If you eat German chocolate cake, you might be under the impression that you’re eating a regional delicacy. What you’re actually eating is the remnants of a famously popular chocolate recipe, a brand name, and a Texan innovation.
In 1852, Samuel German, an Englishman who came to Massachusetts, found work at a chocolate mill and came up with a new recipe for baking chocolate. You know how when you go to the store, that the chocolate designed to be hastily ripped out of a package and devoured in the car on the way home from the store is creamy and delicious while the chocolate designed for baking tastes like talcum powder and self-hatred. This is because baking chocolate is often high on cocoa solids, and low on cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is made of different kinds of fatty acids that solidify and aggregate at different temperatures. Without tempering, they separate out from each other sometimes making the whitish bloom you see on old chocolate bars, which isn’t something you want when baking. Baking chocolate bars also differ in sugar content, in the exact amount of chocolate liquor (the slurry of cocoa butter and cocoa solids that you get when you grind up the beans), and in the overall quality of the cocoa. Each bar is made using a slightly different process and with a different formula.
Anyways, German’s new baking chocolate recipe was dark, and thus relatively low on cocoa butter, but it had a higher amount of sugar in it than the leading brand of baking chocolate, making it far tastier than the alternatives. Walter Baker, the owner of the mill as well as a baking goods company, bought the recipe for $1000. The Baker Chocolate Company started selling the bar under the name “Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate.”
Germ chocolate was wildly popular—so much so that a century later, everyone knew what Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, Texas was talking about when she came up with a recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake.” It was published in the Dallas Morning Star in 1957. Apparently the recipe was hot in Dallas in the 1950s, because another woman sent her recipe to General Foods. In 1958, Mrs. Jackie Huffines’ recipe for “Samuel German Chocolate Cake” was published in General Foods’ cookbook. That got the cake a national following.
Over time, the recipes dropped the “s” and the “Samuel” respectively, and just came to be known as “German Chocolate Cake,” despite originating in England, New England, and Dallas.