The Baking Illustrated Challenge: German Chocolate Cake, and My sister came to visit !!

My sister, who is a Lieutenant, was traveling to the south to go to Tech school for the Air Force. She was able to come for a few days and visit me. I have not seen her in two years prior to this visit. She arrived on a Thursday evening, and I could hardly wait. I spent the previous two weeks cleaning my entire house from top to bottom. I also prepared all the meals that I could in advance. The meals I made in advance and froze were the Pizza Dough for the BBQ chicken Pizza’s, Make Ahead Brunch, and Deck Burgers.

On Thursday I pulled the dough out that morning and let it thaw in the fridge. I cooked the chicken and prepared the sauce. I made the cake, assembled it, and placed it in the fridge so Sherrie would not see it. It was a surprise birthday cake. I decided to make a German Chocolate Cake from my Baking Illustrated Cook book, and found inspiration from photos on the internet. When Sherrie and I were little our mother made two cakes. One of those was a German chocolate cake, and I thought it would be fun to celebrate her birthday and Christmas all in one day. Sherrie loves chocolate and I love pecans, so this was the perfect combination of the two. I used Hershey’s special dark chocolate cocoa for the cake. I left all of my Christmas decorations up, and placed Sherrie’s presents under the tree. The only snag that happened was the cake did not rise, and the cakes were half the size they were supposed to be. I am not sure if that was the baking soda’s fault or my own. The cake came out superb, and the frosting was to die for.

I was getting really impatient waiting for her plane to arrive. (pictures of Sherrie and I will be posted at a later date because I took them on a film camera). The guy at security said that it would take ten minutes, and those ten minutes seem to last forever. I was standing and fidgeting as people got off the plane. Eventually she came in to view. She was talking to another person, but eventually made eye contact! I was thinking okay end the conversation with tall person…come over here so I can squish you!! I was so happy to see her that I almost cried. I did squish her …but there was not much to squish she is so tiny these days (we were both small as kids, but now that she runs marathons all the time she is even smaller ;).  When we got home Gizmo was screaming and excited that we were back. Though she was unsure of this ‘new’ person. Gizmo warmed up to Sherrie in no time flat which is unusual.  Once we put her bags in the room, and it was safe for Gizmo to say hi she did. She also attached her nose to Sherrie for a long time. I am sure there were many new smells from Alaska, Houston, Denver, and Illinois to discern. She started herding Sherrie and trying to sit in her lap all the time.

Sherrie is cutting out meat for three months. I made two pizza’s, one with meat, and one without meat. I tried to make each meal as close to vegetarian as possible. The only meal that was impossible to change on short notice was the deck burgers. Thankfully my sister ate everything I made.

The pizza crust came out perfect this time! I was so amazed and proud of myself. We ate pizza and talked for a while. I prepared the cake with candles while Sherrie was in a different room (I put 24 prism candles that burned different colors). She loved the cake and her presents, and I loved the presents she gave me also. We couldn’t fall asleep for a while so we gabbed and of course giggled like girls.

The next morning when I got my coffee my husband and I had a conversation. Bri, “So”. Me, “yes”. Bri, “Is this what its going to be like if we have girls”, Me, “What the constant talking, giggling, etc.” Bri, “Yes”. Me, “Yes, with the occasional screaming, hitting, and newspaper fit in between.” Bri, “Ok ” he smiled. I got my coffee and tried to get Sherrie up. According to Brian Sherrie and I have the same mannerisms, hard of hearing, hand gestures, and grumbling when we wake up in the morning. I have to say we kind of do, and it is hilarious. Usually, I would act like Sherrie but one of us had to take a proactive approach during her time here.

I took her to class at Western. She enjoyed the class more than she thought she would. Also, at some point that day we went to Clay Cellars in Muskegon and bought some wine. Since I was driving, Sherrie tasted a few and decided on a Strawberry pear wine. When we came home we both had work to do. I had school work , and she had work for the Air Force. So, we made ourselves comfortable in the computer room. She complained towards her computer, and I to mine. We were able to finish most of our work, and I left the rest of my homework for Sunday. We made the Deck burgers, a cucumber tomato salad, and we had sweet potato chips. Sherrie helped me make the salad. The burgers were amazing and I really enjoyed the wheat buns that we used. We all watched Brave and it was the best ending of the day. The movie was cute, funny, and not cheesy at all! I made us some hot chocolate. Sherrie had marshmallows on hers and I had whipped cream with Carmel sauce. The picture below is of a cup of hot chocolate I made earlier this month.


On Saturday, I woke up and made the make ahead brunch.  I made way too much and unfortunately the casserole does not reheat well over time in my opinion. I would suggest placing only enough in individual ramekins and baking them as needed for each breakfast / brunch. That way you do not have left over egg casserole that ends up being thrown out due to it not tasting as great. We left the bacon on the side so that everyone could have as much as they wanted. I did a variation on the make ahead brunch by using white cheddar, and green bell peppers in the casserole. The scones were blueberry pecan. Of course after breakfast we looked up a few spas, called for prices, and made an appointment. Well as usual we were running a little late. Mainly because I did not know how long these veggie wraps were going to take the first time, and I lost my keys in the process of the morning routine. So, I had Sherrie call while I ran around the house looking for my keys and tell them we were going to be late. I was a bit anxious because I hate being late to things. We went to the Cutting Edge on Whitehall road in Muskegon, Michigan. I accidentally locked my keys in the car, because instead of having a purse that day I had a camel back.  Thankfully I have the best husband in the world. He needed to go to the hardware store just down the street, and he came and unlocked the car. We ended up getting our nails done together. The service was great and the atmosphere was calming.

We took a hike on Lake Harbor Park, and while it was cold it was also great. We talked , looked at sea shells, took a few photos, and stared / stalked the houses on the ridge. 🙂 I didn’t think the walk was going to be that hard but half way back I started to feel the burn. When we got back to the park we ate our veggie wraps. I have to admit I was unsure about them. I found these wraps on Annie’s eats and I have wanted to make them for a long time. The veggie wraps were delicious. I substituted Hungarian Peppers for Banana peppers. I truly loved the Hungarian peppers a lot more. My sister loved them and said they were a lot better than this one place called ‘Eats a wrap’ (it is a restaurant in an Air Port) She said the wrap she bought was so awful she could only eat one bite. I am so glad the Greek wraps we made surpassed our expectations. In fact I made these wraps multiple times over the month for Brian and I after Sherrie left. They have become a staple in our home.

Eventually we made it back to the car, and I remembered the Lake Side Emporium! I took her there and I showed her all the candies, and sodas. We picked out some truffles and fudge after tasting some. The service was great :). There was only one truffle that we did not care for and it was called lemon meringue. We loved the wedding cake, Irish cream, and the peanut butter truffles. The amaretto strawberry fudge was amazing also. I gave the fudge to Sherrie to take with her to Mississippi.

We drove back to a little shop called ‘Jennifer’s Upscale Resale’ in Twin Lake, Michigan. Sherrie , unknown to me, was unsure about going thrift shopping. She had been to some thrift stores in a different states and they were not that great. We walked in and she was pleasantly surprised. This shop is amazing clean, warm , inviting, and it has great stuff. I would say 99.9% of stuff looks brand new. I was able to find three dresses, one top, one necklace, and two pairs of earrings. We had so much fun looking at everything in the store.







We also checked out the Craft Castle behind Jennifer’s before going home.

Brian and Gizmo had an adventure when they went to his moms that day also. Someone passed another car in the other lane opposite of Brian on M120 because they became impatient they almost hit them head on. Brian had to swerve to the right, slam on the breaks, and Gizmo fell off the chair in to the floor board. She is a tiny dog, and became so scared she puked everywhere four times. Then when I came in from our shopping I found puke in two spots. So, any idiots out there DON’T PASS in a NO PASSING ZONE!

We came home and I showed Brian what I got.  Sherrie bought a shirt, shorts, and a scarf. Sherrie tried to cheer Gizmo up, but she was feeling so bad after puking her guts out. Gizmo just wanted to curl up with Sherrie.

We were so both exhausted that I did not want to cook, so we picked up some salads from Russ’s. I would like to say I usually get great service at this restaurant, but this time I got a bit of attitude from someone who took my order over the phone about not having chicken on one of the salads. We bought the Michigan Cherry Chicken salad. In the end the salads were tasty. We introduced Sherrie to the show Grey’s Anatomy that night. I may have gotten a little tipsy on two glasses of wine on Saturday night.

Sunday morning was really hard on me. Sherrie was leaving at 11 ish. I helped her re-pack one of her suitcases. I tried to concentrate on everything we had to do because that kept my mind off the fact she was leaving. We had breakfast together at the Overboard. I had the stuffed hash browns with homemade Cinnamon bread toast, and she had a strawberry Belgium waffle.

We made it half way to the Air Port when we started having a conversation about black socks. I found a pair between the dryer and the washer because I did a load of her laundry so they would be clean when she got to the base. She stated she didn’t need black socks. I said then what will you wear with your dress shoes for your blues uniform. ….there was silence….she looked at me and told me that she forgot to pack those two things. She packed everything for this trip…five bags of everything so I knew she did not intentionally come unprepared. She said, “Annie”, and I said, “Don’t worry we are going back”. In high school I would have reacted differently I would have gotten upset and yelled at her. I turned the car around and went back home. I fortunately had blues shoes from when I was in Civil Air Patrol and black dress socks. We still got to the Air port with time to spare. It was hard to say goodbye. Her earring got caught in my hair, and we had to disentangle ourselves. I took the earring out and took it out of my hair. I didn’t want to leave her, and even said that maybe it wasn’t her flight that was here.

When I walked away I started to cry, but I did not look back. If I looked back I knew I would not be able to leave. When I got home I really broke down, and it was hard to accomplish anything that day. I miss my sister and the trip was not nearly as long as I would have liked it to be. I am so glad she came, and I hope that I can go visit her after I finish grad school. I hope you try and enjoy these recipes as much as I do.

The Menu:

BBQ chicken pizzas

German Chocolate Cake

Make Ahead Brunch


Deck Burgers

Greek Veggie wraps

The New Recipes that we made!

German Chocolate Cake



1 1/4 C (6 1/4 oz) unbleached AP flour

1/4 C (3/4 oz) nonalkalized cocoa

2 t instant espresso or coffee powder

1/3 C boiling water

2 t vanilla extract

12 T unsalted butter

1 1/4 C (8 3/4 oz) sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

Coconut- Pecan Filling

4 lg egg yolks

1 C sugar

1/4 t salt

8 t unsalted butter

1 C heavy cream

1 t vanilla extract

1 1/2 C chopped pecans, toasted

2 C lightly packed sweetened flaked cocoanut

1. For the Cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 8 in round cake pans and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or waxed paper. Grease the parchment rounds and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Mix the cocoa and instant expresso powder in a small bowl; add the boiling water and mix until smooth. Cool to room temperature, then stir in the buttermilk and vanilla.

3. Beat the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer at med-high until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar; beat until the mixture is fluffy and almost white, 3-5 min. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating 1 full minute after each addition.

4. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. With the mixer at the lowest speed, add about a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed immediately by about a third of the cocoa mixture; mix until the ingredients are almost incorporated into the batter. Repeat the process twice more. When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixer to low speed; beat until the batter looks satiny, about 15 seconds longer.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the pans. With a rubber spatula, spread the batter to the pan sides and smooth the tops. bake the cake until they feel firm in the center when lightly pressed and a toothpick or thin skewer comes out clean or with just a crumb or two adhering 23-30 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks; cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of each pan, invert the cakes onto the racks, and peel off the paper liners. Re-invert the cakes onto additional racks; cool completely before frosting.

6. For the filling: Mix the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; beat in teh butter, then gradually beat the cream and vanilla into the mixture. Pour into a medium, nonreactive saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is puffy and just begins to thicken and the temperature reaches 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer, 15-20 minutes. Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and cool to room temperature. Stir in the pecans and cocoanut.

7. To Assemble: Following the illustrations on page 368, use a long serrated knife to cut the cakes in half horizontally so that each cam forms 2 layers. Place 1 of the cake bottoms on a serving plate. Spread about 1 C filling over the cake half. Place another halved cake round over the filling. Repeat this stack and spreading process with the remaining filling and cake, ending with a final layer of filling. cut the cakes into slices and serve.

Greek Veggie Wraps!



For the dressing:

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

To assemble:
4 (10-inch) wraps or tortillas

Cooked whole wheat couscous
Baby spinach leaves
Diced fresh tomatoes (or halved grape tomatoes)
Julienned or shredded carrots
Chopped banana peppers
Crumbled feta cheese

To make the dressing, combine the balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a jar or squeeze bottle with a closed lid.  Shake well to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and if necessary, adjust amounts of oil and vinegar to your liking.

Lay a wrap out on a work surface and spread with a thin layer of hummus.  Top with a handful or two of couscous.  Add a small mound of baby spinach leaves, a handful of diced tomatoes and a handful of carrots.

Top with a handful of the banana peppers, a sprinkling of the feta and a drizzle of the balsamic vinaigrette.

Fold the bottom edge of the wrap up.

Fold the sides of the wrap inward, and then roll the wrap up tightly to enclose all the fillings, burrito-style.  (This may take a couple of tries but even the less than perfect wraps still taste good.)  Store airtight and serve within 4-6 hours.

Source: Annie’s Eats : This is an Annie’s Eats original!


3 thoughts on “The Baking Illustrated Challenge: German Chocolate Cake, and My sister came to visit !!”

  1. Helpful information. Fortunate me I found your website by accident, and I am surprised why this twist of fate did not took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

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