Would you guys believe me if I told you I’d never had German chocolate cake before last week? I know, it sounds far-fetched, what with the being an avid home baker and German chocolate cake being so popular. But as a kid I always passed it by in favor of less coconut-filled choices, and I guess a habit formed. But a few weeks ago the digital sign- up sheet went around for a dessert day at my oldest daughter’s school for Teacher Appreciation week, and the spot next to ‘German Chocolate cake’ called out to me. And so here we are, with a mile-high, rich chocolate cake sandwiched between layers of toasty coconut pecan filling. It’s great. I was a fool for never trying it before. What other culinary delights have I been missing out on?
I used to think I was organized. On the surface, it seems like I am. I make a meal plan for the week and a detailed shopping list before I go to the grocery store. I tidy up as many surfaces in my house as I can every night because I can not abide clutter. When I taught full time I had my lesson plans for the next week done before I left on Friday. For the teachers out there, obviously they changed roughly 452 times during the week, but still. I had a plan. Then my oldest kid hit grade school, and it quickly became obvious that I am actually a mess of a scatter-brain barely keeping up an elaborate charade.
How do other parents out there keep up with everything? I feel like I’m always missing opportunities to volunteer, donation drives, calls for supplies, etc. Sometimes it’s because we are swamped and I can’t do them, but other times it’s because I didn’t even know they existed. And that’s on me; I’m positive that if I were keeping up with everything I should, I would have known. So clearly, I’m not as organized as I thought I was. Now every morning that my kid makes it out the door to the bus on time, with a lunch, with her hair brushed, I declare victory. Which is all a convoluted way of saying that this cake barely made it out of my house and into the teacher’s lounge on time.
But thankfully it did, with three layers of rich chocolate cake and a classic coconut-pecan filling. Since I’d never had or made the original version of the recipe from the back of the Baker’s German chocolate boxes, I decided to go with my favorite chocolate cake recipe, adapted from The Fearless Baker. It’s moist, rich, and not too sweet, which is important when the filling itself is sweet to the max. The filling is from my trusty Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, and as usual, they know their stuff. It’s creamy, crunchy, and sweet, the perfect counterpoint to the cake. Is it technically a German chocolate cake if it isn’t the original recipe? I’m not sure. But I do know that it is absolutely delicious.
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
- 18 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2⅓ cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1½ cups pecans, toasted and chopped fine
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter three 8” cake pans, fit them with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
- Place the cocoa powder and espresso powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk until combined. Add in the buttermilk and set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars with a hand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add in the vanilla and mix to combine, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Add half of the cocoa mixture and mix to incorporate, then repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients, mixing only until the batter is smooth.
- Pour the batter evenly into the three cake pans, smoothing with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes for turning out onto cooling racks and cooling completely.
- In a medium sauce pan, whisk the egg yolks together, then gradually whisk in the evaporated milk.
- Put the sauce pan over medium-high heat, and add the sugar, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Cook, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil and is thickened slightly, about 6 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the vanilla and coconut. Cool until it comes to room temperature, cover the mixture with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.
- To assemble the cake, layer the cake and filling into 3 even layers.