Monday, 6 June 2011

Perfect something: German's chocolate cake

First note: I realize it is pretty fussy to refer to it as "German's" rather than "German," and I swear I don't even do it when talking, but in print, it just looks wrong to me. It was developed by a dude named German, not a dude from Germany. So there you are.

In the Goodest Cooker's kitchen, I often try new recipes. I love, especially, to have some reason to look up a new recipe and try it out. I also love to improvise. But there is a special, gooey feeling I get inside when I know that I make something REALLY well, and that people look forward to seeing me with MY oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or some such. And the only way to do that is through practice.

So pick something, anything, and make it enough times to get really good at it.

The thing about this cake is that it's a fairly simple recipe, and it even comes on the box of chocolate. But having made it so many times (I'm guessing about twenty, give or take a few), I have little tips and tricks, and I know what worked and didn't. For example, the flake coconut is way better than shredded coconut. And pecan halves are cheaper than chopped, but it's really important that the chunks aren't too big, so I use a chopper.

It's mainly about following the recipe, but I follow it really carefully.

And here it is:

German's chocolate cake

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bar Baker's German sweet chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks, unbeaten
4 egg white, beaten stiff
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Sift first three ingredients. Melt chocolate in water -- cool.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in chocolate and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk. Fold in beaten egg whites.

Pour into three 8 or 9 inch layer pans lined on the bottom with wax paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.


Coconut-pecan frosting

4 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 package (7 oz) angel flake coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Beat egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a large saucepan with a whisk until well blended. Add butter and sugar and cook over medium heat 12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add coconut and pecans. Mix well, then cool.

So here are my thoughts, tips, tricks, etc.

I am gadget-friendly. I make the batter in a Kitchen-Aid mixer, whip the eggs with an immersion blender, and chop the nuts using the same blender with a different attachment. Can you do it all with whisks and spoons? I supposed, but if you have some technology, it's going to make it a lot easier.

To melt the chocolate, I break it up into small chunks and drop it in a big Pyrex measuring cup with the water. Then I nuke it for 2 minutes. Stir it with a fork, and it's perfect.

I used parchment paper instead of wax paper. I recommend you use SOMETHING, though, as these cakes tend to stick, and when they stick too much, they can fall apart.

If you use Air-bake cake pans (or any other brand that has the double-layer walls), these will take the full 40 minutes. Test them to see if they're done by poking a knife into them.)

When it says to fold in the egg whites, that means don't mix it too much, just gently. Sort of stir up the batter from the bottom of the bowl, stir it a few more times until the white is mostly incorporated, and you're good. The egg whites are holding air bubbles, which helps make your cake super-fluffy. If you stir the heck out of it, you'll break all those bubbles.

I can be a little cheap and shortcutty, but not with this recipe. I use butter instead of margarine. I spring for Softasilk cake flour. I do all the steps, including adding the flour and buttermilk alternately. I don't even know what that bit is for, but I do it. I'm much more comfortable improvising when it comes to dinner. Baking is like science.

When the frosting is "thickened," you'll notice that it sticks to the back of the spoon. You could run your finger through the frosting there and it would leave a clear line.

Although I mentioned I love gadgets, there are a lot of things I can do without, like egg separators. Step 1: crack egg. Step 2: pour it into your hand. Step 3: open your fingers a little. Egg separated.

I don't sift, exactly. I use a big fine-mesh strainer thing. I used a sifter when I was a kid and all it ever did was give me hand cramps. This thing works as well and faster. Dump all your dry ingredients in, then give it a few shakes.
So easy a toddler could do it (with enormous amounts of supervision).

Get yourself a scullery maid to do the dishes.

And a few more thoughts. My mom's frosting recipe was the same as the one on the box, but made about 25% less in volume. I like the larger quantity, because then you can really spread the frosting thickly between the layers. Sometimes I stretch it to cover the whole outside, but mostly I like it like this -- frosted between the layers and on top, but with bare sides. I have been to cafes where they have a chocolate ganache on the sides. This is heresy and it must be stopped.

Here is my cake. Now be careful, because it's really delicious. It's not pretty, though.


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