My first attempt at baking in 15 years… frustrating, but rewarding.

My partner’s birthday is one week from tomorrow.  Her favorite cake to devour on her birthday is a german chocolate cake, and it’s been her one request for several years now.  So it’s become a tradition… a  home-cooked meal, and a german chocolate cake.  Except that I’ve always cheated and bought the cake from a bakery.  I always made excuses for why I was never able to bake her a cake… no time, had to work, her friends were not going to eat what I bake.  Those were the most common excuses.  I’m sure there were many more.  But in actuality, I was and still am intimidated by baking.  It’s too precise for me.  I like cooking savory dishes so much more because a little dash of this, and a little dash of that, and voila!… a tasty meal.  No measurements, no thing.  Just pure intuition.

I’m a horrible baker.  The last time I attempted to bake was fifteen years ago.  I was trying to bake chocolate chip cookies from store bought ready-made cookie dough.  The cookies looked nothing like the picture.  They were flat, and dry.  Ugh.  I mean, how can you mess up ready-made cookie dough?!  They are made to be fail proof.  You just drop dough onto a buttered cookie sheet, and wait 8 to 10 minutes for cookies!  Not me.  The cookies ended up in the garbage.  From then on, I swore to myself that I would never try to bake anything sweet ever again.  Ever.  Until this year.

I promised her a homemade german chocolate cake.  We were celebrating my partner’s birthday a little early this year with a group of friends, so today was the day.  The day to bake.  The day that I’ve avoided for a very long time.  It took me three hours to make, bake and assemble.  I don’t think it should have taken this long.  I also had many other revelations along the way of making this cake.  Firstly, I can’t believe that of all cakes I tried to bake, this was the one.  This was a very involved recipe!  Secondly, I had many horrible mishaps along the way of baking.  I think it was a sign that I was not meant to be a baker.  Lastly, I realized how important it is to have at least a hand-held electric mixer.  I hand-mixed and hand beat EVERYTHING in the recipe below.  My forearms were very sore by the end of the process.  And my eggs white didn’t quite have “stiff peaks,” but it worked out.  Why didn’t I just buy the hand-held electric mixer today when I was getting some accessories at Sur La Table?!  But with that being said, the mini cakes turned out very tasty.

I also had an epiphany after assembling the cakes… I’m not a baker.  I just don’t have the patience.  I plan on buying boxed cake mix, and will make the coconut filling from scratch.  It’ll be a hybrid homemade cake :)

Mini German Chocolate Cakes (adapted from Bakers Royale)

For the cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.

Melt both chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water. Use either a double-boiler or a microwave. Stir until smooth, then set aside until room temperature.

In the bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks.  Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff.

Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake layers completely.  (This was a really important part of making this cake.  I think this steps allows for the cakes to be handled with more ease.  I made the mistake of handling the cake layers while they were still warm, and the cakes seemed to crumble a lot easier.  Things to learn along the way, I suppose :) )

While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

For the syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum.

For the chocolate ganache:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Place the chocolate into a medium bowl.

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot.  When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward.

To assemble cakes:
Requires a 2.5 inch cake ring

Using a serrated knife, cut the two cakes in half leaving you four large, round disks. Using the cake ring, cut as many 2.5 inch diameter cakes from the four round cakes. Brush each layer with the sugar-rum syrup. Spread one teaspoonful of filling on the top of the bottom layer, then repeating with one more layer, until layer is filled except the top. Pour chocolate top, and top off with a little sprinkle of shredded coconut and a pecan to finish it.

Makes 14 individual cakes.

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