My brother-in-law has now officially graduated from internships to his first full-time policy job, which gave us something to celebrate this weekend. My mother made her ribs, which are a favorite of both my husband and my brother-in-law, and we had a little family party last night.
I was in charge of dessert, and my sister, after a little detective work, reported that my brother-in-law really likes German Chocolate Cake. I blithely assumed that I had all the ingredients on hand until Sunday morning, when I discovered that most recipes seem to involve evaporated milk or some similarly disgusting substitute. The McSuderman household does not stock evaporated milk, or anything like it.
So I improvised, and came up with what I think was a good substitute--particularly if you aren't super-fond of gooey/sticky things. I made my standby chocolate layer cake (the "black devil's food cake" recipe from my favorite cookbook, with a teaspoon of chocolate extract added to enhance the flavor). While it was cooling, I softened a stick of butter in the microwave and toasted about a cup coconut at 325 F until it was just beginning to turn golden brown. While the oven was still hot I roasted a cup of pecans at the same temperature, and chopped them fine. I combined the pecans and coconut into one bowl.
Then the important part: I improvised a mock buttercream caramel frosting. First I caramelized one cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat, which is easier than it sounds: you just stir frequently until it begins to brown/melt, at which point you start stirring constantly. When it is a nice, deep shade of caramel, you turn off the heat add 1/2 cup of boiling water very slowly, and very carefully (the steam can burn your hand). Stir until there are no lumps, then put the resulting liquid into a pyrex measuring cup. Top off with heavy cream until it makes a full cup. Stir thoroughly and stick in the fridge.
Meanwhile, put the softened stick of butter into your stand mixer bowl, and then add one box of thoroughly sifted confectioner's sugar. Start slow (or all the sugar will puff up into the air) but as it's incorporated, raise the speed of the mixer until it's beating the hell out of the butter and sugar at high speed. Then pour the caramel mixture in v-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-y s-s-s-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-l-y-y-y until it's the right consistency to spread. I should have used an ice bath for the bowl--I have one--as the caramel partly melted the butter, and I had to stick it in the fridge to harden. If you don't have an ice bath, sticking a bag or two of frozen peas under (or around) the bowl will help keep it cold. If it isn't quite hard enough to spread, put it in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes before you frost. This recipe will give you more frosting than you really need, but given how cheap confectioner's sugar is, I like to err on the side of having too much rather than have to start the whole damn process over again.
Frost the cake (I brushed some of the leftover caramel syrup in the pan onto the bottom layer before I frosted). Sprinkle pecan/coconut mixture between the layers, and press onto the sides. You could put it on the top, too, but I thought it looked prettier with just the sides done.
It was a little bit of a pain in the ass, but the result was worth it. I normally don't like frosting, but the combination of caramel, pecans, and toasted coconut was delicious, without that greasy, teeth-gritting sweetness that german chocolate cake frosting often has. I thought this was definitely a keeper, and I'm not a huge fan of chocolate layer cake, or the standard German Chocolate Cake frosting. So I figured I'd pass it on.