This really didn’t need to be so complicated. I asked Kurt what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, and he didn’t say “you can decide” or “give me some options.” His answer was “German chocolate.” Easy enough, but then I proceeded to pull out every book I have with cakes in it and compare and contrast every recipe I could find for this type of cake. Then, I recalled that Bobby Flay had prepared a delectable-looking German chocolate cake on an episode of Throwdown. I found that recipe online too. So, let me explain my decision-making process for how I ended up with the cake you see here. Classic German chocolate cake frosting is what the cake is all about, but in Bobby Flay’s version, it became a coconut-pecan-cajeta frosting. I had to try that. However, the actual cake in his recipe was a little rich. His cake was also coated with a chocolate ganache and served with coconut whipped cream, and that seemed like too much to me. Then, there was the one in the Baked book. Again, the cake itself was a little rich with lots of butter, it had a more traditional coconut and pecan frosting, but it was also decorated with a ruffle of milk chocolate buttercream around the top. Last, I looked to The Greyston Bakery Cookbook where I found the layers were made from nice, airy chocolate chiffon, and the frosting was straightforward and traditional. Here’s what happened: I baked the chocolate chiffon layers from Greyston Bakery, I attempted Bobby Flay’s cajeta frosting and ended up changing it, and I coated the sides of the cake in the milk chocolate buttercream from Baked.
Making the cake layers was simple, and they turned out lovely. The cake ingredients were whisked together, egg whites were whipped to soft peaks, and the whites were folded into the batter. No problems there. Then, I just knew by looking at Bobby’s cajeta frosting recipe there were going to be issues. I seem to lack the ability to make a mixture of caramel and milk thicken, but I foolishly moved forward anyway. You start by caramelizing sugar and then adding whole milk, coconut milk, goat milk, seeds from a vanilla bean, and some light corn syrup, and then you let that simmer and reduce for about an hour. I shouldn’t have turned away from the stove while milk was coming to a boil, and so that was exactly what I did at exactly the wrong moment. Of course, it did boil over, and I caught it a second too late. I moved the saucepan to another burner and continued. The mixture eventually reduced, but it didn’t seem to be thickening. After more than an hour of simmering, I turned off the heat and added the butter, vanilla extract, and rum and poured the milk mixture into a bowl to cool. It didn’t thicken, but it was delicious. Since I wasn’t willing to waste all those ingredients and because it was in fact quite delicious, I decided to wing it in an attempt to save the frosting. I poured the cooled mixture back into a clean saucepan and added two egg yolks and a another couple of tablespoons of butter. As it came back up to a simmer, it thickened and the frosting was saved. Back into a bowl it went to cool again, and then shredded coconut and chopped pecans were added. The version of the cake in the Baked book with the milk chocolate buttercream on top was calling to me. I made the buttercream. I pulled out a piping bag. I set one cake layer on a platter and piped a circle of buttercream around the perimeter to hold in the other frosting. The now cooled and thickened coconut pecan frosting was added inside the buttercream ring, and the second layer was set on top. Then, I realized that I have no business using a piping bag especially at the end of a long baking day. So I smoothed the chocolate frosting around the sides of the cake, added the remaining coconut pecan frosting on top, and decorated with a trail of finely chopped pecans around the base and top edge of the cake.
I know, I completely over-complicated the process, but I learned something from it. The flavors in the Bobby Flay frosting were so fantastic I’m glad I attempted it. In fact, when Kurt tasted it, he even asked how it was made because it was so good, and he’s never before asked about how anything is actually made. Next time though, I’ll simplify the process by keeping the combination of whole milk, coconut milk, and goat milk, but I’ll make it the more traditional way from the beginning with egg yolks and more butter. The chocolate chiffon layers were a very good choice, and I’ll definitely make those again. And, the milk chocolate buttercream was delicious on the cake and dressed it up a little even though it wasn’t piped into a pretty ruffle. Most importantly, Kurt really liked his birthday cake.