german chocolate cake and the cook’s illustrated baking book [giveaway]

I received a complimentary review copy of the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book last month. I knew the book was headed my way, and when I found it delivered to my doorstep, I could hardly wait to start baking from it. I’ve worked with it for a few weeks now, and I can already tell that the book is going to be my go-to book for baking recipes.

I’ve been a fan of the America’s Test Kitchen’s publications for several years. I subscribe to both Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country. I routinely look through The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook or The New Best Recipe for inspiration. And, now that the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is in my hands, I’m completely set. The baker in me is happy – very, very happy.

german chocolate cake | the merry gourmet

The recipes in this book – and in all of the America’s Test Kitchen publications – have been tested and retested until each recipe is a guaranteed success. The headnotes, usually just a paragraph introducing a recipe, are far lengthier than those found in most other cookbooks. Often several paragraphs long, the headnotes are filled with explanations on why the recipe works, some tips and tricks, and a bit of the chemistry behind the process.

I admit, sometimes the length of the detailed explanations – and the length of the recipe – can seem daunting and intimidating. But after cooking out of Cook’s Illustrated for some time, I can vouch for the fact that the results are always worth it.

And those science-y head notes? They’re perfect for science geeks like me.

cook's illustrated baking book

The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is filled with other nuggets of valuable information. For example, on the pages devoted to the German Chocolate Cake, one sidebar gives a tip on keeping a natural bristle whisk broom nearby the stove so that a stand-in cake tester is always nearby. There is an entire page (page 288) devoted to the topic of how to frost a layer cake, complete with step-by-step illustrations. At the end of each recipe are suggested variations and how to incorporate them into the master recipe.

One weekend recently, a craving for chocolate cake hit. Actually, a craving for baking a cake hit, and the German Chocolate Cake caught my attention. In the morning, I prepared the filling and baked the cake layers. After lunch, we took a family trip to a local bat festival (I had no idea bats were so cute). When we returned home in the afternoon, I tackled the assembly of the cake.

It was a cinch. The layers had risen just the way they were supposed to (with no sinking in the middle), and slicing each layer in half wasn’t as daunting as I’d imagined. The four-layer cake came together beautifully.

And, once again, my kids think I’m a hero for baking an impressive-looking layer cake, just because. Score. 

german chocolate cake | the merry gourmet

*  *  *  the giveaway (CLOSED)  *  *  *

The folks at America’s Test Kitchen have offered The Merry Gourmet readers the chance to win one copy of the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book. To enter, please fill out your information in the PromoSimple widget below. You receive one entry by entering your email address and up to two bonus entries for liking The Merry Gourmet Facebook page or following me on Twitter.

The giveaway will end on November 11, 2014 at 1:00pm EST.

Click here to view this promotion.

Yield: Serves 10-12.

German Chocolate Cake

The chocolate cake layers in this recipe bake up beautifully, and the creamy coconut filling accentuates and compliments the chocolate flavor. This cake is perfect for a birthday or for my favorite occasion – Just Because.


Ingredients for Filling

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 (12-ounce ) can evaporated milk
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed (1-3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups (7 ounce package) sweetened shredded coconut

Ingredients for Cake

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed (4-2/3 ounces) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature


Directions for the Filling:

Whisk egg yolks in a medium saucepan, and then gradually whisk in evaporated milk. Stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, and salt, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl and whisk in vanilla, then stir in coconut. Cool until just warm, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool or cold, at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Directions for the Cake:

Adjust an oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, butter the parchment, then flour the pans.

Combine chocolate and cocoa in a small heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over the mixture, and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth, then let cool to room temperature. Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed until combined. Beat in vanilla, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to low, add chocolate, then increase speed to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed (batter may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream in 2 additions, scraping down bowl as needed. Give batter a final stir by hand.

Divide batter evenly between the 2 pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out of the pans, remove parchment, and let cool completely before filling, about 2 hours. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 1 day. Wrapped in plastic and then in aluminum foil, cakes can be frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost cakes at room temperature before unwrapping and frosting.)

Assemble the Cake

Cut 1 horizontal line around sides of each layer; then, following the scored lines, cut each layer into 2 even layers using a long, serrated knife.

Line edges of a cake platter with 4 strips of parchment to keep the platter clean. Place 1 cake layer on the prepared platter. Spread 1 cup of filling evenly across the top of the cake layer, spreading filling to the very edge. Carefully place next cake layer on top of filling, aligning cuts so that the layers are even. Repeat using remaining filling and cake layers. Carefully pull out pieces of parchment from beneath cake before serving. Assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before serving.

Reprinted with permission, and very slightly adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book.

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44 Responses to “making changes & a recipe: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting”

  1. 1
    Jenny — March 11, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    This cake looks magnificent! I don’t have such will power…but I do make lots of things with chocolate because my body doesn’t tolerate – hence I won’t eat it. Now the lemon cake …. that’s another story.

  2. 2
    Cheryl Arkison — March 11, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    Good for you! I’m impressed. I would not have that will power at all. At the moment I’m trying to cut back on the sweets in anticipation of the post-baby world. Never too soon to start eating better. Or at least, eat less cookies.

  3. 3
    Maris (In Good Taste) — March 11, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    I could never maintain a diet that didn’t include some treats! Are you following Weight Watchers again? I love how exercising makes you feel even w/o weight loss.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — March 11th, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

      Yes, I’m doing the online Weight Watchers. I’m a believer in their program.

  4. 4
    Winnie — March 11, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

    Beautiful cake, MJ. And bravo for making changes 🙂

  5. 5
    Jean (Lemons and Anchovies) — March 11, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    My regular fitness routine has sadly been replaced by more time in the kitchen. It’s something I’ve vowed to do something about this year. My saving grace is that after one slice, the rest of the cake goes to the office to be enjoyed by everyone else. This cake is beautiful–I would have a hard time resisting.

  6. 6
    Liren — March 12, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    Change is hard, but change is good, and I’m rooting for you! This cake is not only lovely, but great motivation to keep going 🙂

  7. 7
    Purabi Naha — March 12, 2012 @ 5:00 am

    Wow, I loved this cake recipe. Lovely photographs as well!

  8. 8
    Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray — March 12, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    I need to get on the ball with working out, BEFORE I get pregnant again. You are a strong woman, if I had a bowl of candy on my desk (or a cake like this!!!) I would NOT be able to resist.

  9. 9
    Jane M — March 12, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    WOW I sound like you, only now my kids are ages (nearly) 21 and 23 – so I have no excuses for packing on the pounds. I so enjoy baking and being in the kitchen, but I’ve seem to have lost my will power. My husband unfortunately has morphed into a TYPE 1 diabetic and he eats sooooo carefully! I say to myself OVER and OVER why don’t I eat just like he does! And then I don’t!

  10. 10
    Little B — March 12, 2012 @ 9:23 am

    Looks yummy!

  11. 11
    Beth (OMG! Yummy) — March 12, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Isn’t willpower wonderful? The cake looks exactly like the kind of chocolate cake that I adore. Thank goodness for my athletic, high metabolism 14 yr old daughter who can finish off most of the sweets in the house before I get a chance to break down :-). I am on a “have to wear my bathing suit in 3 weeks” diet myself. Let’s do this together!

  12. 12
    XL @ 6 Bittersweets — March 12, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

    This looks delicious and is very similar to my own favorite chocolate cake recipe. I’ll have to try adding some bittersweet chocolate to it :). I do believe you’ve forgotten the sugar in the ingredients list for the cake though.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — March 12th, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

      Oops! You’re right. I fixed it. Thanks!

  13. 13
    hannah — March 12, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

    Wow! This looks delicious! And good for you, I too have troubles resisting everything I bake! You need to constantly consider your priorities- someone else will enjoy the slice of cake more than you will!


  14. 14
    Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet — March 12, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    Beautiful!! I love chocolate cake with white icing.

  15. 15
    Cassie — March 12, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

    Gorgeous cake, once again. And what a great story, thanks so much for sharing!

  16. 16
    Paula — March 12, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    Had to elaborate on my comment on Google+. I think it is wonderful that you are putting temptation in front of you and then choosing to ignore it. You are right, it is very empowering to walk away and not look back.

    Best wishes to you on this journey to feel and look the way you are most comfortable.

  17. 17
    Jesica@ Pencil Kitchen — March 12, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    I think its always the toughest for us women to lose weight. Especially one that is inevitable such as pregnancy. I know I will not resist the temptation of a cake. Or a chocolate bar. This cake look so dark and moist, it’d probably ruin my diet

  18. 18
    Sara{OneTribeGourmet} — March 13, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    Bravo on making positive changes in your life and the cake is swoon worthy! I wish I could bake..someday!

  19. 19
    Kelsey — March 14, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

    This cake looks wonderful! I’m trying to find a go-to chocolate cake recipe, so I’ll give this one a try. I have to say bravo in your efforts to start living healthier. I can personally say that Weight Watchers and running both work for me. I’m abroad in Europe right now so I’m indulging which frequently in unhealthy treats, but I’ve started running again and I can already feel the difference. Running shaped my legs in a way I didn’t even know possible! I can still remember the moment when I knew running was my saving exercise: I put on a pair of shorts for the first time in a few months and they simply fell off me!

  20. 20
    Kiran @ — March 15, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    Bravo for everything positive coming your way. Hugs.

    Can I face-plant into this gorgeous cake? For reals 😀

  21. 21
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 18, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    As you know, I made this cake last week for my MILs birthday and it was a huge hit! Still working on a hunk of it, but it’s just oh so good! Thanks for saving me… I didn’t know what I was going to bake and your recipe came out of nowhere. Mwah!

  22. 22
    Katie — March 21, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    I’m salivating as I type this comment to you… this chocolate cake looks moist and beautiful in all its glory. Good luck with the revamping your life style… I too am the worlds largest procrastinator at exercising and at times over indulging!

  23. 23
    Melissa — March 24, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

    I love how dark your cake is, almost black. I tried making chocolate cake before and it’s only light brown and not as dark. Any suggestions?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — March 24th, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

      Melissa, I think the dark color comes from the combination of cocoa powder PLUS the melted chocolate. The combo seems to be the trick for me.

  24. 24
    Kat — April 4, 2012 @ 6:10 am

    It’s really hard to resist when you have everything you need at home to make a cake! I love baking and i will try this recipe soon, thanks for the post!

  25. 25
    Lucy — April 10, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Your cake is so lovely. I never bother with trying to make it look pretty, just slap the frosting on and call it good. But I love your extra touch of garnish around the bottom. I’m inspired! I’ve been practicing the Blood Sugar Solution for the last month and have lost 12 lbs. I highly recommend it.

  26. 26
    Saskia — May 5, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

    This turned out great! Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe! xx

  27. 27
    N. Hornberger — May 24, 2012 @ 12:06 am

    4 1/2 sticks of butter??? Are you nuts???

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 24th, 2012 @ 7:05 am

      This is buttercream, dear, not a salad. 🙂

  28. 28
    sweets lover — January 24, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

    what is 4 1/2 sticks of butter? can I get the measurements? love this cake made it tonight but couldn’t do the frosting because i’m not too sure how much 41/2 sticks of butter was cause my butter her in Canada are huge and i’m pretty sure i’d prob die if I put that much in lol

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — January 24th, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

      One stick of butter is 4 ounces, so 4-1/2 sticks is 18 ounces. Good luck!

  29. 29
    Felicia Nomiko — February 27, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    Hot water chocolate is the best all around chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made. This is a rich, moist, forgiving cake where most chocolate cakes are tricky to get cooked properly without overcooking them and making them dry. And nothing is better than good old fashioned butter cream frosting, though mine is sans salt. ^_^

  30. 30
    ayadigi — April 15, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    I am planning to make a cake in the next couple days that will be shaped like a snake. I looked up the method for this and figured out how to use bundt pans to create the shape. I’d like to use this recipe bc I just had this cake when my sister made it for her son’s birthday party and it was delicious! Would you be able to advise me if one recipe would work for one bundt pan or otherwise?? Thank you!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — April 17th, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

      I’ve not tried it in a bundt pan, but you could certainly give it a go! If you do, please report back with how it worked.

  31. 31
    Susana — April 18, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

    Hi, I used your recipe and baked my first ever chocholate cake for me family and friends…it was so good and looked so beautiful, moist, rich and dark…everyone LOVED it! It was gone on no time 🙂 I did make it with chocholate buttercream but plan on trying the vanilla buttercream soon!
    I’m going to treasure your recipe and pass it on! I’m all the way in Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK but I was born in Aveiro, Portugal so your recipe will be passed on to my family and friends there too!
    Thanks very much!
    And well done on having will power, it was the thing that worked for me too!
    Compliments, Susana Moita.

  32. 32
    Susana — April 18, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

    Apologies for the typos
    my family*
    in no time*

  33. 33
    ayadigi — January 30, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    Okay, the bundt pan worked great though I have since forgotten how long I cooked it for! Now I’m planning to attempt cupcakes with this recipe! Whaddaya say?!!?

  34. 34
    Maria — July 19, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

    Hi, I absolutely love this cake and so do all the friends and family members that I’ve made it for, especially my 4 year old grandson. Over the past couple years I have made it no less than 50 times…..YES…50 times, yet without fail my layers always sink leaving a big dip in the middle . Consequently, it looks strange once it’s cut and there is also excess frosting in the center.  I don’t overmix and I use the slowest speed on my KitchenAid. I bake for 35 minutes, never longer. What can I do to stop this from happening? Thanks. 

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — July 20th, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

      I’m so glad you love the cake, Maria! It’s a great celebration cake.

      There are several potential reasons for the cake layers sinking in the middle. Your oven may be running hot or cold, or maybe you have a hot or cold spot in the oven (rather than a uniform temperature throughout). Or it could be something else. Here’s a helpful blog post I found: 5 Ways to Keep Your Cakes From Sinking.

      Ultimately, you can slice off the top of the uneven layer to make it even, if you like. This is what I sometimes do, if the sinking is minimal.

  35. 35
    Matthew — December 29, 2015 @ 9:23 am

    My 4 year old nephew asked me to bring him a chocolate cake with ‘nilla icing when I went back home for Christmas. This recipe was perfect for it. 

    Like others, both layers sank slightly, but I suspect if I’d been stronger willed at not opening the oven to check them when cooking it would have helped.

    The buttercream was such a light consistency that when icing it on a turntable I was able to do a nice spiral with a palette knife.

    Thank you for the recipe. I’ll be doing this again in the new year, probably with a chocolate or orange buttercream.

    The pictures of the cake in production are here:

  36. 36
    Rebecca — April 14, 2017 @ 1:32 pm

    This is the best chocolate cake recipe I have ever used! I used to use Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake but have not since trying this. Absolutely wonderful!

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