Classic German Chocolate Cake Recipe
Luscious coconut-pecan frosting and moist chocolate cake are the perfect match for a classic American dessert.
Every October, my grandma, Dorothy, demonstrated a visible act of love for her baby boy, my dad, Bob. For his birthday, she’d bake from scratch a three-layer German Chocolate Cake, a gift from her heart that all of us enjoyed.
Luscious coconut-pecan frosting topped each layer of moist chocolate cake. Bubba never frosted the sides but topped the cake with her homemade frosting and arranged pecan halves in the center.
Today, whenever I see chocolate frosting decorate the sides of German Chocolate Cake in commercial bakers’ cases, I envision Bubba rolling around in her grave while shaking her fist and screaming, “NO!” She knew the success to this cake was the balance between Baker’s chocolate, spongy cake layers, and the dense coconut frosting. Adding anything else was sacrilege.
I don’t know if Dad, like many of us, loved the cake simply because it’s a vessel for that addictive frosting, or because he believed, given its name, the cake was a German-inspired dessert (sorry, Dad; more on that in a minute).
Bubba made the cake using the ubiquitous recipe found inside the Baker’s German’s Chocolate packets. Knowing my grandma, she probably added a pinch of this or that to the recipe, but those secrets died with her. She’d spend a couple of hours in the kitchen crafting her boy’s favorite birthday cake.
I think one year, Mom purchased a Black Forest Cake from a local bakery to top off Dad’s birthday dinner (I don’t remember her reason), but it was weird. Dad didn’t say anything (his vast experience as a husband taught him proper table manners), although we had some reservations about the cake. It was as though a dinner guest showed up at our table as the “plus one” of a friend. That person’s a stranger and, at least at first, there’s an awkward acceptance. Is Black Forest Cake yummy? Yes. Should it be Dad's birthday cake. No.
But unlike Black Forest Cake that originated in Germany, German Chocolate Cake has no connection whatsoever with the fatherland.
Samuel German, a baker who came to America from England, in 1852 developed a dark chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. Thus, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate was born.
It’s believed the first recipe of the now-classic cake appeared more than 100 years later in a Dallas newspaper. In 1957, Mrs. George Clay, a Texas housewife, shared her recipe for German’s Chocolate Cake, which was later picked up by other newspapers. Eventually, the possessive (German’s) was dropped, and the cake became known as German Chocolate Cake, so it’s easy to see how the origin of this dessert was muddled.
To make Classic German Chocolate Cake, which yields 12 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:
1 (4-ounce) package Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
½ cup water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
How to prepare German Chocolate Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with parchment paper. Bubba usually buttered the pans then placed the paper in the "tins."
Melt the chocolate and water in a large microwavable bowl on high for 1½
to 2 minutes, stirring halfway through the heating time. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.
Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together; set aside.
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each egg is added. Sitr in chocolate mixture and vanilla.
Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating after each addition, until batter is smooth and well incorporated.
Beat the egg whites in another large bowl with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the cake batter.
Pour into the prepared pans and bake 30 minutes. To test, poke center of cake with a toothpick; it should come out clean and the cake springs back to your touch.
Run a butter knife around the inside of pans upon removing from oven. Cool 15 minutes and remove cakes from the pans. Remove parchment paper and cool completely on wire racks.
To make coconut-pecan frosting, you'll need:
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1½ cups sugar
1½ sticks of butter
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1 package (7 ounces) flaked coconut
1½ cups chopped pecans (save several pecan halves to decorate the top of cake)
Mix milk, sugar, margarine, egg yolks and vanilla in large saucepan. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly for 12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown. Remove from heat.
Stir in coconut and pecans. Beat using an electric mixer (Bubba started on low and slowly increased to medium speed) until cool and of spreading consistency. This will yield 4 cups.
Photos: My grandma on the left in her kitchen in the 1960s. That's Dad playing his drums at a church event. A jazz drummer, he played with various groups around St. Louis.
Like I said, this was a real time commitment. You may think, “I don’t have time to make this from scratch” (I hear and see you), but if I may suggest not taking the shortcuts for frosting. This doesn’t require a lot of time or measuring, so if you’re in a bit of a rush, doctor up a German chocolate cake box mix and crown the cake with your homemade frosting.
Most cake mixes call for 3 eggs, water, and oil. To elevate the mix, add an extra egg (4 total), and instead of water, use buttermilk (or plain milk if that’s what you have on hand). Don’t forget the 1 teaspoon of vanilla, too.
The big difference with the box mix is it will fill 2 (9-inch) round pans. I can live with that. Stretching with a cake extender is another option.
Sometimes, the classics are more than enough. America should be thankful for Samuel German of England and Mrs. George Clay of Texas for giving us Classic German Chocolate Cake. Why not bake one for your next special occasion? Drop your comments, questions or photos below; I’d love to hear from you!
Here are two more classic desserts
Rhubarb and Pineapple Upside Down Cake is a throwback recipe that turns out a delicious moist cake that's not too sweet. Once known as Impossible Pie, Easy Buttermilk Pie uses Bisquick baking mix and is a comforting close to your meal.
About the blog
Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.