David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake

Apparently Dad likes German chocolate cake. He’s always going on and on about the rendition from a local bakery chain. Also, I love David Lebovitz, as he’s a Chez Panisse alumnus and his The Sweet Life in Paris (no, there isn’t any affiliate link) is ridiculously interesting and well-written. Hence my making David Lebovitz’s German chocolate cake for Father’s Day.

The batter whipped up gorgeously, looking like the most luscious of all chocolate frostings. It was super light and airy, and had the color of milk chocolate. I was surprised by the addition of whipped egg whites, since the batter seemed already pretty darn light to me.

It was an easy cake to bake, besides the egg whites that refused to form stiff peaks for the longest time and the same egg whites that streaked the batter for eons.

We didn’t have any parchment, so I buttered and floured my cake pans (which are non-stick, too, so hopefully the combo will release the cakes fairly easily [Edit: Hah, didn’t happen. USE THE PARCHMENT AND MAY THE NON-STICKINESS BE WITH YOU).

I used 1 cup sugar instead of 1 1/4 cups, in preparation for the rest of the cake (I could only find sweetened coconut at Trader Joe’s, and didn’t have time to go searching for unsweetened). I also added a splash of rum to the cake, since I’m much too lazy to do the simple syrup (Hi, GCC, meet me the lazy butt) but still wanted a bit of rum punch.

I had just under one cup of buttermilk, so I topped it off with a splash of milk. I was afraid of making the buttermilk break and curdle (yes, I know, stupid, since buttermilk is essentially sour and screwed up already) with the addition of milk, so I added the milk at the last moment possible. I was supposed to have the buttermilk at room temperature, but I was impatient, so I stuck the measuring cup in an empty spot in the dishwasher, which had finished a load not two minutes beforehand.

Unconventional, but I think the steam had magical properties.

I actually had unsweetened coconut at the back of the fridge. But it was desiccated, so I used half of the unsweetened and half of the sweetened (to help add some of the beautiful shreds of coconut).

The cake itself was moist and very lightly chocolatey. The coconut-pecan goo/filling was way too sweet on its own, but balanced nicely with the barely sweet cake and frosting (I used 71% cacao chocolate, the darkest chocolate available at TJ’s, since I was still worried about the cake being too sweet).

The recipe calls for cutting each layer in half to make four total. I started to cut the first layer, and stopped after I realized that the layers would be extremely uneven and hard to work with. You see, I wasn’t too careful with the cakes and ended up breaking one in half and cracking the other. This was in addition to the uncleanliness of the cakes, who left [significant] straggler bits in the pans that I may or may not have been happy to much on. Anyways, I just used the two layers I already had.

I originally had problems with the chocolate frosting. I didn’t feel like washing another saucepan, so I warmed the cream in a Pyrex liquid measuring cup in the microwave. Only, I was afraid of it scalding and used it lukewarm. Needless to say, the chocolate refused to melt. So I set the bowl over a gas burner on the stove over low heat and stirred until smooth and glossy. Not the safest method (wouldn’t recommend it, kids) but did the nitty gritty.

Even after cooling to room temperature, the frosting was super liquidy, and would immediately sink to the bottom of the plate when I tried to spread it on the sides of the cake. A stint in the fridge was unhelpful, though it thickened after it sat out at room temperature after the chill. I didn’t use all of the chocolate frosting because I was frustrated with it, but next time I would definitely use all of it. I’d spread thin layers of the frosting underneath the coconut filling, and then smear it on the sides of the cake, to make it more chocolatey.

And how did the guest of honor like it? He was excited from the get-go, just because it was a German chocolate cake. He took a bite and declared it one of the best things I’ve ever made. And then proceeded to have ANOTHER slice (which is unheard of in Dad land). Safe to say it was a success.

David Lebovitz’s German Chocolate Cake

4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, then line with parchment.
  2. Melt chocolate with 6 T water, then cool until room temperature.
  3. Beat butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in chocolate, then yolks, one at a time.
  4. Sift dry ingredients.
  5. Mix in half of dry ingredients into butter, then buttermilk and vanilla, then rest of dry.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar until stiff. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into batter; fold in remaining egg whites just until there’s no more egg streaks.
  7. Divide into cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake at 350F for 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
6 T salted butter, cut into 1 T portions (if unsalted, used 1/2 tsp kosher salt)
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

  1. Put butter, coconut and nuts in a large bowl.
  2. Heat cream, sugar and yolks in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly (make sure to scrape the bottom), until it thickens and coats the spoon.
  3. Pour into the pecan mixture and stir until butter is melted. Cool completely. (It will thicken.)

Chocolate Icing:
8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 T corn syrup
3 T unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

  1. Place chocolate in a bowl with corn syrup and butter.
  2. Heat cream until it begins to boil. Pour over chocolate. Let stand 1 minute; stir until smooth. Cool completely.


  1. Remove cakes from pans. Trim cake tops. Set the first cake on a plate.
  2. Spread 1/4 of the chocolate, then half of the filling over, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another layer on top. Spread 1/4 of the chocolate icing on the top.
  3. Ice the sides with chocolate icing. Spread the rest of the filling over the top, making sure to cover the top layer of chocolate icing.

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