One of our family’s traditions is surrounding birthdays is the “honoree” gets to dream up whatever their heart desires for their birthday dinner, and one of the other family members gets to make it. The most recent birthday at our house was my son’s and he decided he wanted cioppino and a german chocolate cake. Well, the cioppino was easy because I had a go-to recipe that was great and worked every time (see recipe here), but the cake was a little more intimidating. I don’t bake that much and as I recalled, German Chocolate Cake was a bit on the fussy side.
But…a birthday dinner is not to be messed with, so I went to one of the tried and true masters of elegant pastries…David Lebovitz. The recipe required some steps I was not that familiar with (like cutting two cakes in half evenly for stacking) and the recipe definitely required close attention to detail, but I was baking with love. And I gave myself the whole day so as not to be rushed. It was miraculous! It was a visual delight and the taste was out of this world.
I was so relieved and proud as a peacock (yes I basked in the oohs and ahs), but I have no idea if I could duplicate it again. The most I can say about this recipe is
- take your time;
- read the directions a couple of times and pay attention to detail;
- if it doesn’t look perfect, you can be guaranteed it is going to taste great
- if there is any left, if freezes really well (my son had to go back to college, so I froze it and I’ve been portioning out a bit at a time for my cheat days, which is a great thing to look forward to!)
Recipe for the Ultimate German Chocolate Cake
(very slightly adapted from David Lebovitz)
For the Cake:
- 2 ounces bittersweet (or semisweet) chocolate, shredded with a cheese grater
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
- 4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the filling:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
- 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted (I couldn’t find unsweetened so used sweetened and it was fine)
For the Rum Syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum (like Meyers rum)
For the Chocolate Icing:
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated with cheese grater or chopped
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
To make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
- Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. I used a microwave on 50% for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir until smooth, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and beat on medium speed until combined. Then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Over low speed, beat half of the dry ingredients (the flour mixture) into the creamed butter mixture until just combined. Mix in the buttermilk and the vanilla extract until combined and then beat in the rest of the flour mixture.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar (slowly) and beat until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
- Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.
- Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake layers completely. While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.
To make the filling:
- Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and toasted pecan pieces in a large bowl and set aside. Mix together the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan.
- Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)
- Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)
To make the rum syrup:
In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted and dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum. Set aside.
To make the icing:
- Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and the 3 tablespoons of butter.
- Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.
- Once the filling and icing are both cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for 1 hour.
To assemble the cake:
Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife (some bakers cut cakes in half with a string pulled taut, but the knife worked well for me. Just keep your eye on it so you are cutting it evenly). You will now have 4 cake layers.
Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush the top of this layer well with the rum syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.
Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top layer.
Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping (I used a plastic ziplock bag with a hole cut out and just squirted dabs around the edges. While not as professional, it worked fine for a non-baker).
(It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. It is very, very good).
That’s it! Whew! So worth it though.