German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate CakeOnce again, the topic for this week’s Spin Cycle is recipes, and I’m participating every day until Friday.  Just thought I’d get that out of the way.

I asked Beloved what kind of a dessert he’d like me to make recently, and to my surprise the answer was not carrot cake. However, it didn’t really surprise me when he said, “German chocolate cake.”

I was more than happy to comply – I love German chocolate cake, myself. In fact, I only know three people who don’t, and all three of them are my offspring or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Oldest Son dislikes coconut, Jolly dislikes nuts and coconut and The Young One dislikes just about everything.

It’s okay; I love them anyway.

In years past, I’d have made a chocolate cake from a box and topped it with the German chocolate cake frosting from a can, but unless I’m in a pinch and/or hurry I try not to make anything pre-prepared or from a mix these days.  That being said, I’d never really made coconut-pecan frosting from scratch and now I’m kind of peeved with myself, because it’s not hard.

Now, I have to admit I was a little skeptical when I chose the recipe from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s newly published Rose’s Heavenly Cakes to make, because her recipe called for sweetened condensed milk.  I was a bit taken aback, actually, because sweetened condensed milk has such a distinctive flavor – one I’d never really tasted in any coconut-pecan frosting before.  But I’m nothing if not thorough, and knowing that sweetened condensed milk is just evaporated milk that’s been cooked with sugar to a thick consistency, I did a little research and found that almost all coconut-pecan frosting recipes call for evaporated milk cooked with sugar to a thick consistency.

To say that I was astounded would be an understatement:  Mrs. Berenbaum, whose recipes are known for the exactness of their ingredients (she weighs her ingredients within a tenth of a gram), took a shortcut.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.

At any rate, I took her recipe for the frosting and tweaked it a bit to make it my own, but her cake recipe just turned me off; I’ve had some experience baking her cakes and they are not only extraordinarily exacting but, sadly, are often dry (I’m sure the fault is mine).  While the original recipe for this cake calls for Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, modern recipes seldom do; here is mine – it is a moist, tender cake so make sure your coconut-pecan frosting is very soft (refrigerate the cake and heat the frosting slightly if you have to) or it will tear up the cake when you spread it.  I also bake it in a 13″ x 9″ pan, instead of layers and leave the cake in the pan when I frost it; it just makes it easier to serve (and keep) unless you’re making it for company or an “occasion” – in that case, I’d bake it in layers, spread the coconut-pecan frosting between the layers and on top, then frost the edges with a good chocolate ganache.

Note: the recipe calls for Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa, which is a blend of regular and Dutched cocoa; I like the taste it gives recipes calling for cocoa.  If you can’t find it or don’t want to use it, regular cocao will be fine.

German Chocolate Cake

makes 10 – 14 servings


2 cups sugar

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ pan (or 2 – 9″ round pans).

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pan(s).

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pans to wire racks, if making layers. Cool completely.


1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

3 large egg yolks

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add the butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a thin, plastic or silicone spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and edges of the pan.  When the mixture starts to simmer (just under a boil), lower the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, continuing to stir constantly, or until thickened enough to pool slightly on the surface before disappearing into the mixture when dropped from the spoon or spatula (it will still be pourable).

Stir in the vanilla, coconut and pecans and continue to cook on low heat while stirring continuously for about 1 more  minute.  Scrape the mixture into a large bowl; cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to cool to room temperature; this will take about 2 or 3 hours.  If you make it ahead and need to refrigerate, it will need to be softened over hot water or heated in a microwave for a few seconds to make it spreading consistency.

Spread over the cooled cake (and between layers if making a layer cake) and serve.  Refrigerate leftovers.