German Chocolate Sheet Cake with coconut-pecan frosting on a white plate.A slice of German Chocolate Sheet Cake topped with creamy coconut-pecan frosting.

The Ultimate Guide to German Chocolate Sheet Cake: A Family Tradition with a Surprising Twist

German Chocolate Sheet Cake has been a favorite dessert in our family for as long as we can remember. Each year, my dad eagerly requests it for his birthday, and my grandmother’s famous recipe is cherished by every family member, each one of us carefully preserving it in our recipe boxes. Given that my dad’s side of the family hails from Germany, it never crossed our minds to question the origin of German Chocolate Cake. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that this beloved dessert isn’t actually German at all!

Unveiling the Origins of German Chocolate Cake

Despite its name, German Chocolate Cake isn’t rooted in Germany. The name originates from an American named Samuel German, who developed a type of dark baking chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852. The cake, featuring this specific chocolate, gained popularity in the United States in the 1950s when a recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake” was published in a Texas newspaper. The name eventually lost the possessive form, leading to the now-familiar “German Chocolate Cake.”

Ingredients: What You Need for the Perfect German Chocolate Sheet Cake

Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick)
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 4 oz German baking chocolate
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting Ingredients

  • 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups shredded coconut
  • 1 ½ cups pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Make German Chocolate Sheet Cake

Preparing the Cake

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and generously grease a sheet pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, add the water, butter, shortening, and German baking chocolate. Heat over medium, stirring frequently until the mixture is smooth and fully combined.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Whisk until well combined.
  5. Stirring continuously, add the buttermilk, baking soda, salt, eggs, and vanilla extract. Mix until the batter is smooth and uniform.
  6. Transfer the batter to the prepared sheet pan, spreading it evenly.
  7. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

Making the Frosting

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, egg yolks, butter, and sugars. Cook over medium heat, bringing the mixture to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded coconut, chopped pecans, and vanilla extract. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.
  4. Allow the frosting to cool slightly before spreading it over the cooled cake.
  5. Chill the frosted cake for 1-2 hours to set the frosting.

Tips for the Perfect German Chocolate Sheet Cake

Choosing the Right Ingredients

  • German Baking Chocolate: The distinct flavor of German’s baking chocolate is essential. If you can’t find it, use a high-quality dark chocolate.
  • Freshness of Ingredients: Ensure your baking soda, eggs, and other ingredients are fresh to achieve the best rise and texture.

Baking Techniques

  • Even Baking: Rotate the sheet pan halfway through baking to ensure even cooking.
  • Cooling Time: Let the cake cool completely before frosting to prevent the frosting from melting and becoming too runny.

Serving and Storing Your German Chocolate Sheet Cake

Serving Suggestions

This cake pairs wonderfully with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. For a special touch, sprinkle some extra toasted coconut or pecans on top.

Storing the Cake

  • Refrigeration: Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
  • Freezing: You can freeze the cake for up to three months. Wrap individual slices in plastic wrap and place them in a freezer-safe container. Thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Why German Chocolate Sheet Cake is a Family Favorite

The combination of the rich, moist chocolate cake with the decadent coconut-pecan frosting creates a dessert that is both indulgent and nostalgic. Each bite brings back memories of family gatherings, celebrations, and the love passed down through generations.

Conclusion: A Tradition Worth Preserving

Though not truly German, German Chocolate Sheet Cake holds a special place in our hearts. It’s more than just a dessert; it’s a connection to our past, a tribute to family traditions, and a joy to share with loved ones. We hope this recipe becomes a cherished part of your family’s celebrations as well.

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