Last week, I made myself a German chocolate cake for my 41st birthday. I have fond childhood memories of German chocolate cake, but I suspected that as an adult it would be too sweet. I recently bought some turtles (chocolate covered caramel and pecans) with gleeful anticipation only to discover that they are gross if you are not a sugar starved child. This happens to me a lot.
Layer cakes are usually made with cake batter that will produce a nice sturdy crumb. It makes it easier to stack the things up in a pretty way. In my quest for a grown up birthday cake, I ended up using a very tender bittersweet chocolate cake…the kind that you would usually eat with nothing but powdered sugar and fruit. It is not very sweet and has only a little bit of almond flour and a little bit of teff flour. So, these cakes are bit tricky to layer and they might not look perfect but they are very, very delicious.
Because the cake has so little sugar and so few ingredients it’s important that you use the best quality chocolate that you can stand to purchase. I once made this cake (just one layer with no icing) for a family gathering in Tennessee using a bar of Olive and Sinclair Chocolate that cost me 8 dollars. My mother and law and had a good giggle about how the cake had better be the best one we had ever tasted for that amount of money. It was really good, but I probably would not spend that much again. If you have the money, you should by their amazing bean to bar chocolate. I made the cake pictured here with Scharffen Berger chocolate, which is still pretty darn fancy but costs less than 4 dollars a bar.
This is a recipe for a three layer cake. Be warned, this cake is HUGE! The one I made for my birthday was only two layers and it served 15 women…who had already eaten huevos rancheros and bloody marys. Speaking of my adorable friends here are some pictures of my birthday brunch.
I made this three layer version today because I wanted to see if these tender cakes would cooperate with being stacked (yes) and I wanted to add a bit of salt to the caramel coconut pecan topping (a very good idea if I do say so myself). Um, so now I have a three layer birthday cake to celebrate being 41 years and 1 week old. This is what happens when we get a snow storm on the first day of spring. I sit around reading about how other people are cooking with asparagus and other spring vegetables, while baking enough cake to feed 20 people. If you live near me, feel free to drop by and help me eat it.
CARAMEL COCONUT PECAN TOPPING
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup salted butter
- 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1 and 1/2 cups chopped pecans
- 2 teaspoons flaky salt, such as maldone
- Whisk the egg yolks, milk and vanilla together in a large saucepan. Add the sugar and butter and cook over medium/high heat stirring constantly. The amount of time this will take will vary wildly based on the heaviness of your pot, how seriously you take the stirring and whether you have an electric or gas stove. It takes at least 12 minutes and probably more like 30. The goal is to cook it until it reduces, thicken and becomes a nice golden color. I urge patience! You want the topping to have a nice caramel flavour.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut, chopped pecans and salt. let the mixture cool a bit while you make the cake layers.
CHOCOLATE CAKE (3 layers)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 1 and 3/4 cups unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering pan
- 10 and 1/2 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate
- 12 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (Or the seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean)
- 3/4 cup teff, buckwheat or all purpose wheat flour (I like teff)
- 3/4 cup almond meal
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.
- Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double-boiler or microwave, stirring frequently. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs and sugar with salt until light and pale and doubled in volume. I have done this with a hand-held mixer and my mother in law holding the bowl. It worked…kind of. It is hard not to run out of patience before the mix really doubles in size.
- Gently fold in the melted chocolate and butter mixture as well as the vanilla. Sprinkle the teff and almond flours over the batter and fold gently to combine. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes. A tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out dry.
- Let the cakes cool for five minutes on a rack, then run a knife round the edge of the pan and unmold the first layer cake on a platter. Remove the parchment paper and slather the top of the first cake with 1 and 1/3 cup of the coconut pecan topping. Unmold the second layer cake directly on top of the first one and repeat the whole process until you have a 3 layer cake!
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