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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas Love and a German Chocolate Cake

Christmas Love and a German Chocolate Cake
by Victoria Challancin

 Every year we celebrate our most important holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, with my best friend and her family.  With a mish-mash of cultures, mainly American and Mexican, these occasions are always full of life, family, friends, love and exceptional food.  Never was so much love in play as this year, when I asked my friend what she would like me to contribute in terms of food for our Christmas Day meal, and she gently said she would do it all since I had just returned from driving two thousands miles with my son and she knew I was still seeing taillights in my head from the long, wonderful drive.  Now that is love.  Real love.  And that is what Christmas should be  Finally, she agreed I could just bring some cheese or a dip as who knew how many young people would appear. More on that later...

My friends' house is all a home should be, in my opinion:  comfortable, welcoming, with an incredible garden, an air of graciousness, and a wealth of quirky, interesting bric-a-brac and art from all over the world.  I find it hard to excuse a house that has no sense of humor and a real feel of who inhabits the space--and in this case there is no need to overlook a thing.  This home delights me every time I enter it, enveloping me in its warmth and creativity.  

Christmas Day Dinner:  A glorious meal of turkey with all the trimmings, good wine, home-made sangrita for the tequila drinkers, excellent local cheeses, and a bûche de Noël round things out.  Of course, I was so busy that I failed to photograph the food, but mainly focused on the people and a few decorations.  Quirky and creative...just like my friend.

We were a relatively small group this year:  Six Mexicans, six Americans, and one Canadian.  A jolly mix of ages and nationalities.  And the food was wonderful, if under-photographed. 

 This year, with no grandkids visiting, the usual lavishly decorated 8-foot tree somehow shrank

 Cranberry sauce should always be served in a Oaxacan chicken dish, don't you think?

 A table for the twenty-somethings

 Old friends

The Virgin of Guadalupe in cut-out foil blesses you as you pass through the door

My muhammara
When my friend suggested I just bring some cheese or a dip, I knew she was secretly hoping for some muhammara, a Syrian roasted red pepper dip livened with chiles, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses.    Knowing that she loves it, that is, of course, what I made. This photo is from my blog from December of 2009 when I posted the recipe here.  It might not have anything to do with Christmas for most people, but somehow it works for us.

And a Cake from my Family:
Although I was woefully behind in my Christmas baking this year due to our late arrival from the States, I did manage to bake one family recipe:  German Chocolate Cake.  No truffles, no fruitcake, no cookies...I was a pitiful version of my usual cooking self this year.  But this one delicious cake, whose very taste transports me to my childhood, almost made up for the general lack of effort this busy year.

In spite of the slightly exotic name of this cake which hints of the Old Country, German Chocolate Cake is a thoroughly American concoction--one that was much loved by my mother. Dating to the 1920s, this rich chocolate cake, lightened with beaten egg whites and filled with a gooey caramel frosting enriched with coconut and pecans, became extremely popular in the 1950s, when it surely entered my life as a little girl.  Named after Samuel German, an employee of the Walter Baker and Company, the cake was originally made with the company's sweet baking chocolate, and it still is, if you have access to German's Sweet Chocolate; if not, any good semi-sweet chocolate works fine.

Traditionally, this cake is presented with bare sides so that you can see both the cake and the frosting.  We made this cake in a cooking class for Mexican cooks early in December so that they could make it over the holidays for their patrons and the guests in the various houses where they are employed.  I also made it last week as my one stab at something traditional for Christmas.  One traditional recipe from my family, from my mother.  For some reasons all my photos of the second cake came out blurry, so below I give you the class version.  

 Marisol, frosting the German Chocolate Cake

Carmen, tidying up the crumbs

Cook's Notes:  This recipe comes directly from my mom's recipe box.  It is certainly not original, and probably comes straight from the German's Sweet Chocolate wrapper.  Definitely, it comes from the Walter Baker and Company, and from the looks of the yellowed paper on which my mom's recipe is handwritten, probably from the 50s.  Although San Miguel sits at well over 6 thousand feet in altitude, I didn't adjust this cake for high altitude baking, but rather made it just like my mother would have at sea level in Florida.  And it worked just fine.  I did, however, use silicon cake pans though I am not in love with them.  Go figure.

German Chocolate Cake
(Recipe from my mother's files, probably from the Baker's Chocolate Company)

1/2 cup boiling water
4 ounces Baker's German Sweet Chocolate (or any good semisweet baking chocolate), broken into pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (I used Mexican crema acificada, which is similar to crème fraîche)
Coconut-Pecan Filling (see recipe below)

Make the cake:  Preheat oven to 35o degrees F.  Using a small brush, lightly coat two 9-inch round cake pans (you can also sue a rectangular sheet cake pan) with butter.  Dust with flour and tap out any excess.  Set aside.

In a medium heat-proof bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate.  Stir until smooth.  Set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a mixer set on medium-high speed, beat the sugar and butter until very light, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, until well incorporated.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add the chocolate mixture and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture by thirds, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients.

With clean beaters, in a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks.  Use a rubber spatula to gently stir in a half cup of the beaten whites into the chocolate batter.  Fold the remaining whites into the batter.

Divide the batter equally between the pans and spread evenly.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven until a tester inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Use a knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and invert onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling: 

Coconut-Pecan Filling or Frosting
1 cup sugar
12 ounces (1 can) evaporated milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted better
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (one 7-ounce package) flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, butter, egg yolks, and vanilla.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Stir in coconut and pecans.  Transfer to a bowl and, stirring occasionally, allow to cool to room temperature before frosting the cake.

Parting Shots:
Star piñatas for Christmas over a shop

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Eha said...

Thank you for sharing the warmth of your Christmas gathering with all the small details that were traditional and comforting, familiar from olden days and part of your life now! A question comes to mind . . .'old friends' :) ! One thing for certain, that table for 'twenty-somethings' was pretty happiness-making! And the cake sounds lovely, even if I do not bake :D !

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a lovely dinner that must have been and you are so right, it is love that counts always! :D Thank you for the German Chocolate Cake recipe-it's something that we don't really get much here so I've always been curious about it!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

The cake is one of my favorites. When I go back to Texas to visit family, I see it still on so many restaurant menus for dessert. It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas celebration.

Hotly Spiced said...

What a lovely Christmas. I love all the images. The cranberry sauce looks really good. I'm glad you had a lovely, relaxed day with family and good friends xx

Sawsan@chef in disguise said...

German chocolate cake is one of my all time favorites that I never make because I fear the calories but I need to make an exception and try your mother's recipe. It sounds heavenly

Nancy said...

Hi Victoria,
Feliz Navidad and Happy New Year!! What a lovely post. I love your traditions and they sound much like ours since becoming expats. Thanks for sharing and best wishes for a great 2013! said...

Hey its ever too late to wish youth the best.

Afer Sandy and helping out fiends that lost all...then catching this horrid flu I am now getting back to commenting on my favoite blogs which I also cosider friends.

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun said...

Me, too, Norma. And I consider us friends who have just yet to meet in the flesh!