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.

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.

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. 

*  *  *  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.