Today is National German Chocolate Cake Day! And we’re here to talk about it. First, right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: German chocolate cake has absolutely nothing to do with the country of Germany. Shocked? I know.
So why is German chocolate cake called such? In the early 1850’s, an English-American chocolate mill worker named Samuel German invented a sweet chocolate baking bar for The Baker Chocolate Company in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Walter Baker, owner of Baker’s, bought the recipe from German for $1000, and the chocolate bar was named in honor of him: Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.
At the time, Baker’s (which is also a misleading name, as “Baker” was the last name of the family, and was not chosen to mean that the chocolate was only for bakers) chocolate was exclusively used for baking. It was more bitter, whereas the German chocolate bar had a higher sugar content, and was marketed as “palatable” and “a great favorite with children,” implying that it was meant to be eaten on its own, much the way you would eat a Hershey’s bar now, instead of to be used in baked goods.
The Baker Chocolate Company continued to thrive over the next hundred years, which allowed for what we now know as German chocolate cake to be created. German chocolate cake, a multi-layered chocolate cake separated by a caramel-pecan-coconut filling, and sometimes topped with chocolate frosting, is often attributed to Mrs. George Clay, a homemaker in Dallas, and was first shared by The Dallas Morning News food editor Julie Benell in 1957. While this is the most-referenced origin of the recipe, I’ve seen a reference to almost the exact same recipe over a year earlier in a May 1956 edition of The Irving News Record, printed in Irving, Texas. Curiously, the 1956 article states that “Daisy,” the food editor for The Irving News Record, actually got the recipe from her daughter, who was living in Oklahoma, and brought it back to Texas.
Whether we thank “Daisy” or Julie Benell for the recipe, we know that once it hit papers, it spread like wildfire across the United States. By 1958, General Foods, which now owned Baker’s chocolate, had decided to print the recipe in a recipe booklet. After this, the public’s interest was fully piqued, and Baker’s German chocolate sales increased by a whopping 73%.
It should also be noted that, by the earliest printings of this recipe in newspapers, the cake was already being called “German chocolate cake” instead of “German’s chocolate cake.” I’ve seen a lot of references to the fact that the name changed over the years, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have guesses as to why this is, the most probable being that home cooks, 100 years after Samuel German invented his chocolate bar, had no idea that the possessive German’s chocolate bar was created by a man named Samuel German. I would suppose that they assumed it was a German form of chocolate.
Hopefully this post will give Samuel German a bit of his due. To celebrate the day of his influence, I’ve made cupcakes, instead of the traditional 3-layered cake.
German Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 20-24 cupcakes.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 oz. Baker’s German chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup boiling hot coffee
For filling: I used 3/4 of the filling from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
6 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large egg yolks
6 oz evaporated milk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
Chocolate frosting (store-bought works fine, but you can also make your own)
For cupcakes: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
In a medium bowl, mix well the eggs and egg white, vanilla, buttermilk, and vegetable oil.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix together until fully combined.
Chop chocolate and add to a bowl. Pour boiling coffee over the top. Quickly whisk until the chocolate has melted, then quickly whisk into the other ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350. While the oven is preheating, fill two cupcake tins with cupcake liners.
Fill each liner up halfway. Bake, and begin checking for doneness at 18 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool completely.
For topping and filling:
Add the butter, sugar, yolks, and evaporated milk in a saucepan.
Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Allow the mixture to come to a steady boil, then begin whisking constantly until the mixture thickens (about 4-5 minutes).
Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, shredded coconut and chopped pecans. Allow to cool completely before filling cupcakes.
Scoop out the center of each cupcake, but not the entirety of the top.
Pipe a ring of chocolate frosting around the top of each cupcake, optional.
Fill each cupcake with the coconut/pecan mixture. Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry, optional.
Look, there are people who can do amazing things with cake. I’m not one of them. I kind of hate decorating cakes. Cupcakes, though, I can do! Plus, you get your own little maraschino cherry on top that you don’t have to share with anyone!
Thanks, Samuel German, for giving the world the essential ingredient for your namesake cake!