately run a small metal spatula between sides of the pans and the cakes, pressing firmly against the pans, and invert the cakes onto the prepared wire racks. Remove the parchment immediately and reinvert them onto the racks so that the firm upper crusts keep them from sinking. Cool completely.


Cake Filling Ingredients:

1 cup pecan pieces, broken medium coarse
1 cup +3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk one can (
three large egg yolks
8 tablespoons one stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups Baker’s Angel Flake coconut

Cake Filling Preparation:

Spread the pecans evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about seven minutes to enhance the flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together the condensed milk and yolks. Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, reaching well to the edges and bottom. As soon as the mixture starts to simmer, lower the heat or occasionally remove the pan from heat to keep it from cooking too fast or burning. Simmer for about five minutes, or until thickened enough to pool slightly on the surface before disappearing (about 175°F). It will still be pourable.

Stir in the vanilla, coconut, pecans and continue cooking on medium heat for 1 minute. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. The mixture will become tan and slightly translucent. Cover with a towel and allow to cool to room temperature, or just barely warm, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. It will take about three hours at room temperature, but it will reach spreading consistency faster if refrigerated or if stirred over ice water for 5 minutes. The filling thickens as it cools. If it is refrigerated for more than two hours, it will need to be softened over hot water or heated for a few seconds in the microwave.

To compose the cake, spread a little filling on a 9-inch cardboard round or serving plate and set the first layer on top. Frost with half the filling (it will be about 1/4 inch thick). Place the second layer on top and press gently down on it, allowing a little of the filling to ooze out the sides. Frost the top layer with the remaining filling, spreading it right up to the edge so that al ittle oozes luxuriously over the side, but leave these of sides bare. Cover the cake with a cake dome to keep the sides from drying.

Source: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum