I always thought German chocolate cake was a German invention. Boy, was I surprised when I learned otherwise! Here's the real story.
It’s the holiday season, and if your family is like mine, they start breaking out the fancy desserts—the kind you only have once a year—such as divinity, rum cake, and German chocolate cake.
For the longest time I thought German chocolate cake came from Germany. I wasn’t sure why the Germans had such a fondness for coconut and pecans, but it was an easy thought to brush aside in the face of such chocolatey goodness.
Samuel German Invented German's Sweet Chocolate
It turns out that the Germans have nothing to do with German chocolate cake. Instead, it’s named after Samuel German, an Englishman known as “Sammy” who had come to Dorchester, Massachusetts, and eventually got a job at the Baker Chocolate Company, the first American chocolate factory.
In the mid-1800s, Sammy German developed a special type of chocolate for Baker’s that had more sugar than the other chocolate the company was selling at the time. According to a history of the company, “Walter Baker bought the recipe … for $1,000 and began marketing it as ‘Baker’s German[’s] Sweet Chocolate.”*
Mrs. George Clay Created the Recipe for German Chocolate Cake
In 1957, a woman named Mrs. George Clay published a cake recipe in the "Dallas Morning Star" using Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate. Most sources say her recipe was called German’s chocolate cake, but somewhere along the way, the apostrophe-s got lost. The cake was so popular that it caused a noticeable increase in chocolate sales for Baker’s.
In 1964, the company redesigned the wrapper for German’s sweet chocolate bar and included the recipe for German chocolate cake.
'German' Is Usually Capitalized When You Write About German Chocolate Cake
Since German chocolate cake is named after a person, you typically see the word "German" capitalized when the name is written in a sentence.
*Yes, the history of the company says it was called German sweet chocolate, even though every other reference I can find (including the current packaging and pictures of vintage packaging) calls it German’s sweet chocolate.
Allen, B. “German Chocolate Cake.” Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook. http://j.mp/1rU9m1J (accessed December 3, 2014).
Sammarco, A.M. The Baker Chocolate Company: A Sweet History. The History Press. 2011. http://j.mp/1FOIfpi (accessed December 3, 2014).
Schwartz, A. “Famous Recipes Spread Via Back of Wrapper.” The Victoria Advocate. February 24, 1977. http://j.mp/1CHr399 (accessed December 3, 2014).
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.