Dutch chocolate = delicious
Last week, in anticipation of a birthday celebration she was planning, our friend Marie asked me for Jack’s favorite cake flavor. Operating under a bit of brain fog, I told her Dutch Chocolate. Before I’d cleared out the mental cobwebs and corrected my answer to German Chocolate. she’d already started searching for a recipe and made an interesting discovery.
The first recipe highlighted by our favorite internet search engine was for something called a Pennsylvania Dutch chocolate cake. Remembering that Jack’s family came from the Keystone State, Marie assumed this must be a childhood favorite. The rich dessert was unlike many common cake recipes, listing brewed coffee and buttermilk among the ingredients and calling for a loaf pan instead of the traditional round cake pans.
Another difference was the type of cocoa powder specified in the instructions: Dutch-process cocoa. All cocoa powders are made from cacao beans that are roasted and ground into powder. The Dutching process entails washing the beans with an alkali solution, which neutralizes their acidity.
In addition to changing the acidity, the process alters both the color and flavor of the cocoa, making it darker and with more complexity than natural cocoa powder (which is the light brown shade and almost fruity taste of Hershey’s). Without the acidity found in natural cocoa powder, recipes with Dutch-process cocoa require baking powder (not baking soda) as a leavening agent. If you substitute one type of cocoa powder for another, be sure to include the correct leavening.
With all this in mind, I looked through my tattered Pennsylvania Farm Women’s Cookbook and found 10 different versions of Dutch chocolate cake. They all had similar ingredients in comparable proportions; unfortunately, most of them didn’t specify the size (or shape) of the baking pan. To decide which would bake properly in a loaf pan, I estimated the mass of a banana bread batter to choose which cake recipe’s ingredients would reach about the same volume.
One important technique in working with cocoa powder is to make sure it is completely incorporated into the batter. Bakers are usually instructed to mix it into a hot liquid, rather than add it with the dry ingredients. This step, as well as the addition of brewed coffee, enhanced the texture and rich cocoa flavor in the final product (see photo).
But all this experimentation with Dutch-process cocoa happened after Marie served German chocolate cake at the party - that was an entirely different dish. First, to clear up an urban legend, this one does not have European roots; it is thoroughly American. The original name of the cake was German’s Chocolate Cake, named for Sam German, the inventor of sweet baking chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852.
A Dallas housewife was reputed to be the first to publish a recipe for the cake in her local newspaper more than 100 years after the sweet chocolate was introduced. General Foods (which then owned the Baker’s Chocolate brand) capitalized on the article, using it to market the product by sending the recipe to newspapers across the country. As with any recipe, there were earlier versions; this one can also be found in the Fannie Farmer cookbook.
No matter the name or who thought of it first, baking a German chocolate cake is a labor-intensive process. It stands three layers tall, and is filled and frosted with pecan and coconut custard, andou will need to dedicate at least two hours to create this delicious delicacy. But, it’s worth the investment for the delicate flavor of this airy cake and its sweet, crunchy filling.
Now that we’ve cleared up all the confusion of Dutch versus German as they relate to chocolate and cake, here are two recipes to compare in your own bake-off.
Dutch Chocolate Loaf *
3/4 C softened butter
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 C strong brewed coffee
1/2 C buttermilk
1 3/4 C sugar
2 t vanilla
2 large eggs
2 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Place the butter in a large glass bowl and microwave until melted. Add cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Stir in coffee, buttermilk and sugar, whisking until dissolved. Stir in vanilla and eggs, whisking thoroughly. Combine the remaining ingredients in a separate mixing bowl. Gradually add dry ingredients to cocoa mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
*Adapted from Pennsylvania Farm Women’s Cookbook.
German Chocolate Cake**
4 eggs, separated
4 oz Baker’s sweet chocolate
1/2 C boiling water
1 C butter
2 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1 C buttermilk
2 1/2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of three 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Cut out circles of waxed paper to fit in the bottom of each pan. Lightly coat the waxed paper with butter and place one in each pan, butter side up; set aside. In a glass mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, combine chocolate and boiling water, stirring until melted; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, melted chocolate and buttermilk. Combine the flour, soda and salt; add dry ingredients to chocolate mixture, beating until smooth. Gently fold in beaten egg whites. Pour equal amounts of batter into each of the prepared pans. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool. Cover only the top of each layer (not the sides) with Coconut Pecan frosting.
Coconut Pecan Frosting
1 C evaporated milk
1 C brown sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 C butter
1 t vanilla
1 1/3 C flaked coconut
1 C chopped pecans
In a medium saucepan, stir together evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until thickened, about 12 minutes. Mix in coconut and pecans. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, until thickened enough to spread. Cover only the top (not the sides) of each layer.
** adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook