Last September, I decided it would be nice to make birthday cakes for the people in my group. I work in a large department, but my group is only 8 people. It turned out that 3 of those people all have birthdays in September, so I was busy that month.

Bob’s favorite is German Chocolate. It turns out that it was Steve’s favorite too, but I didn’t have time to make one from scratch for him. Steve’s cake was a Duncan Hines mix. It was good, but not too chocolate-y. Bob was my first try at making one from scratch. I used the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

Differences Between the From Scratch Version and the Box Mix Version
I was quite pleased with the cake made from scratch. The cake had a deep chocolate taste, which the box mix was lacking. The pecan filling was sweet and nutty and did not have that artificial taste. There was also enough for all four layers. The tub of pecan frosting from the store was barely enough for two layers. I also had less doming with the from scratch version. The boxed cake domed terribly.

Doming Mishap (Box Cake)
I forgot that you had to even out the layers before icing. I iced it the night before and went to bed. The next morning I came down to find the cake in three pieces. I was ready to pitch it and go buy a cake when my husband suggested cutting it up before hand. It looked intentional that way and no one was the wiser.

Overall, it was worth the effort. I like the taste of box mix cakes, but I would rather know what was going into the cake using real whole foods and not a lot of chemicals. However, I’d still take a homemade cake made from a box over a grocery store cake any day. 🙂

German Chocolate Cake

Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: Sylvia Bass
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 12
  • Filling
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut (7 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (6 1/2 ounces), toasted on baking sheet in 350-degree oven until fragrant and browned, about 8 minutes
  • Cake
  • 4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate , chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa , sifted
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces), plus additional for dusting cake pans
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar (about 4 3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 large eggs , room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sour cream , room temperature
  1. FOR THE FILLING: Whisk yolks in medium saucepan; gradually whisk in evaporated milk. Add sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl, whisk in vanilla, then stir in coconut. Cool until just warm, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool or cold, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Pecans are stirred in just before cake assembly.)
  2. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chocolate and cocoa in small bowl; pour boiling water over and let stand to melt chocolate, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth; set aside until cooled to room temperature.
  3. Meanwhile, spray two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high straight-sided cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. Spray paper rounds, dust pans with flour, and knock out excess. Sift flour and baking soda into medium bowl or onto sheet of parchment or waxed paper.
  4. In bowl of standing mixer, beat butter, sugars, and salt at medium-low speed until sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula halfway through. With mixer running at medium speed, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl halfway through. Beat in vanilla; increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer running at low speed, add chocolate, then increase speed to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl once (batter may appear broken). With mixer running at low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream (in 2 additions), beginning and ending with dry ingredients, and beating in each addition until barely combined. After final flour addition, beat on low until just combined, then stir batter by hand with rubber spatula, scraping bottom and sides of bowl, to ensure that batter is homogenous (batter will be thick). Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; spread batter to edges of pans with rubber spatula and smooth surfaces.
  5. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard paper rounds. Cool cakes to room temperature before filling, about 1 hour. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.)
  6. TO ASSEMBLE: Stir toasted pecans into chilled filling. Set one cake on serving platter or cardboard round cut slightly smaller than cake, and second cake on work surface (or leave on wire rack). With serrated knife held so that blade is parallel with work surface, use sawing motion to cut each cake into two even layers. Starting with first cake, carefully lift off top layer and set aside. Using icing spatula, distribute about 1 cup filling evenly on cake, spreading filling to very edge of cake and leveling surface. Carefully place upper cake layer on top of filling; repeat using remaining filling and cake layers. If necessary, dust crumbs off platter; serve or refrigerate cake, covered loosely with foil, up to 4 hours (if refrigerated longer than 2 hours, let cake stand at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes before serving).

When you assemble the cake, the filling should be cool or cold (or room temperature, at the very warmest). To be time-efficient, first make the filling, then use the refrigeration time to prepare, bake, and cool the cakes. The toasted pecans are stirred into the filling just before assembly to keep them from becoming soft and soggy.