The Reason You Won’t Find German Chocolate Cake in Any German Cookbooks

Lots of Americans think the beloved pecan-and-coconut-frosted chocolate cake originated in the Old World. Time for a German chocolate cake history lesson.

German chocolate cake on a white platterPhoto: Taste of Home

If Grandma made German chocolate cake, you knew you were in for a treat: sweet chocolate cake with a kick of buttermilk smothered in pecan-coconut frosting. The layered beauty is so special that it’s easy to imagine it made its way to the United States in the recipe boxes of German grandmothers who had baked it for special occasions in the old country. But German chocolate cake history doesn’t reach back nearly that far—in time or distance.

The Origin of German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake first appeared in the U.S. in 1957 in the recipe column of a Dallas newspaper. The recipe, submitted by a local woman, featured Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, a milk chocolate that’s sweeter than straight up baking chocolate (you can learn more about our best baking chocolates from our taste test). Sam German invented this sweeter chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Co. in 1852, so they called it German’s Chocolate in honor of its maker. After the namesake recipe was published, the “German’s” eventually morphed into “German,” and our collective memory of the cake’s origins became simultaneously ignorant and blissful (from eating all that cake—sales of the chocolate reportedly skyrocketed 73 percent after that first publication!).

Foodies suggest that cakes made with buttermilk, sweet chocolate and pecans were made in the South before 1957, but it was the published recipe that launched this decidedly American favorite. You can still find Baker’s chocolate in most grocery stores today. Of course, you’ll love it in the traditional cake, but how about German chocolate upside down cake, German chocolate brownies or coconut-pecan German chocolate pie?

No matter which recipe you bake up, next time you wow your family and friends with your favorite German chocolate dessert, you can impress them with this little morsel of trivia.

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Kristin Sutter
A big fan of homegrown cooking, Kristin has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She has mastered the art of learning from her inexpert riffs on other people's truly good recipes.