is there a type of cake your mom always made for your birthday when you were growing up? i have a theory that the u.s. is roughly divided between funfetti birthday cake kids and german chocolate birthday cake kids. those always seemed to be the two flavors present at my classmates’ elementary school birthday parties. personally, i’m a german chocolate cake-lover; i do enjoy a classic funfetti boxed cake (or a from-scratch one), but it’s hard to beat the combination of rich chocolate cake and thick coconut-pecan caramel filling.
this german chocolate cake follows the momofuku method of deconstructing a classic cake, elevating each of its elements, then putting it back together via an intricate layering process. it starts with dark chocolate cake, brushed with an ovaltine soak to add moisture and malt flavor. then comes a thick layer of coconut filling. after that is the “textural” layer, composed of homemade pecan butter and feuilletine (i substituted cornflakes for the feuilletine and it turned out fine). finally, there’s a layer of chocolate buttercream to hold everything together. if you don’t have a lot of time, you can easily omit the pecan crunch and/or the chocolate buttercream and it’ll still be delicious.
recipe adapted from momofuku milk bar
dark chocolate cake
- 1.5 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup hot coffee
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp powdered milk
- 1 tbsp dehydrated corn powder (or cornstarch)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 4 tbsp butter, melted
- 3 tbsp heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup sweetened coconut
- 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
- a splash of vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp koshersalt
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup feuilletine or crushed cornflakes
- 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
- 2 tbsp ovaltine powder
- 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
for the cake, preheat the oven to 300º. grease a half-sheet pan and line with parchment paper. pour the hot coffee over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and let sit for a few minutes, until the chocolate has melted, then stir until smooth. beat the eggs in a stand mixer until thick and lemon colored. add in the chocolate mixture, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. mix in the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. mix until well incorporated. pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until just set. let cool completely in the pan.
for the coconut filling, combine the sugar, brown sugar, powdered milk, corn powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until evenly blended. add the melted butter and stir for a minute. add the heavy cream and vanilla, and continue mixing on low for 1 minute. scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. add the egg yolks, paddling them into the mixture just to combine. mix on low speed until the mixture is glossy and homogeneous. line the bottom and sides of a small, deep baking pan (an 8×8 pan is fine) with plastic wrap. pour the filling into the pan, put the pan into the oven, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. the filling should be deep golden brown on top but still very jiggly and loose in the center. chill until completely cool in the refrigerator, then transfer to a bowl and stir with a spatula. fold in the coconut.
for the pecan crunch, heat the oven to 325°. put the pecans on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes. puree the warm pecans in a food processor with the oil, salt, and light brown sugar. in a small bowl, combine the pecan puree with the feuilletine or cornflakes.
for the ovaltine soak, stir together the milk or cream with the ovaltine powder in a small bowl.
for the chocolate buttercream, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream them together on medium high for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. scrape down the sides of the bowl. stream in the milk or cream. crank the mixer up to medium high, and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy.
to assemble, use a 6-inch cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. clean the cake ring, and place it in the center of a sheet pan, then use a strip of acetate, wax paper, or parchment paper to line the inside of the cake ring. put some cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer. dunk a pastry brush in the ovaltine soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of the soak. use the back of a spoon to spread half of the coconut filling in an even layer over the cake. sprinkle half of the pecan crunch evenly over the coconut filling, and use the back of your hand to anchor it in place. use the back of a spoon to spread 1/3 of the chocolate malt frosting over the pecan crunch layer. set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process. nestle the remaining cake round onto the frosting. cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. garnish the top with shredded coconut. transfer the sheet pan to the freezer, and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and fillings.