When I was about thirteen years old, I volunteered to make my Dad’s birthday cake. He asked for a German Chocolate Cake, which stumped me a little bit; I wasn’t sure what that was. I looked up a recipe and when I saw all of the ingredients, I backed out. I had no idea where to start with such a complicated cake. The next day, when he was served a store-bought non-German Chocolate Cake, he was clearly disappointed, on his birthday of all days. I’ve always felt bad about it. When I debated on what kind of cake he’d get this year, it wasn’t even really a question. I owed him the best darn German Chocolate Cake I could come up with.
My very earliest memory of my dad is when I was about 3 years old, crying and devastated because I lost one of my stick-on earrings. My Dad, so eager to stop my tears, hunted through the shag carpet of our home, crawling on his hands and knees all over the living room, and down the hallway, picking through the long brown fibers until he found that earring. I remember how relieved I felt that he found it for me, and looking back on his effort for something so ridiculous, I still think it’s so sweet.
A little about my Dad:
He has a great work ethic. I’ve seen him drag himself to work sick as a dog to support us.
He’s charismatic. He tells a good story and is a great conversationalist.
He’s smart. He always seems to be learning about new things and taking on new interests.
He’s a killer cook. He’s always coming up with crazy new creations in the kitchen. (Where do you think I got it from?)
I’ve learned a lot about my Dad in the last few months, while his own father was sick and dying. He visited my Grandpa faithfully to keep him company at his bedside. He shaved my Grandpa’s face in his hospital room. He helped my Grandma with yard work and errands so she wouldn’t have to do it all herself while Grandpa was ill.
After Grandpa died, my Dad stepped up to help my Grandma with the hard stuff; to plan the funeral and take her everywhere she needed. I’ve known my Dad to be a wonderful guy in many ways but he has gone above and beyond for everyone else during this time, when he is the one who lost his Dad. I am so thankful for his strength and I’m really proud of him.
Now on to the cake: it’s crazy good. I had a bit of a challenge because of my Main Taste Tester’s nut allergy, which I work around as much as I can so he can have dessert too. Most German Chocolate Cake recipes include the chopped pecans in the coconut filling and garnish, but I left them out of the cake and then garnished only the nut-friendly slices with the pecans instead. I think it worked just fine and this cake got rave reviews from everyone. My Dad seemed pretty surprised when I brought it out but he didn’t seem to recall my story about the missed German Chocolate Cake many years ago. I do know that he enjoyed it, even if it was a long time coming.
I love you Dad! I hope you had a great birthday.
German Chocolate Cake
Makes one 9 inch 3 layer cake
- 2 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup + 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp. baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, hot
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut
Milk Chocolate Buttercream:
- 1 cup good quality milk chocolate chips
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- 1-2 tbsp. cocoa, optional
- 1-2 tbsp. milk, optional
- 1 cup salted, chopped pecans
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9 inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment. Set aside.
Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Pour the wet ingredients in with the dry and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes or so. Scrape the bowl down and beat for another minute until well blended. Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 30 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. When done, take cakes out of the oven and cool for about a half hour. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack for another half hour.
At this point I like to wrap each cake in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer until ready to assemble. Keeping the cake cold makes it easier to frost.
Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt and coconut in a large bowl. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom as you stir until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon. It should look like a thin pudding. Pour the hot mixture immediately into the coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Set aside and cool to room temperature. It will thicken more as it cools. While the filling cools, make the buttercream.
Milk Chocolate Buttercream:
Melt the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter and 2 cups of the powdered sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and mix until combined.
Once chocolate has cooled a bit, beat it into the icing mixture until well mixed. At this point, you can add a little cocoa if you want your buttercream to be darker in color. You may need more powdered sugar if you want your buttercream more stiff or milk, to thin it out a bit.
Lay one cake layer down on a turntable and spread half of the coconut mixture on it. Lay down the second cake layer on top and spread the other half of the coconut mixture on the second layer. Lay the third cake layer down and spread a crumb coat of the chocolate buttercream over the whole cake. Chill for 15-30 minutes until crumb coat has set. Ice the cake with the remaining buttercream.
To serve, garnish individual slices with salted pecans.
Keep the cake in the fridge until an hour or so before serving. This buttercream can crack when cut if the cake is too cold, but can also melt if too warm.
If nut allergies were not an issue, I would have pressed the pecans into the icing around the sides of the cake.
The coconut in the filling is traditionally supposed to be toasted. I skipped this step and although the flavor was a little different, the untoasted coconut was delicious too; sort of like the inside of a Bounty bar.
Filling adapted from: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2005/09/german-chocolat-1/