Time disappears while you’re dancing. By the calendar at least, it’s been seven years since I started taking dance classes on a regular basis. They’ve changed my life.
The first time I walked into a class, I stood at the far back corner of the studio, not knowing what to expect. By the time I’d finished the 15-minute warm-up, I’d already broken into a sweat—45 minutes later, I walked out of class on a dance high.
In every class, there’re always new steps to learn, new music to inhale, and rhythm changes to consider. The joy that I experienced kept me going week after week. The best lesson I’ve learned was not to panic: I took in eight counts at a time until I absorbed the whole routine without the looking like a deer in the headlights.
A little more than five years ago, I innocently took a class that some gym-class buddies recommended. It was conducted by James (the choreographer of my Gym Crew Challenge last year). I thought I could at least get through it without tripping over myself—or someone else. That turned out to be half true. The warm-up was a workout on its own, and then came 60-minutes of intricate choreography that was both exhilarating and terrifying. Voracious consumer that I am, I took that class sporadically, then more frequently, and eventually on a regular basis.
Along with the amazing mind/body exercise of that class came great friendships with fellow dancers. It was as fun to chat with new friends as taking the class itself. Then one Friday evening before class, everyone was talking about James’s birthday party. I offered to prepare the cake—his favorite was German Chocolate Cake.
Now, five years later, I’ve made the same cake for James every year and not once did I remember to take a photo or blog about it. Strangely, I had never made it any other time of the year for anyone else or for us. So this year, I’ve decided it’s time to share it. Be warned, this cake is highly addictive. There’s a very good reason this combination of moist chocolate cake with the milky coconut-pecan filling has been a classic for generations.
German Chocolate Cake
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
yield: 6-inch cake
2 egg yolks
6 ounces evaporated milk (1/2 can)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1/8teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups sweetened shredded coconut, (about 3-1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans (3 ounces), toasted
2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces), plus additional for dusting cake pans
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (about 2-1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons sour cream, room temperature
1. Whisk yolks in medium saucepan; gradually whisk in evaporated milk. Add sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla, then stir in coconut. Transfer mixture to bowl and cool until just warm. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Pecans are stirred in just before cake assembly.)
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chocolate, cocoa and espresso powder in small bowl; pour boiling water over and let stand to melt chocolate, about 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; set aside until cooled to room temperature.
2. Spray two 6-inch-round by 2-inch-high straight-sided cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line bottoms with parchment rounds. Spray paper rounds, dust pans with flour, and knock out excess. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl, set aside.
3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugars, and salt at medium-low speed until sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed.
4. Reduce speed to medium, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, scrape down bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low, add vanilla and room temperature chocolate mixture, then increase speed back to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, (batter may appear broken).
5. With mixer running at low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream (in 2 additions), beginning and ending with dry ingredients, and beating in each addition until barely combined. Stir by hand with rubber spatula to finish mixing batter, scraping bottom and sides of bowl, to ensure that batter is homogenous (batter will be thick). Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; spread batter to edges of pans with rubber spatula and smooth surfaces.
6. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 25- 30 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard paper rounds. Cool cakes to room temperature before filling, about 1 hour.
1. Stir toasted pecans into chilled filling. Set one cake on serving platter or cardboard round cut slightly smaller than cake. With serrated knife, trim off dome on top of cake to level, cut each cake horizontally into two even layers. Repeat with second cake