GISELE PEREZ (originally published December 14, 2011)
Every baking aficionado has her area of preference. Some bakers love baking bread, others prefer pies. I happen to love cakes. While bread is the everyday “staff of life”, and pies are homey comfort desserts, cakes signal a special occasion.
Early in February of 2010, my family gathered to watch the New Orleans Saints kick and run their way to an NFL championship in the Super Bowl. Now, I’m not much of a football fan. In fact, I’ve always considered Super Bowl the perfect day to meet a like-minded friend and go out to a restaurant on this day when they’re empty and quiet. But that particular Super Bowl Sunday was special, an event of tremendous importance and civic pride to New Orleanians, regardless of how long it had been since they’d actually lived in the city. Ah, and we were also celebrating my mother’s (the matriarch of our clan) 84th birthday. So my brothers, my uncle, my cousins and yes, even I, who has barely seen a football game in my life, gathered to celebrate my mother’s birthday and to cheer on the Saints. As an added bonus, we learned that my young cousin, Ayana, had an announcement to make. She and her new husband, Ian, she told us, were expecting the first of our family’s next generation.
Now that’s a day that deserves a cake, right?
Many in my family are at a stage in our lives where we’re watching our calorie and sugar intake, but I am of the firm belief that if you are going to indulge, it better be well worth those calories, and for us, an all time favorite indulgence is German Chocolate Cake.
Most New Orleanians love pecans and coconuts. We’ve been flavoring our pralines with them for generations. And come to think of it, we love that caramelized sugar flavor, too- think pralines again.
I use the tried and true recipe for German Chocolate Cake that has been printed for years inside those little green packages of Baker’s Sweet German Chocolate found on grocery store shelves. Yes, I’ve seen pastry chefs and bakers out there who use other more Devil’s food-like chocolate cake recipes. It’s true they may contain more chocolate, but as I scarfed up the crumbs while putting my cake together, I realized there’s a wonderful chocolate maltiness in this cake recipe, that would be lost with a darker chocolate flavor. And yes, I’ve seen other nuts- like macadamias-in the fillings, but, okay, I’ve already mentioned above that we New Orleanians have a particular attachment to pecans, so it’s the classic recipe for me.
I do depart from tradition by icing the sides and piping a border with Milk Chocolate Buttercream, a truly luscious buttercream (the recipe is courtesy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible), which I’ve added to my repertoire over the years. Because the cake is slightly crumbly, I find the buttercream helps to better “sandwich” the cake together, while the caramel overtones in milk chocolate perfectly complement the malty quality of the cake and the milky burnt sugar and pecans of the filling, adding up to one “chocolaty, caramely” extravaganza. Iced sides and a piped border also makes for a beautiful presentation. The buttercream is simple to make, but must be brought to and kept at just the right temperature to ice a cake and to pipe a border. It’s definitely worth the trouble.
I give the cake a first “crumb” coating, then let it set in the fridge for a few minutes before giving it a final coating, and piping the border.
This cake is very rich, and will serve 16-20 people. Watch out though, Ayana’s younger brother Martin, says it’s like crack cocaine!
Oh- and six months later, on August 29th, the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, we welcomed the delightful Halima into this world. I like to say she redeemed the day for us. Of course, I baked a cake to welcome her arrival.
German Chocolate Cake
- 4 ounces (1 package) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs, separated
- 8 ounces butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the bottoms and sides of 3-9 inch pans and cover bottoms with 9 inch rounds of parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate and water together over a double boiler stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted.
Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beating well after each addition.
In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites in three additions. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, and small a small spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen. Cool the cakes in the pan for 25 minutes, then flip over on to wire racks to completely cool.
Fill the layers and top the cake with Coconut Pecan Icing.
Coconut Pecan Icing
- 4 egg yolks
- 1-12 ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 6 ounces butter
- 7 ounces sweetened coconut
- 1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
Mix egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a large saucepan with a whisk until well blended.
add the sugar and butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and becomes a golden brown, about 12 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the pecans and coconut. Allow the icing to cool completely before filling and topping the cake layers.
Milk Chocolate Buttercream
adapted from The Cake Bible
- 1 pound milk chocolate, chopped
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 12 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler (I use a stainless steel bowl over a pot of very slowly simmering water).
Remove the top of double boiler (or bowl) form heat when the chocolate begins to melt, and stir until smooth and fully melted. You can return the bowl to the heat if it needs a bit more melting. Set aside to cool slightly.
While the chocolate is cooling, beat the butter at medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. The beat in the chocolate at slow speed, until the butter and chocolate are fully combined.
Set the bowl of electric mixer over a bowl of cool water to slightly cool the butter cream, which makes it easier to spread and pie, but beware, if it gets too cool, it becomes too hard to pipe.
Ice the sides of the cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream. Pipe a shell border around the top and bottom of the cake.