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German chocolate cake is something I've choked down a few times in my life, mostly because I'm a lady and will eat anything that's served at a luncheon or dinner. Memory brings forth a pale brown cake, wimpy in the chocolate department yet toothache-sweet, layered with a coconut-pecan spread that in look and texture mimicked a dead-of-winter croup's phlegm.
Indubitably, these cakes were the result of cake mix and packaged icing. But what is German chocolate cake? Overseas import it is not. The "German" in the title hails much closer to home and even carries a wicked local accent: German's Sweet Chocolate was developed by Samuel German in the 1850s for Walter Baker & Co. in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Years and years later, one Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, Texas submitted the recipe to the Dallas Morning News, and the rest if the stuff of history and industrial mass production.
What Mrs. Clay's original recipe tasted like, heaven knows, but I have to hope against hope that it was all the rage back in the day because what else would explain its stalwart march across the ages? Chocolate, pecans, and coconut—not a bad trio in theory, but, alas, somehow a Bermuda triangle of bad taste in many present-day recipes.
My little do-over is a bit more chocolate-heavy than some of the recipes I've experienced and read through, because as I mentioned above, they needed some oomph! and kapow!: the cake contains cocoa powder as well as melted chocolate, plus a teaspoon of espresso to jolt-start the flavor.
The icing is crunchy toasted coconut and pecans, but instead of folding them into that jaundiced slime that I just can't stand the look of, I stirred bittersweet chocolate into a sweetened condensed milk base.
I hope that wasn't Mrs. Clay turning over in her grave.
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