Editor's note: Annie Overboe is taking some time off. This column originally appeared on June 13, 2001.
They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. After years of baking for the men in my life, I can attest to the truth behind this adage.
When it comes to the sweet side of the meal, I've found that men generally choose pies, cookies and brownies over cakes and elaborate desserts. There remains, however, one exception to this rule: German Chocolate Cake. It's not the cake that hooks them, but the caramel nut frosting.
This luscious yet hearty frosting tastes as good as it looks. The deep caramel flavor stands up to the chewy coconut, and crunch of the nuts. Add a good cake base to this fabulous frosting and you have just created the perfect dessert for Father's Day.
With a name like German Chocolate Cake, I expected to uncover European origins. Yet to my surprise, this dessert was named for Samuel German who created the first sweet baking chocolate.
After observing many home bakers, German thought it would be convenient to have the sugar, milk and vanilla already added to the chocolate. The resulting formula, now known as Baker's Sweet Chocolate, resembles milk chocolate in taste and texture.
The now-famous German Chocolate Cake was made using Samuel German's sweet chocolate and topped with a unique caramel nut frosting. Introduced to American bakers in the late 1950s, this dessert became an instant sensation.
While this new spin on chocolate cake tasted good, the caramel nut topping stole the limelight. In an ironic twist, the toned-down chocolate flavor of this cake opened the door for the caramel frosting to become the dominant taste in this dessert.
Keeping in mind that German sweet chocolate is simply chocolate that has been diluted with sugar and milk, I decided to use a small amount of Dutch processed cocoa in lieu of the sweet German chocolate in the cake recipe. This eliminated chopping and melting the sweet chocolate bar squares.
I also substituted dark brown sugar for sugar in the batter, thus creating a background of caramel notes that mirrors the frosting. The molasses in the brown sugar provides a boost to the mellow chocolate flavor of the cake.
As you already know, the secret behind this cake lies in the frosting. To understand this secret, you must know a little about caramel and how it works in a recipe.
Common white sugar offers a burst of pure sweetness, yet nothing remains after the intense first taste. Sugar becomes caramel after the heat of cooking allows the flavors to deepen and develop a savory edge. Unfortunately, many caramel frosting recipes miss the mark in achieving good caramel flavor.
Using dark brown sugar provides more depth of taste and color. The splash of corn syrup adds a nice shine to the finished frosting.
Spread the frosting while still warm and let it gently drip down the sides. Shedding the traditional look of a side frosting adds to the rustic appeal of this dessert and makes for less work in the kitchen.
With two men in my life, you can imagine the food fight at my house while I tested this recipe. To keep the peace, I'm back in the kitchen baking a second German Chocolate Cake to replace the one my son ate. Happy Father's Day, Michael!
• Write to Annie Overboe at firstname.lastname@example.org.