Tuesday March 13, 2012
At the end of February, Food & Wine brought me and the other Best New Pastry Chefs to New York for a photo shoot. I’d love to play it cool, “Oh yeah, no bigs. Just a thing we did.” But I spend 90% of my life working without make-up, hair pulled into a bun, dusted in flour and scrubbing my own dishes in a windowless basement. So sittin’ around while people attended to my hair and make-up kinda totally rocked. The only thing I had to do all day? Smile. The particulars of the shoot remain Top Secret until the May issue comes out but, suffice it to say, we played with our food.
I also ate a lot of food, from a parade of pastries at Corton, a treat from fellow BNPC Shawn Gawle, to masa ice cream at Empellon Cocina. I went to a million tiny bakeries and candy shops and everywhere in between. But, as befitting the girl known for Fauxreos and Pop-Tarts, the one dessert I can’t get out of my mind: a slice of cake.
It came served on a bed of chocolate cookie crumbs, unapologetically showered with rainbow sprinkles and an obligatory cherry on top. It had neatly combed white-whip for frosting and three layers of colorful gelato inside. Simply the most joyful dessert I’d seen in a long time.
I know I should come back from New York, newly minted as one of America’s best new pastry chefs, ready to show off something impossibly fancy. But instead, I’ve come back in a cozy, layer cake sort of mood. Knowing spring berries will start showing up in my kitchen any day, I wanted one last heavy duty chocolate dessert before I start to lighten things up with shortcakes and fruit tarts.
German chocolate is, without question, the heaviest of all chocolate cakes. Heavy flavors, heavy textures, so loaded with chocolate and nuts it’s psychically heavy. Now, conceptually I love everything about it. Coconut, pecans, caramel and chocolate are all landmarks on the road to Yum Town. But no matter the deliciocity contained within, German chocolate always reminds me of dirty shag carpet from the neighbor’s basement.
Nothing illustrates this truth better than the story of the day Rosco’s little nephew saw a German chocolate cake for the first time. The little tyke had earned the great privilege of putting the birthday candles on Rosco’s birthday cake. He anticipated this activity with excitement for an entire family-filled weekend. When the day finally came for him to perform his duties, he opened the cake box and literally burst into tears, wailing, “It’s barf cake!” He dropped the candles and fled the scene, crying. True story.
No one would call German chocolate an acquired taste. It’s an acquired sight. Why does it have to be so damned ugly? Well, because the ugly part defines its allure, that chewy, nibby, nutty, crunchy textured filling. Get rid of that and you’ve just got chocolate cake. Unless…
Unless you could have a German chocolate chocolate cake. Kind of pastry koan, think about it for a minute. A chocolate cake with all the flavors and textures of “German chocolate” built in. No shag required.
To accomplish this, I made a flourless chocolate cake with roasted pecans and coconut replacing most of the flour and giving it a nibby crunch. Pecan oil instead of butter ups the pecan flavor while coconut milk instead of buttermilk does the same for coconut. Caramel buttercream delivers the caramely flavor of the original in its purest form, but a extra drizzle of caramel at the end should satisfy those craving that gooey, sticky element.
Is it a German chocolate cake? No. It’s a German chocolate chocolate cake.
51 comments and counting
Mar 13, 2012 · 8:52 PM
Very cool! This cake is amazing!
· blog is the new black · www.blognewblack.com
Mar 13, 2012 · 9:48 PM
I love you. I really do. And because of that I’ve got to insist that you stop calling it “German Chocolate Cake”. It’s actually “German’s Chocolate Cake” – it owes its name to American Sam German, who developed a brand of dark baking chocolate used for the cake (German’s Chocolate, naturally). The omission of the ‘s is crazymaking for me.
Mar 13, 2012 · 10:05 PM
@blog is the new black, aw yay! Thanks so much.
@Erin, well, you can let the crazy making officially come to an end. The cake is properly known as German chocolate cake nowadays. I know all about Sam German and his history at Baker’s but language is fluid and due to over half a century of omitting the ‘s, the name change is official, unless of course you use a recipe made with German’s chocolate or the official recipe from Baker’s, which holds to its own naming convention.
But, even more intriguingly, the name “German Chocolate Cake” used to describe a chocolate layer cake with coconut and a cooked milk filling dates back to the 19th century. The true story of German’s Chocolate Cake and German Chocolate Cake is a rather long and complicated one that I’m actually in the midst of researching heavily. Someday I’ll be able to share my findings! xoxo
Mar 13, 2012 · 10:14 PM
I love that you know so much about the cake itself. Your blog is the bestest! I’ve been working up the courage to make a German Chocolate Cake to post, but the thought of photographing it is so scary that it’s been a slow-going process. As such, this recipe intrigues me. There are so many things I have bookmarked from your site already, but this is now on the list! It looks beautiful and I love the poor kid’s reaction to its homelier inspiration.
Congrats again on your win! I’m glad the shoot was fun!
· Kaitlin · www.whisk-kid.com
Mar 13, 2012 · 11:32 PM
MY HERO. I cannot wait to see the results of the photoshoot.
· Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite · www.eatlivetravelwrite.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 12:17 AM
Here I was thinking it was going to be an inside-out German chocolate cake, but that’s not ingenious enough for Stella BraveTart. Silly me. Amaze!!
· Jessica · http://bakemeaway.wordpress.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 12:21 AM
This cake looks absolutely stunning! Thank you for showing us a way around the shag carpeting.
· Samantha · seizethefood.blogspot.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 1:10 AM
Lol I was confused when I read about German chocolate and a little bit offended (being German) about the negative remarks until I read “barf cake” which made me laugh. That was until I read the other comments about Sam German. Ah…makes more sense because German chocolate is wonderful and tasty (and won’t make you barf unless you eat too much of it); beautiful cake!
· Jen · prairiesummers.wordpress.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 2:36 AM
This cake is exqusitie. It is perfect. How you managed this is beyond me. I am lost for words. Wow
Choc Chip Uru
Latest: Rich Sticky Date Pudding w/ Butterscotch Sauce
· Choc Chip Uru · gobakeyourself.wordpress.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 5:28 AM
It looks amazing, Stella.
A thing of beauty.
You are my ongoing introduction to American dessert culture but I’m glad especially because you make it wonderful.
· Chocolate Chilli Mango · chocolatechillimango.com/
Mar 14, 2012 · 7:45 AM
I can’t stop looking at this beauty. I just can’t stop!
Gorgeous, Stella, just gorgeous!
· Gail · www.onetoughcookienyc.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 10:00 AM
Your cake is STUNNING! I can’t stop looking at it. How did you ever cut into it? But since you did…want to mail me a piece?
· Abby · www.seaweedandsassafras.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 10:46 AM
@Kaitlin, yeah, I mean there’s just no way to make a traditional GCC look good. Do a google search for it and switch to images only. shudder
@Mardi, I know, me too! I am so anxious to see how it all turned out, it was very…intriguing.
@Jessica, I don’t know what you’d call this, like an inside-inside GCC?
@Samantha, recipe coming soon, I promise.
@Jen, oh no! I refrained from telling the story because it seems like every single post for German chocolate cake starts out with that story, and I just didn’t want to rehash it another time. I didn’t think about those who hadn’t been exposed to it already. I’m glad @Erin brought it up!
@Choc Chip Uru, nothing but practice! I’ve got crazy cake triceps.
@Viviane, have you ever seen the traditional version? The flavors are all here, but really, if you haven’t seen one you owe yourself a google.
@Gail, Thank you dear lady. I’m putting a gelato cake on my to-do list next!!
@Abby, I’ve got no qualms about hacking a cake into pieces. It’s the best part!!
Mar 14, 2012 · 12:31 PM
I’ve wanted to comment on your posts so many times but something about your ridiculously cool sweets makes me want to use a string of expletives…in a good way. Like holy blank that cake is so badword, badword awesome. Wash my mouth out with rainbow sprinkles, please!
· fatpiginthemarket · fatpiginthemarket.com/
Mar 14, 2012 · 2:28 PM
Oh. dear. god.
I am going to trash my diet for this… how unutterably gorgeous it looks!! And if it tastes just half as good… I will die.happy.
· wendy · corvidarium.blogspot.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 4:09 PM
This looks amazing – as always.
I can’t wait to see the photos; it sounds like you had fun!
· Ilan (IronWhisk Blog) · www.ironwhisk.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 5:33 PM
Being German, the German chocolate cake thing amuses the heck out of me, though I love coconut.
This sure is an unrecognizable but gorgeous version!
· Kiri W. · www.healthyfoodietravels.net
Mar 14, 2012 · 7:14 PM
@fatpiginthemarket, I love the idea of washing one’s mouth out with rainbow sprinkles. Good call! Thanks for coming out of the woodwork to say hello.
@wendy, it might even taste better than it looks….
@terya, um, gee. How you ya figure?
@Ilan, I’m sooo impatient to see them too, I’m counting down the days.
@Kiri, I didn’t know that about you! Cool! Yeah, it’s a funny tale of naming conventions.
Mar 14, 2012 · 10:48 PM
I can’t wait for the recipe. The caramel buttercream looks amazing. How many times did you make this with your substitutions, i.e. pecan oil etc. until it turned out as you wanted it? Yummmmmmmmmmmm. Thank you for a wonderful blog.
· CJ Jesser · jacksonvillemercantile.com
Mar 14, 2012 · 10:51 PM
Love this post – and hearing of your adventures in NYC being rightfully honored. I’ll be coming through KY in a couple of weeks and hope to stop at Table 310! Duh, yes, there’s a dessert menu there
· eggy · eggplanttogo.blogspot.com/
Mar 15, 2012 · 3:49 AM
So so funny about the barf cake. And it does kind of look like that nasty 70s shag. Maybe even barf on that nasty shag. But I’ll take a slice of homemade German Chocolate Cake any old day. My #1 favorite cake of all time.
If I wasn’t perpetually on a diet I would love to try your variation. Congrats on your accomplishment, too. That’s really cool. You deserve it.
Mar 15, 2012 · 11:10 AM
2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the German chocolate cake, which is certainly chocolate —and coconut and pecan — but is decidedly not German. The name comes from Sam German — who was either an American or an Englishman, depending on what you read.
In 1852, he invented a style of sweet baking chocolate for the Baker’s chocolate company. The company named it after him, but “German’s Chocolate” didn’t become well-known until 1957. That’s when a Texas homemaker sent her now-legendary cake recipe to a Dallas newspaper.
The recipe was so popular that German’s Chocolate sales shot up 73 percent in one year. Newspapers across the country reprinted the recipe.But somewhere along the way, German’s Chocolate Cake lost its apostrophe-s, leaving Germany holding the credit for a classic American dessert.
I just want to thank you for sharing your talent with all of us. I am so glad that I found your blog.
Mar 15, 2012 · 11:28 AM
Stella you totally ROCK! Love your site and your style..and I look forward to the recipe for this beauty
· SamCyn · www.samcynsedibleadventures.com
Mar 15, 2012 · 11:48 AM
@CJ, I made it every day for about three weeks and ran it on the dessert menu at work (baked in cappuccino cups). It took a lot of tinkering to get what I wanted!
@eggy, haha, I see you’ve been tuning in on twitter! Please shoot me an email, I’d love to know when you’re coming by.
@Annie, thanks so much! When Rosco told me the barf cake story, I just lost it. I thought that kid could be an art critic someday, with that kind of unfiltered honesty, lol.
@mona, thanks for stopping by!
@SamCyn, recipe coming later today, promise.
Mar 15, 2012 · 12:55 PM
absolutely stunning!! way prettier than any traditional German chocolate cake I’ve seen can’t wait for the recipe!
· linda · thepurplespoon.wordpress.com
Mar 15, 2012 · 6:13 PM
I can’t wait to see the May issue! But in the meantime I’ll just sit and stare at this GORGEOUS creation! Seriously, well done!
· Julia · www.fatgirltrappedinaskinnybody.com
Mar 15, 2012 · 9:35 PM
…ironically, the “barf cake” was mentioned by my sister just last Friday!
And, just for the record (and for the information of your readers), this still holds both the title of best German chocolate cake that I have ever had AND second-best birthday cake of my life. When you sent me that first image to tell me this was posted, I could almost taste it.
Definitely one of my favorite recipes from you, Stella. Thanks for bringing this one into my world!
· Rosco · sideshowphoto.com
Mar 16, 2012 · 10:47 AM
@Julia, me to, haha. I love that magazine’s come out a month ahead of schedule, if I had to wait until May for the May issue, I’d explode.
@Rosco, you appear!! Happy Belated Birthday, by the way. I wanted to get this post up in time for a birthday tribute, but it didn’t work out. When are you coming back for a visit??
Mar 17, 2012 · 8:43 AM
Another winner Stella. Looking forward to your findings on the history of German Chocolate. I’ve been on a mission to right the wrong about Red Velvet thanks to you. Congratulations!
· Churchladycake · www.churchladycake.com
Mar 17, 2012 · 1:48 PM
@Churchladycake, I am having such a blast researching it, definitely hoping to give it the Red Velvet treatment. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed that one too. Thanks for the kind words.
Mar 18, 2012 · 8:59 PM
Confession: I had never heard of German Chocolate Cake before. But yours looked so beautiful, and your description of the traditional cake made me laugh, so I googled it. Holy baloney, you were right. It DOES look like a “barf cake”!
But yours is gorgeous, I love the flavor combinations— definitely a cake to try.
· The Cozy Herbivore · thecozyherbivore.blogspot.com
Mar 18, 2012 · 9:02 PM
@The Cozy Herbivore, ahh! Really, you’d never heard of it? Haha, yeah, a google image search would be a shocking introduction. It really is a delicious cake, just not gonna win any beauty pageants. Thank you for the kind words. Cheers!
Mar 21, 2012 · 4:21 PM
Beautiful, beautiful cake. Congratulations on the Food & Wine piece, I’m looking forward to the May issue, I’ll try and get a copy of it (not an easy job where I live).
· Marita · masde30lifestyle.blogspot.com.es/
Mar 22, 2012 · 10:55 AM
@Marita, thank you so much! Good luck in the hunt for F&W, sometimes even here in Kentucky it’s hard to find. I have to go to a bookstore, the groceries don’t carry it, strangely…
Apr 14, 2012 · 8:42 PM
THAT is one beautiful cake!
· Valerie · www.valeriehjohnson.com
Apr 15, 2012 · 12:01 PM
@Valerie, thank you! About 5 minutes after we took the picture it was gone. Haha.
Apr 29, 2012 · 1:16 AM
My sisters and I had a similar indecent 2 years ago,we made our dad a GCC for his birthday because that’s what he wanted and so we obliged. At the time there were 5 grandchildren between the 3 of us siblings and needless to say they none of them were at all happy with his choice of birthday cake and much complaining ensued, which led to my niece declaring to my father that he was no longer allowed to pick his own birthday cakes anymore because he picked gross cakes ! I really thought maybe it was only our families littlest members took issues with GCC ! Clearly its just kids in general ! LOL
Apr 29, 2012 · 4:20 PM
@Jesyca, ha! You are not alone. I wonder if part of it is textural. Kids are really picky about texture, which GCC has in spades. And…well…the way it looks too.
May 11, 2012 · 8:08 PM
Can I be one of your minions or a baking assistant at the least? I can’t believe I haven’t run into you before. This is looks so amazing, I see why they wanted to pamper you.
· Gina · spcookiequeen.com
May 12, 2012 · 1:17 PM
@Gina, haha, thanks. Wish I could beam you over to my kitchen!! Thanks for stopping by.
Jun 03, 2012 · 9:40 PM
@Sipa, aw, thank you!
Jan 17, 2013 · 3:13 PM
Be grateful for superb recipes. I merely got and yes it tasted great: -)
I have a site having birthday cake formulas by myself when you are attracted. You can find it at http://recipes-cake.net
· pia · http//recipes-cake.net
Sep 07, 2013 · 11:18 PM
haha, right?! I never thought of it that way either. From the mouths of babes…
Dec 11, 2013 · 1:55 AM
I think the classiest thing you’ve done here
It’s Fantastic to see something so far.
This is great and just what i’ve looking for.
Thanks a lot.
· Shrey Patel · www.giftblooms.com/Germany/Cake-Delivery
Dec 11, 2013 · 10:23 AM
Hi Shrey, thanks so much. Glad you liked it!
Aug 25, 2014 · 6:50 PM
I just made this as a birthday cake! I’ve been wanting to make this one ever since you posted it. German chocolate was the first cake I ever made from scratch, but haven’t made one in decades, because I like my cakes stately rather than shaggy. When birthday friend had mentioned that his family had always made him German Chocolate cake for his birthday, I knew it was time.
When someone is craving a specific cake, I always worry that a re-invented version won’t fulfill their idea of that cake. What if the most crucial trigger to that childhood memory turns out to be the taste of red food dye? Or, in this case, shagginess?
He didn’t recognize the cake at first, despite the pile of coconut on top. Then, biting into it, yelled “Holy smokes, you made me german chocolate cake!!” So this one’s a winner, and it going into rotation. Thanks!