Happy month of May! Can you believe it’s already here? Boy has this year flown, especially after last year, which at this time seemed to drag on and on. Truth be told, May is one of my favorite months. I love that the weather is warm but not burning hot yet, it’s the month our daughter was born, it’s the month of Mother’s Day, and it’s the month I was born! Woohoo! I actually had her the day after my birthday and will forever consider her the best birthday present ever. My poor hubby used to lament that he’d walk into a store to buy birthday and Mother’s Day cards and come out broke. LOL.
Growing up, kids birthday celebrations weren’t the gigantic ordeals they are today. If we were lucky, we’d maybe invite a few neighbor kids over for a party of cake and cone-shaped hats. That’s it. No princess imposters. No pony rides. And we were just fine.
I was fine because my birthday meant my favorite cake: German Chocolate. My mom would always make one, complete with stacked round layers and that decadent coconut and pecan icing and mid-layer filling. To this day, it’s probably still my favorite cake, right up there with carrot cake, even though I rarely eat it and have never made one from scratch myself.
I go way back thinking of those memories and you’d think the cake itself goes way back to some small Bavarian village, but it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even originate in Germany. It all comes down to not geography, but grammar.
It’s actually more a case of a dropped possessive, so more punctuation than grammar, but this wordsmith is all over this story and I’m here to tell you that German Chocolate cake is a true blue American concoction. Its origin does however have something to do with German.
That would be Samuel German, an American by way of England. German arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts sometime during the 1830s and met a man named Walter Baker, who owned the Walter Baker & Co. chocolate plant. German became his coachman and in 1852 perfected a recipe for a sweet and mild dark baking chocolate. German’s chocolate (do you sense an enlightenment coming?) contained more sugar than Baker’s previous version and was a hit. Up until then, a bar of chocolate was unsweetened and very bitter. Baker bought German’s recipe for $1,000 and marketed it as “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate” which was later simply called German Sweet Chocolate by the adoring public. The simple dropping of an apostrophe explains everything. Punctuation matters!
But what about the cake itself? Not until June 3, 1957 did the cake using the chocolate appear when a recipe for it was published in the “Dallas Morning Star” as its “Recipe of the Day.” Submitted by Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, “German’s Chocolate Cake” called for an 8 ounce bar of German’s Sweet Chocolate and readers loved it. In today’s world, you’d say the recipe went viral.
By this time, the Baker’s brand was owned by General Foods, which in 1958 made the recipe available to the public in a booklet. The cake had an immediate and enthusiastic response, and requests on where to find the German’s chocolate bar were so numerous that General Foods decided to send pictures of the cake to newspapers all around the country and sales for German’s Chocolate skyrocketed. Later publications of the recipe permanently dropped the possessive and it’s remained so to this day.
As with any brilliant idea, many say the recipe was not original to Mrs. Clay, pointing out that similar cakes using buttermilk, sweet chocolate, and pecans had been popular in the south for some time. Clay is the one who submitted the recipe however, so let’s give credit where credit is due.
Regardless of who created the first ever German Chocolate Cake, we know it wasn’t someone in Germany. The cake has stood the test of time and today is still a favorite and can be found in bakeries everywhere, is just as good as a sheet cake, and boxed cake mixes make baking one a breeze. I might just have to whip one up myself!