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In The Family
Is German Chocolate Cake Really German?

This continental delicacy has more to do with the heartland than the Rhineland.

Add it to the list along with French fries and Spanish omelets—German chocolate cake, it turns out, has nothing to do with its namesake country. The sweet diner staple made from layers of chocolate cake anchored by gooey caramel full of coconut and pecans is, like so many classic American desserts, the result of good old marketing.

As TASTE contributor Priya Krishna reveals in her article, German in Name, American in Origins,  the “German” in the name refers to Samuel German, an employee of the Baker’s Chocolate Company, who developed a high-sugar chocolate for baking. Baker’s bought the recipe in the 1850s and began selling the chocolate to home cooks as a product that wouldn’t need added sugar.

The cake’s other essential ingredients, coconut and pecan, were popular Texas delicacies, and sure enough, the first published recipe for German chocolate cake appeared in a Dallas newspaper in 1956. As Krishna puts it, “the cake was an amalgam of sweets trends that were popular in midcentury America.” And there’s nothing more American than mistaken cultural identity.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.