The non-cheater’s cheater German Chocolate Cake

May 20, 2013

OneHungryMama German Chocolate Cake

Last week was the hungry papa’s birthday. I was sure to spoil him, but when it came time to whip up his birthday cake this weekend, I found myself feeling tired and uninspired. Let’s just say that we’d celebrated grown-up style the night before. So, I had two choices: to cheat or to bend the rules.

I’m not much of a cheater, but I do love to bend the rules. I’m a real sucker for a creative interoperation of “how things are done.” When it comes to cooking, it’s the difference between a semi-homemade approach using store bought shortcuts and super simplified scratch cooking.

This gorgeous take on a German chocolate cake is what happens when you just say no to cheating and decide to get creatively simple instead. So worth it: despite my haze, I managed to lead the hungry boys in making an easy birthday cake in style.

I’m not going to lie: I was tempted for the first time in years to grab a cake mix. We were away for the weekend, so I was without my pantry or equipment. And did I mention that I was tired and hungover? The hungry boys were chomping at the bit to help and I had happy visions of them being able to dump all of the ingredients into one bowl.

At the supermarket, I sheepishly hit the cake mix aisle. I looked around. (Sometimes I feel like people are watching what I buy. It’s crazy, I know.) Then I started looking at the ingredients. Which, by the way, you shouldn’t do if you ever decide that you want to cheat. Kinda defeats the point. At least it did for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

How hard could it be to make a cake? Well, it can be really hard if you pick a fussy cake, but not if you go with, let’s say, a sheet cake. Yes! That would do.

But what about icing: did I need to grab a tub of the pre-made stuff? I moved further down the aisle promising myself that I’d turn a blind eye to the ingredients. But—you guessed it—I just couldn’t. But I also couldn’t make icing. I didn’t have it in me. And then inspiration struck.

I’d make my quick caramel sauce and mix in some sweetened shredded coconut and chopped pecans. It would be like a German chocolate cake, but without icing. I’d just spread the coconut over the top and voila.

Voila, indeed. It was perfect. Like I’ll make this instead of a fussy proper German chocolate cake any day perfect. Like the hungry boys had a blast perfect. Like the hungry papa loved it perfect. Like I managed to make a cake from scratch with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old with a hangover perfect.

Who needs to cheat? Not this mama.


I dotted the cake with fresh raspberries because a) it looks pretty and b) their tartness cuts the sweet of the coconut topping.

Also, this cake is adapted from the Pioneer Woman. She calls her recipe the “best chocolate sheet cake ever,” so I had to give it a try. I cut the sugar by a bit, though, and also substituted coconut oil for butter just to see what would happen (and because I love a good theme). It worked out perfectly for this recipe, but feel free to substitute any chocolate cake. Just keep in mind that the coconut topping is sweet. Really sweet.

German Chocolate Sheet Cake
(can be shared with kids 12+ mos)*
Makes one 18″x13″ sheet cake

For the cake (adapted from Pioneer Woman)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut oil (refined or unrefined)
4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping
1-1 1/2 cups caramel sauce
Pinch ground ginger (optional)
Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
2 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

2. Melt coconut oil in a sauce pan set over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder. Add boiling water and allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then take off of the heat. Pour over the flour mixture and stir until well combined.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs. Add buttermilk and vanilla and keep whisking until well combined. Add to chocolate batter and mix until smooth. Pour batter onto a sheet pan and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

4. While the cake is baking, make the caramel sauce. While the sauce is still hot, stir in ginger and nutmeg, if using. Allow sauce to cool slightly. In the meantime, combine coconut and pecans, then pour caramel sauce over the top and mix well to combine.

5. Once cake has cooled for at least 15 minutes, spread coconut mixture over the top. I think it looks prettiest if you leave a 1/2″ or so edge of cake showing. Dot the top with fresh raspberries, placing one berry on each serving size. Serve warm, cool, the next day—it’s all delicious.

*Note: While there is nothing in this that is unsafe for younger eaters, I recommend this beginning at 12+ months due to the high sugar content. No matter how old your eaters, please be sure to serve age appropriate portions. A little of this sweet treat goes a long way!

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