September 11, 2021

RECIPE: German Chocolate Cake (a labor of love!)

This is more of a (long) story than a recipe, but I'll include the recipe here as well.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jerry's birthday is on Tuesday. Since we celebrated yesterday, I wanted to make him something special: a German chocolate cake, from scratch.

We've been married for 18 years and together for 22 years. And in all that time, I've only made him a German chocolate cake ONCE. It was one of the first years after we got married. Jerry's mom would make him a German chocolate cake for his birthday sometimes and I knew how much he loved it. (Her recipe was amazing, so I asked her for it.)

I had no idea just what I was getting myself into back then. I was in my early 20's, and I'd never baked a cake from scratch, let alone a cake that was on the difficult side. I am not a baker; making that cake was SO much work! I don't remember anything about how it turned out, but I do remember thinking that hell would freeze over before I'd attempt it again.

I do feel bad that I didn't attempt it again (until yesterday). I was so intimidating!

The heritage recipe series that I've been posting on my blog has given me the confidence to try my hand at baking. And I think I'm getting better at it (or at least understanding it more). So, I included a goal on my 40 Goals by 40 Years Old list: Bake Jerry a German chocolate cake from scratch. And of course, his birthday would be the perfect time.

I asked his mom for the recipe again. I was surprised to see that she uses the recipe on the Baker's German chocolate bars. I'm going to post it here, but the cake recipe and the frosting recipe can be found on the baking chocolate box (or on their website). I also discovered that it was the same recipe as the one in my Betty Crocker cookbook. (I've typed out the recipe for the cake and the frosting on one page, which you can get here.)

For experienced bakers, this cake is probably no big deal. But for me, it was intimidating! There are a lot of steps to it (not to mention 10,000 dishes to wash when you're done). Yesterday morning, I started by cleaning my kitchen. Yes--cleaning it. I feel better cooking/baking when my kitchen is clean and clutter-free.

Then I got out all of the ingredients to prep them before I even started mixing the cake. (I'm actually missing another half-stick of butter in this picture. I didn't even bother calculating the calories in this cake!)

The recipe said to line the bottoms of three 9" cake pans with parchment paper and then spray the sides with cooking spray. I immediately started overthinking it and I was sure I was going to mess it up! Hahaha. I traced the bottoms of the pans onto the paper and then cut out three circles that fit perfectly. (Note that the two pans with the blue handles are new; the third is older. This comes into play later.)

After spraying the sides with cooking spray, I was flipping through the Betty Crocker cookbook (I was reading about softening butter and just HOW soft it should be--see? overthinking) and I saw that if you're using dark, non-stick pans for a cake, you may want to decrease the oven temp by 25 degrees. Also, you may not want to spray the sides of the pan because the oil will burn the cake.

Now I was sure I was going to mess it up! I had two new cake pans that were still very non-stick feeling. I wiped off the cooking spray from the sides. The third pan was older, but I wiped it off of that one, too. 

Next, I got to work on the cake. It didn't look like normal cake batter (or at least "from a box" cake batter) and I kept wondering if I was doing something wrong. Was the butter not soft enough? Did I measure the flour correctly? Why doesn't it look fluffy and smooth? Is the chocolate cool enough?

And FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, why aren't these egg whites forming stiff peaks?!

The egg whites have to be beaten separately and then folded in at the end. To avoid having to clean my stand-mixer bowl twice, I used a hand mixer to beat the egg whites in a separate bowl. I was SUPER careful not to get any yolk in the whites. I've beaten egg whites before in my stand mixer and it worked fine. But when using the hand mixer, they just wouldn't form stiff peaks.

I hoped for the best and kept moving along. (I didn't think to take any other pictures until after I baked them)

I was relieved when I finally finished the batter and I poured it into the pans. The texture still wasn't what I expected, but I just hoped the cake would turn out.

I baked it at 325 F instead of 350 because of what I'd read in the Betty Crocker book. After 30 minutes, I checked with a toothpick and it was done! So I'm glad I didn't bake it at 350.

BUT... the cake didn't puff up like cakes I've made before. Usually, they form a dome on top--these were fluffy/spongy, but flat. I had no idea if that was normal for this cake (I still don't).

The older pan that I'd used clearly wasn't very non-stick anymore, because the batter stuck to the sides where I'd removed the cooking spray--doh. Thankfully, the others didn't stick.

When it was time to turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack, I realized how fragile they were. It was hard to keep them from splitting, but the parchment helped. The two from the newer pans came out okay. The one from the old pan looked terrible--it split apart and a chunk came off.

The problem with a German chocolate cake is that you don't frost the sides of it--so you can't count on frosting to hide the mistakes! (Clearly, something I've always relied on, haha.) I just figured I'd use the bad layer on the top where it would be the least noticeable.

While the cake was cooling, I made the frosting. This has to be cooked the correct amount of time for it to cool to the right texture--cook too long and it'll be dry, not enough and it'll be runny. I read in the comments on the recipe that it always works best when you cook until it hits 210 degrees, then remove from heat. It took longer than the recipe stated (it said 12 minutes, but it took mine almost 16 minutes to reach 210 degrees). Thankfully, the frosting was PERFECT. I could eat that with a spoon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

I had to carefully stack the cake layers, hoping it wouldn't fall apart. Thankfully, I didn't have any other problems. I covered the top with frosting and the ugly layer wasn't very noticeable. The cake wasn't exactly pretty, but it did look like it was going to taste delicious.

Jerry was very surprised (and thrilled!) when he saw the cake. I was just dying to eat it because it really did look good--and I already knew the frosting was amazing.

It ended up being every bit as good as I hoped it would be. The cake is SO moist and soft--and the frosting soaked into the cake a little, making it even better. Jerry and I were WAY overstuffed after eating a piece, but we just kept saying how good it was.

I knew Jerry couldn't care less about how the cake really turned out--he was just very touched that I tried it again. I definitely stressed over it too much and overthought all of the details, but it was very, very worth it. Not only because it tasted good, but because it made Jerry feel special on his birthday. And it only took about 15 years! ;)

EDIT: When I finished typing this post, I went to the recipe site and saw this tip that was posted--haha! At least I know that I didn't screw up the batter ;) 


  1. It's 5:00 in the morning, and now I'm starving for Cake! You're a good wife. And you have a very cute husband!

  2. Hurrah! Such a success. And now I will have to try to convince the #onehundredpercentgoodhusband to bake this. No way I would try since I burn everything. It is by far my favorite cake. So glad you tried it, both for Jerry, and for me!

  3. You're cake looks amazing and happy birthday to Jerry!

  4. Great job on the cake! My husband also likes German sweet chocolate cake, and so I've made it a few times. You're correct in the description of "10,000 dishes to clean"! I am not sure if I use exactly the same recipe as you. I feel like my cake layers look a little more "normal" and aren't as fragile. However, I've never known how long to cook the frosting - I just do it for awhile! Mine is always much runnier than yours was, but I always figured having some run down the sides made it look gooey. :) To top it off, I HATE shredded coconut! So I don't eat any of the cake. LOL I am glad you really gave Jerry some good memories for this birthday!

  5. My mom would make this exact cake from the back of the Bakers Chocolate box for both me and my father on our birthdays. (My dad and I bought Rum Cakes from a local bakery for my mom's birthdays.) My favorite part has always been the frosting where it soaks into the cake and becomes this wonderful gooey, fudgy. coconutty, pecan-y cake-frosting amalgamation. I'd always eat this part first and sometimes be too full for the actual cake, which irritated my mom to no end because those cake layers are WORK! One year, she gave me just a bowl of the frosting with a candle in it. I felt like I'd died and gone to frosting heaven. 😹 Just thinking about it makes my teeth hurt a little bit. 😉

  6. We just use the Duncan Hines German Chocolate Cake mix in a 9x13 pan and then make the Betty Crocker icing like you made to pour over the top, cause really its all about the topping.

  7. Can't stand german chocolate cake and now I'm glad I'll never have to make it. LOL


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