David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake

7.29.10 § 17 Comments

When I was little, my grandma would make my favorite cake for my birthday each year.  As I got older, this torch passed to my best friend, who makes birthday baked goods for all her loved ones.  However, now that I’ve moved far away from most of those I know and love, I realized that this year, I didn’t have anyone who was planning to make me a cake!

After much lamenting, I said to myself, “You know what?  You’re an owngirl.  Make your own freakin’ birthday baked good.”  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, let me share a definition (courtesy of the Online HOTroy Dictionary and the original owngirl, my friend Helen, also known as Helen of Troy):

Owngirl (n): A woman in control of her destiny, unafraid to take a chance and make her life awesome. She does what she wants, without regard for others’ opinions of her.
ex).  This morning I didn’t want to wear a bra, so I didn’t. You know why? Because I’m an owngirl.

Owngirl (v): To take control of a situation and make it what you want.
ex). He was so attractive that I went straight up to him and owngirled him. He liked it.


So, I put on my owngirl shoes, picked a recipe, and got to work.  Actually, I had to go buy cake pans first.  Would you believe I didn’t have any?!  Anyway, it wasn’t until I was about halfway through the batter-making process that I realized I had picked the most complicated cake OF ALL TIME.  (One of my fatal flaws is that a lot of times I forget the importance of reading a recipe all the way through before beginning a kitchen adventure.)  While it’s incredibly complicated and time consuming to make this, it’s also definitely worth it.  Just make sure you budget, you know, a whole day.

Picture this: I’m in my hot, un-airconditioned kitchen, wearing the clothes I slept in, frantically mixing what I think is the final version of cake batter because I’m trying to get to my own birthday dinner.  I’m supposed to be there in about an hour and a half and the cakes need to bake for 45 minutes.  It is at this point I realize that I am supposed to whip some egg whites and sugar until they form semi-firm peaks and then incorporate that into the batter.  Really Lebovitz? Really?!  To complicate things, I only have one bowl for my kitchenaid mixer and in my frantic state, I can’t decide whether or not I want to transfer the half-ready batter and clean the bowl so I can reuse it.  I decide not to waste the time.  So, I have to sit in the floor (no counter space in my life, remember?), holding a bowl of egg whites as my kitchenaid does its work in a random mixing bowl.  All the while, I’m panicking, texting my friends apologizing for the fact that hey, I might miss the dinner being held in my honor.  (At this point, the owngirl buzz is beginning to fade a bit.)

Thankfully, my roomie and her friends offered to pull the cakes out of the oven when they were done.  (I told you she was great.)  With her assurance that everything would be okay, I managed to shower and get out the door in time to make it to dinner.  I was only twenty minutes late, which is pretty impressive considering the circumstances.

It wasn’t until the next day that I had an opportunity to finish the cake to end all cakes.  Each layer covered with a rum syrup and a coconut-pecan-custard filling, the entire thing topped with a frosting that is basically just melted chocolate…amazing.  Although, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  In my unbearably hot kitchen, the frosting kept melting!  I had to frost for about five minutes and then stick the cake in the fridge for about ten to keep the entire thing from turning into a big chocolate puddle.  It was well worth it though.  My friend Adam, who accompanied my friend Charles to my apartment for a birthday brunch, said he couldn’t understand the point of making a cake from scratch.  Did he eat his words?  Not exactly.  But he did lick his plate.  Seriously.

As a sidenote, many of you have asked in the comments about my recent dating escapades.  The night after my birthday, shortly after consuming large amounts of cake, I went out with Brian, who is doing a really cool project where he crowdsources his dating life. Here’s a video recap of our date, and here we are being famous.  We had an awesome time on our date and a repeat may or may not be in the works, so keep an eye out.

David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake
from David Lebovitz
One big, tall 9-inch cake; about 16 servings

For the cake:
2 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chopped
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp water
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 oz butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp dark rum

For the chocolate icing:
8 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ½ oz unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line them with parchment or wax paper.

Using a double-boiler (to make a homemade one, put a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water) or the microwave (if you have one) melt together the unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolate with 6 tbsp water.  Stir until smooth and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Use an electric mixer to beat the butter with 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy (this will take 5-7  minutes).  Next, add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until incorporated.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Then, mix half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture.  Next, add the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.  Fold about one-third of the egg white mixture into the cake batter (this will lighten the batter), then fold in the remaining egg whites.  When you’re done, there should be no trace of egg white visible.

Finally, divide batter into the prepared cake pans, smooth the tops with a spatula, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

To make the filling:

Put the 3 ounces butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.  In a medium saucepan, mix cream, sugar, and egg yolks.  Heat the mixture, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan constantly, until it begins to thicken and will coat the back of a spoon.  An instant-read thermometer will read 170 degrees, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry!  You’ll be able to tell when it’s ready.  When it is, pour the hot custard into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken as it cools.)

To make the syrup:

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.  The mixture won’t be very thick, don’t worry.

To make the icing:

Place the 8 ounces of chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and 1 ½ oz of butter.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it just begins to boil. Remove it from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Let sit until room temperature.  If your kitchen is hot, you may want to stick it in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use it.

To assemble the cake:

Carefully remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a serrated bread knife.  Set the first cake layer on a plate.  Brush well with syrup, then spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.  Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, and spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.  Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.  If the frosting gets too soft to work with, put it in the freezer for a few minutes.

According to David: “It may seem like a lot of chocolate icing, but use it all. Trust me. You won’t be sorry.”  Well, it IS a lot of frosting, but it’s definitely worth it to use it all.

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§ 17 Responses to David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake

  • Erin says:

    Um, German Choc Cake is def my fav cake in the world! I am salivating just looking at your pics…<3

  • It looks fantastic! So many elements to combine… it could have gone terribly, horribly wrong – but you totally aced it 🙂

    I think making your own birthday cake is a very sensible thing to do – at least that way you know what you like best, and you won’t have some crazy friend making Apricot and Wasabi Cake (or some such combination) for you!

  • Rachel says:

    Hey, I’m a new reader (I found your site through Amateur Gourmet) and your birthday cake looks delicious. It’s been so hot in NYC that I haven’t had the initiative to use the oven lately! Also totally a fan of “owngirl”, great new word.

  • mindy says:

    you’ve outdone yourself yet again in the dessert department! i swoon for german chocolate cake, and yours looks amazing. and yes, super complicated. i also loved the bit about becoming less enamored of your owngirl-ness in your harried state. story of my life!

  • Eric says:

    omg i wish that I was there to eat it! Looks so good

  • Jen says:

    My father always requests German Chocolate Cake for his birthdays–without fail. My mother always used to make it for him, but I think she’s decided it’s too much work (and I don’t even think it was as much work as this recipe calls for!). I’m glad you had delicious cake, and I hope you are able to cool your kitchen down! That sounds like an awful situation for a food blogger!

  • Kirsten says:

    Soo, umm, can this also be a ‘I’m due to give birth to my first child in 4 weeks’ cake? This looks so freaking awesome that I may fake sick at work, head to the grocery store for supplies, and spend my Friday whipping this dude up.

    And, ps, you and Brian are so cute. Let me know when ‘Team Tyla’ shirts are available!!

    • tyla says:

      I think this is a perfect “I’m due to give birth to my first child in 4 weeks” cake! If I had an excuse like being pregnant, I probably would have eaten at least half of the cake alone…

      I’ll keep you posted about the shirts, haha.

  • gin says:

    So, I forgot to mention that usually I just use this frosting with a more basic cake, because after the first time I made it… well. You know. Maybe I should have warned you.

    Anyway, I’m glad it turned out well! Thanks for being epic!

  • gin says:

    Oh, and I meant to say:

    WHAT? Does not see the point in making cake from scratch? But… how… what? I cannot comprehend this.

  • you seem to fit the owngirl description perfectly. especially considering your bold qualities: makin’ your own awesome b-day cake, dating brian, writing a sa-weet blog.

    i’m sure there weren’t any leftovers, but next time you bake, send me a care package pleeeease? 😉

  • Erica says:

    holy shit, you’re amazing and I’m trying to call you right now but I realize it’s a Friday night and you’re most definitely off doing really exciting things while I’m sitting in bed on the internet reading about your amazing life. Anywayyy the cake looks amazing, and I couldn’t help but feel a TINY bit guilty for not being there to whip up something delicious for you, but it seems like you had that covered. Half birthday cakes are cool too, right???

  • Ooooo yum yum yum yum. Yes, 4 yums. So…send me a piece? Way to make an awesome birthday cake!

  • Helen Owngirl Troy says:

    You really owngirled that cake, my dear! So proud of you, and it looks so delicious. Thanks for the shout-out. Us owngirls need to stick together 🙂

  • Katie Smith says:

    I was going to try and explain how amazing this cake looks to me…and I am at a loss for words!! Your blog is so much fun to read. I can’t wait until I get a real mixer like yours! Then I will attempt awesome recipes like this!

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