German chocolate cake is actually not German at all. The recipe using Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate was first published in a Texas newspaper in the 1950s, although similar cakes had been popular in the South for many years. General Foods, which owned the Baker’s Chocolate brand, capitalized on the cake’s popularity and sent photos and the recipe to newspapers all across the country. The cake was so popular that sales for the sweet chocolate jumped 73% in just one year.
After last year’s “experiment” with Black Forest Cake, I wasn’t so sure that Michael would let me make another birthday cake for him. But he is a kind soul and quite forgiving of my experiments and he agreed to play guinea pig again this year, this time with a new German chocolate cake recipe. I searched around for several months reading many recipes until I ran across this one on Epicurious. The photo made me want to reach through the screen and help myself to a slice, and I knew that I had to try it.
The traditional coconut-pecan topping has been moved to the middle and is made with a dulce de leche base. Then the dark chocolate cake is covered with chocolate ganache. The combination is sheer decadence.
The recipe had almost 200 comments on it, and I read through every single one of them because the Epicurious community is very good about sharing what works, what doesn’t, and any successful variations. So based on what I read, I made a few changes to the recipe:
- Used bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet for the ganache,
- Doubled the amount of condensed milk for the dulce de leche,
- Toasted the coconut but skipped toasting the pecans, and
- Added a pinch of sea salt to the dulce de leche.
Some commenters complained that making the dulce de leche was difficult because they didn’t have a pan large enough to hold a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. I simply used a large roasting pan for the water bath and it worked great. Others suggested doing the boiling water method, in which you put the unopened can into boiling water on the stove for a couple hours. I know some people swear by this method, but I remember at least one commenter saying that her cans literally exploded when she tried this. Of course she didn’t say how old the cans were or what condition they were in, but in any case, her experience is a cautionary tale.
Making the cake was not difficult, it just required a few steps, but it was all worth it when we tasted it. We had some friends over to share the birthday cake, and they all said it was very rich and delicious, and one even said it was the best cake she had ever had. The dark chocolate plays well against the sweet dulce de leche, but it is indeed rich, so I recommend cutting small slices. The recipe says it serves 12, but we got 16 pieces out of it and agreed that each slice was an adequate portion.
Because the ganache is soft, keep the cake in the refrigerator; that is, if there is any left!
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I used Droste.)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup boiling-hot water
- 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
- 4 ounces coarsely chopped pecans (about 1 cup)
- 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- pinch of sea salt
- 2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 10 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, 60 to 70% cacao, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
- In the medium bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix on low the whole milk, butter, whole egg, yolk, vanilla, and almond extract just until combined. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are wet, then beat on high speed for 1 minute. Add the boiling water and mix on low speed just until combined. The batter will be very thin.
- Pour the batter into the three prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly. Put pans in the oven, two on the lower rack and one on the upper rack and bake for 12 minutes. Switch the pans and rotate them 180°, then bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch the cakes carefully so that they do not dry out.
- Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cakes and then turn them out onto the wire rack. Carefully peel away the parchment and allow to cool completely.
- FILLING: Move top rack to the middle of the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
- Spread the coconut in the rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 to 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from oven.
- Increase oven temperature to 425°F.
- Pour the condensed milk into the 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and cover tightly with foil. Put the pie plate in the roasting pan and fill with hot water until the water reaches halfway up the pie plate. Bake for about 45 minutes, then add more hot water to the pan as necessary. Bake until the milk mixture is thick and brown, about 45 minutes more. Remove pie plate from water bath. Stir in the coconut, pecans, vanilla, and salt. Cover with foil and keep warm.
- GANACHE: (Make while the dulce de leche is baking.) Melt butter in the 3-quart saucepan. Turn off the heat and remove the pan. Stir in the corn syrup and chocolate until the chocolate is completely melted. Pour 1 cup of the ganache into the small bowl and chill for about 1 hour, until it is thick and spreadable. Keep the remaining ganache in the pan at room temperature.
- ASSEMBLE: Put 1 cake layer on the covered cake round and set it on a rack over a baking pan. Set a spatula in the cup of water. Drop half of the dulce de leche filling by spoonfuls evenly over the layer and gently spread with the wet spatula. Continue dipping the spatula in the water so that the filling spreads more easily. Add the next cake layer and top with the remaining dulce de leche filling, spreading the same way.
- Add the final cake layer and spread the chilled ganache evenly over the top and around the side of the cake. Warm the room temperature ganache over low heat, stirring, until glossy and pourable, about 1 minute. Pour the ganache over the top of the cake, making sure that it flows evenly over and around the sides. You can gently shake the rack to help distribute the ganache. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 1 hour, them serve at room temperature. Keep any leftovers in the refrigerator.
stand mixer with paddle attachment
3 (9-inch) cake pans, oiled and lined with parchment
9-inch deep dish pie pan
large roasting pan
1 rimmed baking sheet
3-quart sauce pan
cooling rack set over a baking pan
9-inch round piece of cardboard covered with aluminum foil
cup of water