German Chocolate Cake

The birthday cake I made for a family friend. I really have a thing for Godiva chocolate.

The birthday cake I made for a family friend. I really have a thing for Godiva chocolate.

I never understood the appeal of German chocolate cake. The ones I tried were invariably dry, insipid, and essentially flavourless, with never enough of the coconut filling between the layers. Plus, they just looked… well, they looked messy. I don’t mind messy if it brings incredible flavour along for the ride, but messy and tasteless? Nope. Life is too short!

Without knowing of my antipathy toward German chocolate cake, a close family friend requested that I make a German chocolate cake – her favourite – for her birthday. I actually looked upon her request as a challenge: I was going to find a way to make a delicious German chocolate cake! Well, the incomparable David Lebovitz had beaten me to the punch. His recipe for German chocolate cake dictates that this classic cake be iced in ganache. How revolutionary – at least, to me! It certainly solved the problem of the cake’s looking disheveled. As I thought more about this extraordinary solution, I realised that the ganache would also pair incredibly well with the chocolate cake layers and the filling.

Glorious.

Glorious.

I made a test version of this cake, learning quite a bit in the process, and there are a few recommendations I’d make. Firstly, when beating the egg whites, do not overbeat them to the point of dryness. The egg whites must be beaten until they are stiff but moist; as with a soufflé, it is better to slightly underbeat the whites than to overbeat them. If they are overbeaten, the cake will be dry and will bake much more quickly than indicated in the recipe. Secondly, the coconut pecan filling must be cooked until it is noticeably thick and reads 170°F on an instant-read thermometer. If undercooked, the filling will ooze everywhere and will not set up properly. Finally – and this last point is more of an opinion than an objective observation – I feel that the amount of coconut pecan filling produced by the recipe is inadequate, as there was barely enough to thinly ice each cake layer. The filling is so, so, so good – I could sit down with a whole bowl of it and happily polish it off. If you like a lot of filling, I would advise doubling the filling recipe (simply double each ingredient listed for the filling).

The ganache really makes this cake, in my opinion. It adds moisture, and the creamy chocolate smoothness complements the chunky coconut pecan filling. I’ll never again even consider making German chocolate cake without ganache. Having said that, I must admit that I did not like this particular ganache recipe. This ganache is quite thin at first; I had to place it in the freezer for almost an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, for it to thicken enough for use in icing and piping. I suppose you could pour it onto the cake instead of icing the cake with it, but I don’t think much ganache would actually stay on the cake that way. In subsequent makings of this cake, I wound up reducing the cream by 1/4 cup and increasing the amount of chocolate by about 2 oz. In the form produced by the original recipe, the ganache was just too thin for me to comfortably work with. The original proportions are listed below, so you can decide for yourself if you’d like to keep the ratio the way it is or alter it.

Roll that beautiful ganache footage!

Roll that beautiful ganache footage!

Remember how I said I disliked German chocolate cake? After making this cake twice – the first time for practise, the second time for the birthday girl – I wound up making this a third time just for Husband and me. 🙂

A slice of win, I tell you!

A slice of win, I tell you!

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German Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet)
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used bittersweet)
6 TBS brewed espresso / coffee, OR 6 TBS water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted OR salted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the simple syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 TBS dark rum or brewed espresso / coffee, optional

For the coconut pecan filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 TBS butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp salt, optional
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted (I used sweetened coconut and did not toast it, and I loved the outcome)

For the ganache:
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 TBS light corn syrup
3 TBS butter
1 cup heavy cream

Method:

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 2 9″ cake pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper rounds; spray parchment rounds. Alternatively, butter and flour the pans, lining with parchment paper rounds; butter and flour rounds.

Melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate together with the coffee. Stir until smooth, then set aside until the mixture reaches room temperature.

Stir or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a liquid measuring cup or a small bowl, blend buttermilk and vanilla.

Beat the butter and 1¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping bowl as needed.

On low speed, mix half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then mix in the buttermilk mixture; mix in the rest of the flour mixture. Stop beating before the flour is fully incorporated, instead folding gently with a spatula until no streaks of flour remain.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.* (This can be done with a hand whisk.) Beat in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar until stiff peaks form. If you overbeat the egg whites, check the cakes at about 25 minutes in, as the cakes will bake much more quickly with stiffer, dryer egg whites.

Fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops. Bake 40 – 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely in the pans.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the simple syrup:
In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted and is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum or coffee, if using. Let cool to room temperature.

For the coconut pecan filling:
Place the cream, sugar, and yolks in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, place the butter, salt (if using), coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to noticeably thicken and reads 170°F on a candy thermometer or an instant-read thermometer.** This process usually takes me about 20 minutes over medium heat.

Pour the hot custard immediately onto the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken upon standing.

For the ganache:
Place the chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter.

Bring the cream to boiling. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate mixture. Let stand 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Let cool; then refrigerate or freeze until the ganache thickens to icing consistency.

Assembly:
Make four cake layers by torting the cake layers using a long, serrated knife. Set the first layer, cut side up, on a cake circle or serving plate. Brush generously with syrup. Evenly spread about 3/4 cup of the coconut pecan filling over the layer. Top with second layer; repeat. Repeat for both third and fourth layers, making sure to spread the coconut pecan filling over the top layer of the cake.

Ice the cake with the thickened ganache. Do not ice over the top of the cake (unless you want to!). If desired, pipe a decorative border around the bottom and the top of the cake, hiding the seam between the coconut pecan filling and the edges of the cake.

*I overbeat the egg whites the first time making this, and the cakes were overbaked 30 minutes into baking. If you overbeat the egg whites, check the cake at 25 minutes in.

**It is very important that you do not undercook the filling; else it will not thicken, and will be incredibly runny.

Source: David Lebovitz

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