German chocolate cake has been my dad’s favorite cake for as long as I can remember. So, it’s probably pretty surprising that I have never attempted making one from scratch before now. Growing up my fabulous nanny who was more like a second mom always brought us a birthday cake in our favorite flavor – always a sheet cake, and always from a box with canned frosting. She still makes me my standard strawberry cake with vanilla icing and darn it, it’s delicious! This year though, she has had some other things going on in her life requiring her attention so Dad did not get his standard German chocolate cake. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to finally try my hand at one – I’ve been itching to give it a shot for so long!
I’ve had this recipe from David Lebovitz bookmarked for quite some time. It was of course, not surprising to me that this turned out nothing short of amazing, like nearly every other recipe of his that I have tried. Truly, this cake was to die for. One of my brothers was working while the rest of the family sampled the cake, but the next day I received a text message from him stating, “Last night, hands down, best cake I have ever eaten in my entire life.” Considering that German chocolate is his favorite, and that he has tasted nearly every cake I have made, I think that says it all. The coconut-pecan filling was absolutely divine, the cake tasted wonderful and the rum syrup really helped keep the layers moist.
As far as the recipe goes, I had a few minor issues. Despite the fact that I drenched my cake layers, there was a TON of rum syrup left over so unless you have some other use for it, I would reduce the amount by at least half and maybe even more (I have reduced by half in the version below). The only other problem was that this is frosted with a ganache-like icing which, when freshly made, cannot possibly neatly frost a cake and would really require pouring. I chilled mine in the fridge and then the freezer for quite a while but I finally ran out of time before we needed to leave, so I just did the best I could with the consistency I had. I definitely recommend chilling this ganache very thoroughly before attempting to frost or decorate with it. This cake may seem like a big project, but I made the whole thing easily in one morning with no trouble (other than waiting for the frosting to cool). Enjoy!
German Chocolate Cake
For the cake:
2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. water
4 large eggs, separated
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the rum syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum
For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp. salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted*
*I was unable to find unsweetened coconut, so I used sweetened and the filling tasted great
For the icing:
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the sides of the pans; set aside.
Using a double boiler (or the microwave in short bursts), melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the water, stirring until smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature.
In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft droopy peaks. Slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to the mixer base.
In the bowl the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with 1¼ cups of the sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate. Mix in the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract until combined. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated.
Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, make the rum syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the rum.
To make the filling, combine the cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, pecans and coconut in a mixing bowl; set aside. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (170-175° F.) Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
(*Note – I found that my filling was still a bit thin even after cooling. I mixed in more coconut and that thickened it up perfectly. Probably depends on how tightly packed the coconut is in measuring.)
To make the icing, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter. Heat the cream just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating.
To assemble the cake, cut the two cake layers in half horizontally to yield four layers. Set the first layer on a cake circle, cut side up. Brush well with the rum syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach the edges. Set another cake layer on top of the filling. 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 of the cake with the chilled chocolate icing. Pipe a decorative border around the top layer, encircling the coconut topping.
Source: adapted from David Lebovitz