German chocolate cake is the common name of an American cake that was originally known as German’s chocolate cake. The cake is a layered, chocolate cake filled and topped with a coconut-pecan frosting. It owes its name to an American chocolate maker named Sam German, who developed a formulation of dark baking chocolate that came to be used in the cake recipe. Sweet baking chocolate is traditionally used for the chocolate flavor in the actual cake, but few recipes call for it today. The filling and/or topping is a caramel made with egg yolks and evaporated milk; once the caramel is cooked, coconut and pecans are stirred in. Occasionally, a chocolate frosting is spread on the sides of the cake and piped around the circumference of the layers to hold in the filling. Maraschino cherries are occasionally added as a garnish.
Contrary to popular belief, German chocolate cake did not originate in Germany. Its roots can be traced back to 1852 when American Sam German developed a type of dark baking chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company. The brand name of the product, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, was named in honor of him.
On June 3, 1957, a recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake” appeared as the “Recipe of the Day” in the Dallas Morning Star. It was created by Mrs. George Clay, a homemaker from 3831 Academy Drive, Dallas, Texas. This recipe used the baking chocolate introduced 105 years prior and became quite popular. General Foods, which owned the Baker’s brand at the time, took notice and distributed the cake recipe to other newspapers in the country. Sales of Baker’s Chocolate are said to have increased by as much as 73% and the cake would become a national staple. The possessive form (German’s) was dropped in subsequent publications, forming the “German Chocolate Cake” identity we know today and giving the false impression of a German origin.
The recipe still remains popular to this day and has been adopted by baking companies. June 11 is National German Chocolate Cake Day in America.