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What is German Chocolate Cake?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated May 17, 2024
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German chocolate cake is a popular layered cake traditionally topped with a pecan and coconut frosting. The original recipe called for a special sweet baking chocolate to be used for the chocolate flavoring in the cake. German chocolate is a milk-based chocolate that imparts more sweetness than most commonly used baking chocolate. The majority of modern German chocolate cake recipes instruct bakers to use any variety of high-quality chocolate or cocoa in the cake batter.

The rich frosting is considered by many cake lovers to be what makes German chocolate cake so unique. Unlike a traditional, smooth frosting with a butter or cream base, the topping is made by slowly caramelizing egg yolks and evaporated milk over medium-high heat and then stirring flaked, sweetened coconut and chopped pecans into it. This mixture is usually only spread between the cake’s layers and on top. Some bakers cover the exposed sides of the cake with traditional chocolate frosting as well, however. Strategically-placed maraschino cherries are a common adornment added to the cake’s top.

Although many people believe the German chocolate cake recipe originated in the country of Germany, it was actually named after Samuel German, the man who created German’s Sweet Chocolate in 1892 for the Baker’s Chocolate brand in the United States. A homemaker reportedly sent her cake recipe using the special chocolate to a local Dallas, Texas, newspaper in 1957. The unique cake enjoyed immediate popularity in the Dallas area.

News of the cake recipe quickly spread throughout the country but many regions did not offer the special chocolate for sale at local markets. The confection was such a hit that General Foods Company, which owned Baker’s Chocolate at the time, sent pictures of it to newspapers all over the country, along with information on where to purchase the chocolate. So many people made the cake that Baker’s Chocolate sales reportedly soared by 73% in a very short time period. The apostrophe in German’s somehow disappeared along the path to popularity, and the cake became known as German chocolate cake.

In the past 50 years, German chocolate cake has maintained its popularity. Most commercial and locally owned and operated bakeries make it on a regular basis, and many offer the recipe in cupcake form. Several popular baking mix companies sell mixes for the cake, along with ingredients for the famous topping. Ice cream parlors frequently feature German chocolate cake ice cream as one of their flavors as well.

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Discussion Comments
By myharley — On Jun 08, 2011

I purchased a German Chocolate Cake mix at a cooking and baking party given by a friend. This is one of my favorite types of cake, but I had never taken the time to make one myself. I didn't know how good it would be from a mix, but it turned out great.

This was much easier than making it completely from scratch and went over very well. I have not always had the best results when using mixes, but this is one that I would use again. I just always felt like there were so many steps you had to take to make a good German Chocolate Cake, and this really helped simplify the whole process.

By golf07 — On Jun 06, 2011

Nothing beats a big slice of real German Chocolate Cake. I could eat the frosting just by itself, but adding the chocolate cake makes it really delicious. My aunt makes the best homemade German chocolate cake that I have ever had, and I always ask her to bring it to every family event we have.

If you don't like coconut, you would not like the frosting, but I love coconut and think this is what makes it so special. I have had some German chocolate cake at restaurants that really wasn't that great. The quality of ingredients that you use can make a difference in how moist it is and how rich it tastes.

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