German Chocolate Cake Roll is chocolate Genoise cake brushed with coffee simple syrup and filled with a creamy, coconut pecan frosting. Top it with dark chocolate ganache, more coconut, and toasted pecans for a German chocolate cake you’ll never forget.
Growing up, if my birthday was near Easter, my birthday cake request was an Easter bunny cake, and my mom would make it. Any other time? German chocolate. This is the cake for me, and it was important for me to post it today, because yup — it’s my birthday. I’m getting up there in age, so I need things to make my birthday exciting. That includes shopping, dinner with my family, red wine, and this cake. This German chocolate cake roll really did make things exciting for me, days ahead of my birthday, and I think this is the best one I’ve ever had. 🙂
I’ve had cake rolls on my bucket list forever, and they’ve always scared me. I made two in cooking school, so that of course helped boost my confidence to do it at home. The thing with cake rolls is that you need a cake that’s easy to roll, which is typically a genoise, or sponge cake. The genoise cake can be very taboo…it’s a temperamental thing…but if you follow some simple steps, you’ll get it right no problem. Plus, this chocolate genoise cake recipe that I found from the legendary Alice Medrich is moister than any of the ones we made at school. It’s moister and much more forgiving!
For the genoise, it’s important to prepare your pan, which in this case is a rimmed baking sheet brushed with butter, then with a sheet of parchment paper over that brushed with more butter because we want this cake to come out easily. Cut each corner at an angle so that the corners fit snugly into the pan.
Once that’s done, get started on whipping the eggs and sugar. This is best achieved by having eggs that are room temperature as they’ll whip faster. The quickest way to get room temp eggs is to place them in a bowl of very warm water and let them stand for 5 minutes. Perfection! Place your warm eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. Use the whisk attachment to combine them briefly, then whip on high until they’ve tripled in volume and you can draw a figure 8 out of the batter and it holds.
These are the before and after shots. Do you see my figure 8 on the right? That’s what ya want. 🙂
While the eggs and sugar are whipping, sift your dry ingredients 3 times. Yes, 3 times, and this is very important. This makes the dry ingredients much lighter, which helps keep the batter nice and airy during folding. I like to do the sifting between two sheets of waxed paper.
So, when you’re ready to fold the dry ingredients into the batter, you should sift it in in thirds. Yes, sifting once more is needed, so that’s pretty much a total of 4 times. I know that’s a lot, but trust me. Fold the dry ingredients after each addition ever so gently with a rubber spatula…or I know this sounds crazy…you can use your hand. In class we all started doing it that way, because it’s easy to feel the dry ingredients in the batter and know exactly how much folding you have left. It’s messy, so I totally understand if you’d rather use a rubber scraper. 🙂
After you’ve folded in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, add about a cup of it to the melted butter and mix it in gently until incorporated. This gets folded into the rest of the batter as minimally as possible. Try to make sure there aren’t too many air bubbles, which would mean you’re over-folding. Pour the batter into the prepared pan by pouring big dollops across the surface area so you don’t have to spread it out so much. Over-spreading=over-working, which will equate to a flat, very un-airy cake. I told you this thing was temperamental!
Bake the cake on the middle rack of the oven, and when it springs back when pressed gently and the cake is pulling away from the sides, it’s done. I know this cake sounds like a lot of effort, but it’s really a quick cake to put together once you get the hang of it.
Once out of the oven, cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Have a large lint-free towel ready to roll the cake on your counter. Invert the cake by holding the sides with oven mitts or towels and tilting it over the towel. Let it drop gently, then remove the parchment, as shown in the second photo. Roll the cake in the towel immediately, and let cool for about an hour. If the cake gets cold, it will crack while rolling, so make sure to do it while it’s still warm. Once the cake has cooled, trim off any crispy edges. Dab the coffee simple syrup over the cake for more moisture, if desired, and top with that luscious frosting! Be sure to leave a border so the filling doesn’t ooze out while rolling.
To roll, just take one of the short ends and tuck under as tightly as possible. The tighter you’re able to roll the cake, the better the roll will look! Once rolled, move it to a plate or platter with waxed paper underneath it so that when you frost it with the ganache, it won’t get all over the plate.
Frost it with the ganache and decorate with the coconut and toasted pecans, and chill for about 4 hours. The longer you chill the cake, the easier it is to slice it. I didn’t chill mine that much for my photos, and while it was fine, it was much better when it was cold. 🙂
As for the coconut pecan frosting, I’ve adapted this recipe from David Lebovitz, and it is truly AMAZING. I mean, I had a bit of frosting left, so I dumped the cake trimmings in it and ate it. That good. I wasn’t wasting a lick of that stuff.
The frosting is like a custard — eggs, sugar, and cream cooked until thickened, or about 170 degrees. I used the wooden spoon trick — when I could draw a line through the custard on the back of the spoon, it was ready.
It’s then mixed into the coconut, pecans, and cubed butter, and set aside to cool before frosting. This would be great made ahead!
I know I included a lot of instructions here, and I hope that doesn’t scare you. I’m hoping it helps take away any fears you may have about cake rolls, because this really was easy to make! I haven’t had that much fun in my kitchen in a while, and I see many more in my future. This cake is the epitome of German chocolate cake, and if you love it as much as I do, I hope you give it a try. It made aging much more fun for me without a doubt. 🙂
- 1.5 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus 1 tablespoon more for preparing the cake pan
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1.6 ounces (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) sifted all purpose flour
- 1.2 ounces (3/8 cup) unsifted cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 4 large eggs, room temperature*
- 4.3 ounces (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1½ cup sweetened shredded coconut*
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1-2 teaspoons instant espresso powder*
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard)
- 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Guittard)
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- Sweetened shredded coconut and toasted pecans, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet with half of the 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Line the pan with parchment paper, cutting a diagonal line from each corner into the corners of the pan so the paper nestles in easily. Brush the parchment and sides with the remaining ½ tablespoon of melted butter. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a medium sized microwave safe bowl until melted, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Set aside.
- Add the room temperature eggs, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk just to combine with the whisk attachment. Beat the mixture at high speed until it triples in volume, about 5 minutes, or until you can draw a figure 8 by dipping the whisk attachment into the batter and it holds.
- While the eggs and sugar are being whipped, combine the flour, cocoa, and espresso powder with a whisk until combined. Sift the mixture together three times. Sift ⅓ of the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture, and gently fold it in using a rubber scraper. Repeat with the remaining ⅔ of the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-fold. Add about 1 cup of the batter to the butter-vanilla mixture and mix gently until combined. Add this to the remaining batter and fold in gently just until incorporated. Pour large dollops of the batter over the entire surface area of the prepared pan so it's easier to spread without over-working. Spread as evenly as possible with an offset spatula, and bake on the center rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool 5 minutes on a wire rack.
- While the cake cools, lay a large lint-free towel on the counter. Holding the cake pan with the cake facing away from you, hold onto the sides with oven mitts or towels and invert the cake gently onto the towel. Gently roll the cake up in the towel while it's still warm, and cool on the wire rack for 1 hour or until completely cool.
- Place the cubed butter, coconut, and pecans in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Place the heavy cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thickened and the custard coats the wooden spoon and you can draw a line in the back of the spoon and it holds. Add the hot custard mixture to the bowl with the butter, coconut, and pecans, and stir until the butter has melted. The frosting will thicken as it cools.
- Place the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a heat proof bowl. Set aside.
- Fill a large sauté pan halfway full of water and heat over medium heat until the water simmers. Turn the heat down to low, then place the bowl of chocolate chips and cream, stirring constantly with a rubber scraper until the chocolate melts and emulsifies with the cream. When the mixture is smooth, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Place the water and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has melted. Add the instant espresso powder and stir until dissolved. Set aside.
- Once the cake and frosting have cooled, unroll the cake and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Lightly dab the simple syrup onto the cake using a pastry brush. You will not need all of the syrup, just enough for a light coating. Spread the frosting evenly over the unrolled cake, leaving a border of 1" around the cake. Carefully roll the cake as tightly as possible, tucking it gently as you roll. Place on a serving plate with two pieces of waxed paper on either side, which will be removed after frosting with the ganache.
- If the ganache has cooled too much, heat it in the microwave for about 20 seconds or until just pourable. Pour some of the ganache over the cake carefully -- you won't need it all -- and frost the sides with the ganache on the waxed paper. Garnish the cake with more sweetened, shredded coconut and pecans. Chill at 4 hours or until set. Enjoy!
For quicker room temperature eggs, place the eggs in very warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Warm eggs whip quicker than cold!
Using unsweetened finely shredded coconut will make for a cleaner cut when slicing the cake. If you use unsweetened coconut, try toasting it and adding a bit more sugar to the frosting.
Add as much or little of the instant espresso powder to the simple syrup according to your preferences. You can also use 1 cup of coffee in place of the water and espresso powder and heat with the sugar. Store remaining simple syrup in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
The ganache, frosting, and simple syrup can all be made ahead!
Cake recipe adapted from Alice Medrich.
Frosting recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.
Ganache and simple syrup recipes from Flavor the Moments.