Do you remember when you discovered the truth about Santa Claus? My Santa myth was crushed after 7 short years on the planet. The ‘Grandma German Chocolate Cake Recipe Sham’ lasted for 3 Santa’s worth!
Shortly after being married and at the young age of 20, my wife and I began cooking our own meals. One day I got to thinking about cooking my very first German chocolate cake. My grandma used to have one baked up for us every single time we’d come from Ohio to visit her in Vincennes, Indiana and I came to absolutely love it. Today I have to avoid baking them because, seriously, I can gorge on a whole 3-layer cake, destroyed all by myself in just a few short nights. When it’s around, it’s like I’m a cigarette smoker or a person addicted to heroin – I know I just ate a piece, but when can I have my next? Hello? I’m home. No one around? Well a few bites here before dinner won’t hurt anything. (Yawn) It’s bedtime – oh a little bite of the icing before I head up the stairs won’t hurt. I am not exaggerating – this is how it goes. Light can travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Coconut pecan icing atop German chocolate cake traveling atop my fork could rival this speed.
As I began imagining the delicious taste of the icing, I began to contemplate my grandma’s mortality. More importantly, wouldn’t it be a shame to lose forever grandma’s secret recipe for her wonderful German chocolate cake and that terrific icing? Someone should document that recipe for the world to enjoy. At the very least, the recipe should be recorded. Copies should be made and passed around to all family members so that there will forever be a copy to borrow should any one of us lose our own precious copy. The world should be exposed to Grandma’s wondrous discovery. I decided that Kim and I would journey westward to Vincennes to visit our relatives. It would be our very first visit there as a married couple. We were now 21, adults – someone had to step up and carry the torch!
Grandma’s house was small. It was only 4 rooms and a covered front porch, all built by my granddad. The walls were thin and the floors were uneven. But it was paid for and my grandparents were both hard working people who had always made their own way. Granddad typically spent all his time at the house in his bed, a box fan on, blowing directly at him while reading a book. Years later I was to discover he also always had a bottle nearby. The bedroom was Tiny. It had a coal burning stove in the center of the room when I was a young boy and then this later was replaced by a large indoor gas heater. Granddad’s bed laid against the far wall, parallel to the room’s window. Grandma’s bed lay with the headboard against that same wall, resting such that their beds formed an “L”.
When we were in the house carrying on a conversation, it would occur either in the living room or kitchen. When we wanted Granddad to be a part of it, it always occurred in the bedroom. On this day, the four of us were in the bedroom. Grandma was sitting sideways on her bed, Granddad was of course in his usual place, my wife Kim was seated in the green 1-person couch near the bathroom entrance and I was standing in the entryway between their bedroom and the kitchen. And so I broached the topic of cake-making and the preservation of secret recipes for posterity.
“You know Grandma, the other day I was thinking about your German chocolate cake and wished I had the recipe so I could make one of my own. Do you think you could read it off to me and I could write it down?”
“Well sure Robbie, I think there’s a copy in there in the cabinet in the kitchen.”
I pointed to the white cabinet that held all of her dishes and said “the dish cabinet?”
“Yes, look there on the third shelf in the corner. You see that round metal tin can? Look in there for a green piece of paper. I think it says Bakers Chocolate on it”.
Well, as soon as she mentioned green paper, I did find the piece of paper she was referring to. I brought it to the doorway and showed it to her and asked, “this?”
And so it did. “This is the recipe Grandma? There’s no secret recipe? This is the cake you’ve been making for me all these years?”
“Yes, it’s delicious isn’t it!”
And just like that; there was no Santa! Grandma was a scammer. Grandma had led me on for 21 years. What’s next, my Granddad was the third shooter on the grassy knoll?
I remember the details all so vividly because for me it was indeed the shattering of a myth, a myth I had created for myself. I was only 21 and wasn’t really yet fully schooled in the aspects of cooking and cookbooks. All along I just assumed that anytime anyone cooked something they had either created the dish on their own or more likely, it was a family guarded recipe handed down from generation to generation. I had been all set to slip on the gauntlets and the heavy armor in order to protect our own family gem. I realized at that moment that Grandma didn’t really have any trade secrets. Shamefully, I admit to you that I was a bit let down at that moment.
The very first time I attempted to make the wonderful Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate Cake and sinfully delicious coconut pecan frosting, I gained an even stronger appreciation though for my grandma. I had had a little time to think it through. The recipes require 8 eggs, chopped pecans and shredded coconut. The recipe itself is not terribly difficult to follow. The most important part I’d say would be to not overcook the cake, being careful not to make the cake too dry. Like all cake recipes though, one has to pay attention to the ingredients and the quantities called for. Make it exactly as the recipe calls for and you’re in for a pure slice of grandma heaven.
I’ve retold this story over the years because it’s a way of poking fun at myself. Grandma had never claimed that she had a secret recipe. I had created that myth all on my own. My grandma must have had that cake ready for us on almost every single trip home. As kids we used to talk about it in the car along the 4 hour drive there – I wonder if grandma will have that cake made? And my mom usually responding – when has she not? She knew we loved that cake and I know today, more than ever, just how much she loved looking forward to baking that cake. It meant her grandchildren would soon be there with her.
Today it’s impossible for me not to think immediately of my grandma whenever I see, smell, taste or hear the words “German chocolate cake”. That cake and my grandma are forever synonymous for me. With every single bite I take of that cake today, I taste a lot more than just a wonderfully delicious cake with fabulous icing – I hear my grandma’s infectious laughter and I feel her love.
Here I share my Grandma’s recipe which coincidentally is exactly the same as Baker’s!