I could write this post about semantics. Frosting. Icing. Icing. Frosting. When do you use which term? There is no clear cut answer, and in the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how ridiculously fantastic this German Chocolate frosting (icing) is.
Everyone knows I’m not a baker. You have to measure things. You have to perform techniques — creaming…. folding…. ribbon-stage…. so, no. Baking is not my style. But last weekend, I offered to bake a cake for a good friend’s birthday. He asked for German Chocolate Cake.
I looked at lots of recipes online, including this rather spectacular-sounding “inside out” number from Epicurious.com. It called for “baking” the evaporated milk in a pie pan to caramelize it in the oven and I didn’t have that much time (confidence? desire?).
Don’t judge, but I copped to a cake mix from my Aunt Betty. You may know her as Betty Crocker. It worked because cake mixes are Gwen-proof — dump mix, beat in water, eggs, and oil, and call it a day.
I did get a little nerdy and weighed the batter so that my two 9-inch pans had equal amounts. I DID NOT add the 2 extra tablespoons of flour recommended for high altitude baking that I noticed at the bottom of the box after the cakes were in the oven. The cakes turned out fine.
But back to the icing (frosting) — now that was an area where I felt I could excel. Sure, there were some exact measurements, but not many. German Chocolate Cake is also my brother’s favorite cake. Mom made one every year for his birthday. I’m fairly certain she used not only a box cake mix, but possibly an accompanying can of frosting. She had a full time job and baking wasn’t her thing either. I can assure you, we didn’t judge her — we just dug in.
I started with The Joy of Cooking recipe for the frosting (icing). You can hardly go wrong with one of the classic cookbooks. I made a couple tweaks. I swapped brown sugar for granulated white sugar (using less, too). I used sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk.
Confession: that was a mistake. I meant to use evaporated milk but picked up sweetened condensed milk instead. After I realized my mistake (the next day, after serving the cake, I was so bummed that I went back to the store and got all the ingredients again, this time picking up the “right” milk. You know what? I didn’t care for that version at all. It seemed bland — dare I say weak? — compared to the first version I made. So yes, I traipsed back to the store a third time and decided I’d make the “mistake” version again, just to be sure I’ve tested it thoroughly before posting here.
Besides the milk “mistake,” which, turns out, isn’t a mistake at all, I made a few other adjustments. I increased the amount of pecans and the coconut and toasted both of them for more flavor before mixing them into the cooked sweet milk and egg yolks. I saved a handful of each to sprinkle on top, too, just for a fancier presentation.
I also added a good dose of salt — like enough to make it borderline salted caramel. I also doubled the recipe, because seriously, the best part of a German Chocolate Cake is the frosting (icing), and why be stingy with the best part?
I did one other nerdy kitchen geek step. I strained the cooked icing before adding the pecans and coconut. You don’t have to do this. I’m not sure anyone would notice (except maybe a pastry chef) but there will be a few caramelized and/or curdled egg bits after cooking the custard. There will be LOTS if you don’t stir CONSTANTLY, I can promise you.
The best way to get the thick custard out of the strainer is to tap it on the edge with a wooden spoon or spatula (see left photo, and gracious thanks to Barbara Pool Fenzl for that tip, who credits her friend, Jacques Pépin, for the tip.)
The cake was a hit at the party. Or at least it seemed that way when everyone was bouncing off the walls 15 minutes later from the sugar rush.
But it was even better the third time, because I switched the German Chocolate cake mix (above) out for the more chocolaty Devil’s Food cake mix (below.)
So whether you want to call it frosting or icing, that’s up to you. But call me when you finish icing (frosting) it. I’ll be there in a flash with my fork.
- 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
- 1-1/2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10 ounces (~ 2¾ cups) toasted, chopped pecan halves
- 7 ounces (~ 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut), toasted (see note)
- Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir in the brown sugar, yolks, salt and vanilla. Whisk until completely smooth. (Do this before you turn on the heat.)
- Turn heat to medium and stir frequently until the mixture almost comes to a boil (but do not let it boil or the yolks will curdle).
- After 5 minutes, turn heat to medium-low and stir nearly constantly, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spatula and not run when you drag a spoon through it (don't use your finger because this mixture is hot and will burn you). It should take about 6 to 8 minutes more, from the time you turned the heat down to reach the right consistency. It will thicken more later, when it cools.
- Remove from heat.
- Set aside about ¼ cup each of the toasted pecans and coconut to garnish the top, and stir the rest into the custard. Let cool a few minutes, but frost the completely cooled cake layers while the frosting is still warm (see note).
There is enough frosting to cover a 3 layer (8-inch rounds) or 2 layer (9-inch rounds) in a thin layer, but I like to just fill the layers and cover the top, leaving the sides bare. You might have ½ cup or so left over (and wouldn't you know, it makes an excellent topping for waffles and pancakes.)