It may surprise you to learn that German Chocolate Cake is not actually German. (But don’t worry, it’s still very much chocolate and still very much cake.) And it’s also very Texan.
Pecans aren’t historically found in the German diet, but Texans sure love them. Buttermilk – which is mixed with chocolate in the cake – is also a Southern staple. As it turns out, the cake is an American creation, not brought to us from German immigrants as many have thought.
After researching the origins of the cake, every bite and nibble took us back to a recipe that ran in The Dallas Morning News in June 1957 called German Sweet Chocolate Cake.
Mrs George Clay of South-east Dallas submitted her recipe to the food pages of our newspaper using Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, which still exists today. It was called “German’s” chocolate after Samuel German, who invented the sweetened chocolate while working for Baker’s Chocolate, which was then owned by General Foods. (It’s now owned by Kraft). It’s a chocolate that includes sugar, which provides a shortcut for bakers.
According to What’s Cooking America, the 1957 recipe was picked up by other newspapers across the country, and sales of Baker’s chocolate soared along with the popularity of the cake.
Confusion about the origins of the cake have persisted. In 1963, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News, even President Lyndon B. Johnson served the cake at his Johnson City ranch for a luncheon with German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. We can’t seem to find any reports on if Chancellor Erhard liked the cake, or if he realised it was erroneously made in honour of his home country.
So, what is German Sweet Chocolate Cake? It’s usually three layers (sometimes two) of chocolate cake made with melted sweetened chocolate and buttermilk, topped with a custard-y frosting of eggs and sugar mixed with coconut and pecans. The frosting is also sandwiched in between the layers. It’s decadent, sweet and chocolatey. It’s not really that pretty, but hey, there was no Instagram back in the 1950s and 60s.
Plano recipe developer and frequent Dallas Morning News contributor Rebecca White tested the original recipe for us, in addition to the recipe we ran in 1963 from the Johnson City ranch, which was slightly different.
The first thing she noticed about the recipes were the limited instructions, which leads us to think that home cooks of the 1950s were a bit more skilled in the kitchen.
“If one is not a seasoned baker, certain instructions will be unclear, such as ‘cream the shortening and sugar, and egg yolks and melted chocolate’,” she says. “It lends the beginning baker to wonder 1) What does cream mean? 2) How long to cream the shortening and sugar? 3) When do I add the egg yolks and melted chocolate? 4) How do I melt the chocolate?”
White combined what she thought were the best elements of each recipe into one modernised version.
The original version used shortening in the cake, while the Johnson City version used butter. White liked the shortening flavour and texture better. For the frosting, the Johnson City version used evaporated milk instead of whipping cream. White preferred the milk to the cream because it gave the frosting a thicker, more custard-y feel.
GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH COCONUT PECAN FROSTING
2½ cups flour, sifted
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
125g Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites, chilled
Coconut Pecan Frosting (recipe below)
Heat the oven to 180°C.
Combine the flour, salt and baking soda into a bowl, set aside.
With a double boiler or microwave, melt the chocolate and let cool.
With an electric mixer using a paddle attachment, cream the shortening and sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Continue mixing and add the egg yolks to the shortening mixture one at a time. Once the eggs are incorporated, add the melted chocolate.
In multiple batches, add the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture, alternating with the buttermilk.
Once combined, add the vanilla extract.
Place the egg whites into a separate bowl and whip on high with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, 3-4 minutes.
Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.
Pour the mixture into 3 greased (20cm or 23cm) layer cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Turn out the cakes on cooling racks for further cooling.
Once completely cooled, add a generous layer of coconut pecan frosting to the top of one cake. Top with an additional layer of cake. Continue this step until all cake and frosting is used.
Coconut Pecan Frosting
Place 1 cup evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, 3 egg yolks, ½ cup diced, unsalted butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract into a saucepan. Warm over medium heat until the butter melts. Stir occasionally. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 12 minutes.
Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add 1½ cups coconut flakes and 1 cup chopped pecans. With an electric mixer using a paddle attachment, beat until the frosting is thick enough to spread. – The Dallas Morning News/Tribune News Service/Erin Booke