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German chocolate cake

Making a three layer cake is a bit like building an Ikea bookshelf. During the process you doubt your abilities, scoff, and swear. But once finished, you stand back in admiration feeling pretty pleased with yourself. This German chocolate cake is exactly that but much more fun. Nothing to do with German patisserie, it’s as-American-as-the-day-is-long. Created in the 1950′s, it was named after the founder of Bakers Chocolate company, Samuel German. My sisters and I loved making cakes growing up and German chocolate was a favorite. My Mother’s Time/Life cookbook series was well-thumbed, especially the cakes volume. American layer cakes are no ordinary desserts. They are towering feats of sugar and butter that deserve to be proudly presented on a cake stand. If you fancy doing some show-off cooking, here is your opportunity.

The base of the cake is devils food and layered with a sweet coconut pecan filling. Milk chocolate ganache is frosted on the sides for the piste de resistance. If you want to break down the stages of making this, the cake, filling and frosting will keep for 2 days wrapped in plastic wrap.

german chocolate layer cake
prep time 45 minutes, cooking time 40 minutes
serves 10–12

80 g/2 3/4 oz/nearly 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
350 g/12 oz/3½ cups superfine cake flour, sifted (or use Italian 00 flour)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
450 g/1 lb/2 1/2 cups caster (superfine) sugar
350 g/12 oz unsalted butter, softened

coconut filling
2 large egg yolks
175 g/9 oz/3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
175 ml/5 1/2 fl oz/3/4 cup evaporated milk
60 g/2 1/4 oz unsalted butter
90 g/3 1/4 oz/1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
120 g/4 1/4 oz/1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract

milk chocolate ganache frosting
200g/7oz quality milk chocolate
200ml/7 fl oz/3/4 cup double or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF/Gas 4). Brush three 20 cm (8 inch) or two (23 cm (9 inch) cake tins with melted butter and line the base with baking paper. Brush the paper with more butter, dust with flour and shake out excess.

Whisk the cocoa with 350 ml (12 fl oz) boiling water in a bowl until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, transfer 75 ml (21/4 fl oz) into another bowl and whisk together with the eggs and vanilla until well combined.

Place the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low-speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining dissolved cocoa mixture and beat on low-speed for 7–8 minutes or until well combined, then increase to medium and beat for 1½ minutes. Add the egg mixture, in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each batch. Don’t over beat the mixture or the cake will be heavy. Divide among the cake tins and smooth the tops.

Position the oven racks so that you can fit 2 cakes in the middle and one in the lower third of the oven. Rotate the cakes halfway through the cooking time. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tins, peel off the baking paper and cool completely on wire racks. At this stage, you can wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days before frosting.

To make the coconut filling, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a saucepan. Add the milk and butter and whisk continuously over medium heat for 10 minutes or until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut, pecans and vanilla. Allow to cool completely.

To make the chocolate ganache: set a medium glass bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water, heat the cream until just below the boiling point. Remove from heat and stir the chopped chocolate. Whisk until smooth and leave ganache to cool for 5 minutes on the counter. Refrigerate until it has thickened, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. It should have a firm spreadable texture.

Line a cake stand or platter with baking paper (this will keep the it clean of frosting when you ice the cake) and place a cake on top. Spread with half the coconut filling, top with another cake, spread with the remaining filling and top with the third cake. Using a large palette knife, spread the top and sides with the chocolate ganache frosting in a swirling pattern. Carefully pull out the baking paper.


  1. Jean Hanson says:

    Oh my. You are wicked, Jenny. This was always husband Christopher’s favorite cake growing up, too. I don’t dare make it these days, as Chris has the discipline to resist and I do not. OK, well maybe for his birthday, or mine, which comes up sooner.

    I have been curious about when it’s appropriate to use special cake flour. In the recipe after the ingredient listing for superfine flour you say *see note* but I think it’s been left off this posting.

    This photography is divine. And I love the bold strokes of the frosting on the side.

  2. Helen says:

    Oh my goodness – that is one serious cake!! I can appreciate the Ikea analogy. I guess this cake doesn’t last long enough to fall apart like Ikea furniture though…

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