Monday, May 2, 2016

German chocolate isn’t German, but it is tasty

Posted on April 28, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

If you are a regular reader of my column you know that the focus is encouraging you to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean dairy and meat. I encourage you to eat a variety of foods much like a rainbow of colors. Well, I know and you know that we all have favorite foods beyond our healthy eating and many of them fall into the category of desserts. I know that many of you love pies, cookies, ice cream, specialty desserts and cakes.

Tim Graber, president of the 2013 Elkhart County 4-H Fair has chosen “German Chocolate Cake” as his baked item contest. I asked Tim why he chose this and this is what he shared, “As a kid growing up, my parents built a house on the backside of the family farm. My grandparents were dairy farmers. Because of the close proximity, we grew up on that farm essentially. We might as well have lived there. My grandma always made my birthday cake and it was always German chocolate cake. They were also always shaped like a lamb. Maybe that’s where my love of the sheep business came in? I have loved it ever since.”

This winter/spring I have had the pleasure of twice enjoying a friend’s made-from-scratch German chocolate cake and it was delicious. It also brought back many childhood memories as my mother baked many German chocolate cakes. As my friend shared about making the cake and all the bowls she used I was not sure I had ever made one from scratch but I can now say I have. I used the recipe that was printed on the German chocolate bar that you find in the baking aisle just like my friend and mother did. I took the cake to a meeting and everyone was most complimentary. So like many food items we prepare I want to make this again and also learn more about the history of the cake.

Before the history I just have to share what we had to do with a German chocolate cake when I was a child. My mother had just finished a cake and looked at her hands to discover that her diamond was missing. The diamond was very small and she was sure we could eat it in the cake and not know it so we as a family crumbled the entire cake but did not find it. Later she found it on a towel in the clothes drier. The mounting was remade but she lost it a second time; that time it was found in a stainless steel sink.

I really don’t know how anyone can’t like German chocolate cake; it is moist, tender, has chocolate in it, sugar, eggs, milk, coconut and pecans. But I have had people ask about leaving out the coconut or the pecans. Well in my taste buds’ opinions German chocolate cake recipes should not be messed with. I figure you are not eating it everyday and just enjoy a small to moderate piece with your favorite beverage, which for me would be milk.

I think it is an impressive looking cake. Three layers of moist chocolate cake that are stacked, one on top of another, with a sweet and gooey caramel-like frosting laced with coconut and pecans in between. This is not your typical layer cake that is covered entirely in frosting so you are left guessing what type of cake lies beneath. A German chocolate Cake’s sides are bare or some of the frosting drizzles down the sides but you can see both the frosting and the beautiful chocolate cake.

So what is the history of the German chocolate cake? Its origin is hard to pinpoint but we do know it is all American. Richard Sax in Classic Home Desserts says this cake was being made in the 1920s and eventually became popular nationwide after a recipe appeared in a 1957 food column of a Dallas newspaper. While the name “German” chocolate cake seems to suggest a tie to Germany, the name refers to the type of chocolate used in the cake which, in turn, is named after the Walter Baker & Company employee, Samuel German, who developed the chocolate in 1852. German’s Sweet Chocolate is a semi-sweet baking chocolate that has a mild flavor and is much sweeter than other semi sweet chocolates — it tastes like a candy bar. This flavor is why so many of us like the cake — OK, I will be honest: I really like the frosting, too.

The frosting for my next cake will be the following: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, egg yolks, butter and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, and when the mixture begins to boil and thicken, about 5 minutes, remove from heat. Stir in the chopped pecans, coconut,and vanilla extract. Let cool until spreadable (about 30 to 60 minutes). You really want the mixture to boil, this is because of the raw egg yolks and you need the mixture to thicken.

Please plan on entering your German chocolate cake in President Graber’s contest on Thursday, July 18. Entries are being accepted between 11 and 11:45 a.m. with open judging beginning around noon. On the lighter side, if you would like to bake a cake for practice, the Purdue Extension Elkhart County Office team would be very happy to do some preliminary judging, just give me a call at 574-533-0554 or email me at so we know when you will be bringing your cake.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email