German Chocolate Cake Recipe

chocolate enrobage

Although Germany is famous for tall, multi-layered torten with alternating layers of cream, cake, fruit, nuts, beer, sausages, etc…German Chocolate Cake is decidedly the result of good-old American ingenuity. Deep, dark chocolate cake is layered with a rich filling of toasty coconut and pecans, then glazed with a slick, bittersweet chocolate icing. It’s based on a recipe using Bakers™ Chocolate, a company which employed Samuel German in 1852, hence the name. The first version of German’s Chocolate Cake—of which the apostrophe is part of the original name, was created in the mid 1950′s.

germanchocolatecake2.jpg

This is the best version of this classic dessert by far. It’s a slight variation of the fine recipe from my pastry pal Mary Jo Thoresen, who I worked with for many years at Chez Panisse.

German Chocolate Cake

One big, tall 9-inch cake; about 16 servings

For the cake:

  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the chocolate icing:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ½ ounces unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

5. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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:

1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the 3 ounces butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)

To make the syrup:

1. In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

To make the icing:

1. Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and 1 ½ ounces of butter.

2. 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.

To assemble the cake:

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 well with syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.

Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.

Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.

(It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. Trust me. You won’t be sorry.)

12 comments

  • Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!! Love you!!!

  • Can’t wait to try this – thank you for sharing the recipe! It looks wonderful.

  • Now that I read carefully the recipe… how can I replace the “buttermilk”?? since here in Argentina we don’t have any…maybe for heavy cream? Thanks…

  • David Lebovitz –blogging, baking and dispelling culinary myths since 1999

  • Use yogurt (whole milk or low-fat), sour cream, or regular whole milk with a tablespoon of vinegar added (let it sit at least 10 minutes before using…it will start to curdle a bit, don’t freak out, that’s what you want.) You need an acid to react with the leavening and to neutralize the taste of the baking soda.

  • Yay, three cheers for Mary Jo! Jojo is one of Derrick’s and my favorite restaurants. What a small world. :-) We’ll be there this Sunday for their Fall wine dinner.

  • I HAD no intention of baking a chocolate dessert this weekend, as I was on a bit of a kick just six days ago. And now all of that is out the window. The curls of icing alone were enough to push me over the edge.

  • Melissa: While you and Derrick at dining at Jojo on sunday, my Melissa and I will be preparing to whup Jason’s derriere in the next Amateur Gourmet Survivor II competition….les beignets! So far, Adam’s contest has raised over $2000 for the American Red Cross. I encourage everyone to participate and vote (for us, of course) in the next round, which begins sunday while Melissa and Derrick are dining at Jojo (….wish I was there with you, perhaps we should start a side wager here, the winner has to buy the other dinner at Jojo!? Tell Mary Jo to save a wedge of Almond Tart for me.)

  • BRING. IT. ON.

    Oh whoops, for a second there I forgot the competition is all in fun and for a good cause! David, we will be sure to say hi to the Jojo gang for you, and your wager sounds like a plan to me.

  • Hey, who’s the coach here? Nice that since I don’t gamble my wife is willing to do it on my behalf.

    Okay, fair enough. I have so much confidence in Jason that I’ll take the bet (’cause you know, it’s such a hardship to go to Jojo). If your Melissa beats Jason, we’ll take you and a guest to Jojo next time you’re in town. But we’ll enjoy being your guests when Jason coasts into the lead.

    (Though talking smack about beignets to a pastry chef might not be a good idea…)

  • I salivate.
    I thank you!

  • Oh, I wish I had seen this yesterday, before I made my daughter’s birthday cake. German Chocolate Cake is our family favorite, but I’m still searching for the perfect recipe. I have the filling down pat (my recipe is very similar to yours), but haven’t settled on the cake yet. Most of the traditional published recipes for German Chocolate Cake have such a wimpy chocolate flavor–is that because of the Bakers chocolate? Your version with the syrup and chocolate icing looks like it would be much moister and richer. Can’t wait to try it!