German’s chocolate was not invented in Germany or by Germans. In 1852, a man named Samuel German invented the first practical sweetened chocolate bar. Samuel German was employed by Baker’s Chocolate Company, America’s oldest chocolate company. Very little else is known about Samuel German. According to some accounts, he was an American baker, and according to other accounts, he was an Englishman who emigrated to the U.S. If you look at the package carefully (pictured below), you will see that the label doesn’t say ‘German Chocolate.’ It says ‘German’s Chocolate.’ Note the apostrophe and ‘s’ after the word ‘German.’ Before Samuel German’s invention, chocolate bars were unsweetened. Unsweetened chocolate bars are made for baking and beverages, not for eating.
GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE ISN’T GERMAN EITHER.
The recipe for this popular cake was invented by a woman in Texas named Mrs. George Clay. She worked for the Baker Chocolate Company, which makes German’s chocolate. Her recipe first appeared in print in a Dallas newspaper in 1957. She called her dessert ‘German’s chocolate cake’ because German’s chocolate is the principle ingredient. The cake was an immediate hit. The recipe was reprinted in newspapers all over the United States. Within 1 year, sales of German’s chocolate shot up by over 70%. Over time, most magazines and cookbooks dropped the apostrophe and ‘s’ after ‘German’ when reprinting the recipe. Today, most cookbooks and bakeries just call it German chocolate cake. It is now widely believed all over the world that German chocolate cake is a traditional German dessert, which it is not. Ironically, many restaurants in Germany now sell German chocolate cake because American tourists expect and demand it. Many German restaurants in the U.S. also serve German chocolate cake for the same reason. Several U.S. presidents have served German chocolate cake at state dinners for German politicians in the mistaken belief that German chocolate cake is a German dessert. The first U.S. president to do this was Lyndon Johnson, who served German chocolate cake at a state dinner to honor German chancellor Ludwig Erhard in 1963. Erhard had never seen German chocolate cake before and asked what it was. The most recent U.S. president to serve German chocolate cake to honor a German statesman was Barrack Obama. I don’t know if Donald Trump has ever served German chocolate cake at the White House. It is widely known that he has a sweet tooth. Trump’s favorite candies are Starburst and See’s chocolates. Incidentally, See’s gets their chocolate from the same place I do – the Guittard Chocolate Company. And remember, ‘National German Chocolate Cake Day’ is June 11.
My favorite real German dessert is apple walnut strudel. My Aunt Johanna used to make it for me when I was a boy. First, she selected the apples. She was fussy about that. She would point out to me at the produce store which apples were good for strudel and which were no good. Some types of apples turn to mush when you bake them. Then she made the puff pastry by rolling out dough until it was as thin as a sheet of paper. The dough covered a sheet of plywood that she kept in her kitchen. Then she folded the dough over and over with butter between the layers. It was a big job. A few minutes after Aunt Johanna put her strudel in the oven, the odor of the apples, cinnamon, sugar, and butter all caramelizing together filled her apartment. It could make a dead man salivate. I have never had strudel anywhere as good as Aunt Johanna’s. Most commercial bakeries in the U.S. make apple strudel with canned apple pie filling, which is just awful. Aunt Johanna was one of my elderly relatives who staunchly denied being German, even though she spoke with a German accent that was thicker than molasses in January. She also spoke in the imperative. They say that Italian is the language of love, but German is the language for giving commands. Aunt Johanna would say things like: “Mark, come into the kitchen. You eat a piece of strudel, and you will like the strudel.”
Today, it is easy to make great apple strudel at home! The time-consuming part of the job is making the puff pastry, but now, really good frozen puff pastry dough is available nationally. It wasn’t available in my Aunt Johanna’s time. I recommend Trader Joe’s all butter puff pastry or Dufour puff pastry. I don’t recommend Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, which unfortunately is the only brand that most supermarkets carry. It contains no butter and is made with palm oil and corn syrup. Yuck. Pepperidge Farms puff pastry looks buttery, but that is because there’s yellow food coloring in it. Selecting the right kind of apples is still very important. My first choice is Granny Smith. They retain some firmness when baked, and they are tart, which offsets the sugar in the strudel. If you want a somewhat sweeter apple that bakes well, try Golden Delicious. Strudel doesn’t have to be made with apples. It can be made with other kinds of fruit as well, including pears, cherries, and blueberries. Whatever kind of fruit you use, always make sure that the fruit is fresh and top quality.
DONALD DUCK IN EAST GERMANY.
Have you ever seen the movie ‘Titanic’? No, not the 1997 movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, but the 1943 version made in Nazi Germany. I collect movies made in Nazi Germany, and this is one of the best. No expense was spared in making this lavish movie. There are spectacular sets, beautiful costumes, and amazing special effects. The producers of this movie made a detailed 20 foot long model of the Titanic for the sinking scene, and they used a large luxury liner, a real one, to film the deck scenes. The special effects in the sinking scene are truly amazing considering the technology available in 1943. Despite the movie’s tremendous cost, ‘Titanic’ was never released in Nazi Germany. Dr. Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, did not like the movie’s message. In this version of the Titanic story, the hero is a German officer named Petersen. Petersen is convinced that the ship is traveling far too fast and is heading for disaster. He tells his superiors about his concerns, but he is repeatedly told to just obey orders and stop questioning the judgement of higher-ups. Petersen reluctantly does as he is told, and this leads to disaster. Goebbels did not like that message. He wanted the German people to just do as they were told, without asking questions. In this movie, the villain is a greedy, degenerate Englishmen named Ismay. In movies made in Nazi Germany, the villain was usually either an Englishmen or a Jew. Since there are no Jews in this movie, the villain is an Englishmen. If you would like to see this movie, give me a call. I have several copies with English subtitles.