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.

29 responses

  1. I am so sorry that you’ve had such a bad experience “baking” with store bought stuff and let it carry over for 15 years! Did you ever hear that saying about getting back on the horse after you fall off? Even “non-bakers” can turn out acceptable (even luscious) baked goods without it being a chore, using up every dish in the kitchen or making them pull their hair out. You just have to learn to walk before you try to run.

    If you want to learn to bake cakes, then start with baking the cake in the full-sized version before you try to fiddle around making miniatures. It takes only half the time – less if you do some things in advance. You can easily bake the cake layers a few days or even a week or two ahead, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, put them into a plastic ziplock and then freeze them. You can also make that filling the day before you are going to need it. Paula Peck, the Grande Dame of fine baking in America, always kept a huge variety of fillings and decorative stuff and layers on hand in the freezer so that she could produce an instant cake at the drop of a pin and taught her readers to do the same. And as you become more experienced you will find that baking is absolutely NOT as precise and demanding as you think it is. Sure, things have a certain structure – if you add too much baking powder you’ll have a mess – but there is plenty of room for invention too.

    Let me point you in the direction of one of the best new baking books to come my way in a while – Bake! by Nick Malgieri. Nick is a pastry chef with decades of experience who also teaches baking. One of the things I particularly like about this book, something that makes it stand out in my collection as no other baking book has done since 1932, is that he teaches you to make a basic item, followed by a number of ways to use that item in various recipes.

    You might also try to catch Rachel Allen’s show on the Cooking Channel – oddly enough also named Bake! Rachel is the daughter-in-law of Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cooking School fame. The show is filmed in Ireland or the UK, so the measurements are given in decimal but she makes things very easy. A decent digital scale can be had for $30 or so and Pyrex makes measuring cups that measure in both US standard and milliliters. The show seems to be scheduled for Wednesdays at 12 noon eastern. TIVO is a wonderful thing!

    • I loved your comment… thanks for the tips and the web link! My partner enjoyed the cake and asked that I bake it from scratch next year. I tried to say no, but yes came out of my mouth instead. I think baking for me will be like a holiday… it will only happen once a year:) You are absolutely right… I should and will definitely make full-sized versions next time 🙂

    • Thank you! They would be quite delicious for breakfast with a cup of coffee or milk 🙂 We enjoyed them with a glass of port last night. We love our chocolate and port!

  2. It’s such a shame you have denounced baking. They are beautiful and you seem to have put a lot of love into these little darlings. I would have loved to see what else you could create.

    • Thank you! My partner asked that I make it from scratch again for next year. I wanted to say no, but (unfortunately) yes came out of my mouth instead 🙂 Try, try again.

  3. my husband is a chef and I am a baker, he tried once to bake me a coffee cake for mother’s day but it came out horrible, his excuse…he just couldn’t get the idea of precise measurement. The thought was nice, but no more baking for him, I’m sure your partner appreciates your thoughtfulness, I know I would…good job these look great, I’m going to make them for my family they love German chocolate cake!

  4. my husband thought that you actually put the ingredients in the bowl in the order they were listed, so besides not actually measuring he put wet with dry, in a nut shell…he didn’t bother to read the directions, but really do you know a man that does…LOL I’m glad that you haven’t given up totally on baking and have offered to try again next year…remember with practice comes perfection!

    • lol i’ve done that before, too. i don’t have the patience to read recipes, especially long, wordy recipes. so i’ll start throwing everything into a bowl or pot, and realize the huge mistake later! 🙂 i’ll learn sooner or later… i hope. try, try again!

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