I can’t remember when I started thinking about these German Chocolate Sweet Rolls which are based on the German Chocolate Cake. While the name implies the cake comes from Germany, that is not the case. According to NPR, “The name comes from Sam German — who was either an American or an Englishman, depending on what you read.
In 1852, he invented a style of sweet baking chocolate for the Baker's chocolate company. The company named it after him, but "German's Chocolate" didn't become well-known until 1957. That's when a Texas homemaker sent her now-legendary cake recipe to a Dallas newspaper.
Somewhere along the way, German's Chocolate Cake lost its apostrophe-s, leaving Germany holding the credit for a classic American dessert.”
This dough, because it is heavy in chocolate and butter, needs a cozy, warm place to get going. I heated the oven to 350°F for exactly one minute, turned it off and put the dough in with the oven light on to keep the temperature low but warm. After an hour I removed it and let it finish rising at room temperature where it became light as a feather, exactly as I wanted it.
While I normally like to hold my yeast dough in the refrigerator for a day or two to develop more flavor, the dough for these German Chocolate Sweet Rolls is easiest to shape immediately after it has risen. And this dough is a cinch to roll out. It doesn't spring back and keeps its shape. It doesn't have to be perfect either.
Filling and shaping these rolls is much easier than it looks with waves of the traditional German Chocolate Filling rippling through the finished rolls. These German Chocolate Sweet Rolls are definitely worth making. And I’d be willing to bet that if you make them once, you’ll make them again.
German Chocolate Sweet Rolls Filling
⅔ cup evaporated milk
⅔ cup sugar (130 grams or 4 ½ ounces)
2 egg yolks
⅓ cup butter (75 grams or 2 ⅔ ounces or 5 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sweetened coconut (85 grams or 3 ounces)
¾ cup chopped pecans (85 grams or 3 ounces)
Combine the milk, sugar, egg yolks and butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened, about 12 minutes. If you draw your finger through the mixture, it will stay divided. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool completely and chill. This filling can be made several days ahead. Keep it refrigerated until filling the dough.
If you forget to make this ahead of time, just make it as called for then spread it out thinly and refrigerate it. It will be cold and ready to use by the time the dough finishes rising.
Chocolate Yeast Dough
2 cups bread flour (280 grams or 10 ounces)
⅓ cup sugar (65 grams or 2 ¼ ounces)
⅓ cup Dutch cocoa (30 grams or 1 ounce)*
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
4 tablespoons butter (60 grams or 2 ounces)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate (85 grams)
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 package, 7 grams or ¼ ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla
*Natural cocoa can also be used if that is what you have.
Combine the milk, butter, chocolate, and coffee in a small saucepan. Heat until the butter and chocolate have melted. When the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add the yeast and vanilla. Let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes so the yeast softens.
In the bowl of a processor, add the bread flour, sugar, cocoa, and salt. Pulse several times to mix.
Pour the cooled liquid over the dry ingredients and process until a soft ball forms. Process 30 seconds to knead. Place the dough in a large container sprayed with a baking release and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap. Then cover the container with a lid or foil.
Preheat the oven to 350°F for ONE MINUTE with the LIGHT ON. TURN THE OVEN OFF. Place the dough in the oven for 1 hour. Remove it from the oven and let it finish rising at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 more hour.
Filling and Shaping for German Chocolate Sweet Rolls
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12" x 14" rectangle.
Lightly mark 4 ½" strips in from the edge of the dough on each side.
I then use a ruler mark the 4 ½" all the up the dough.
Spread half the filling (about 235 grams or 8 ⅓ ounces) evenly over the center strip.
Bring the right side over to cover the center strip and spread the remaining filling over the top of this strip of dough.
Bring the left side of the dough over to cover the filling. You will have a 4 ½" x 12" rectangle.
Place it on a tray and transfer to the freezer to chill. It should be firm but not hard.
Spray a six-hole Texas muffin pan well. with a baking release.
Remove the filled dough from the freezer and mark the dough every inch along the 12” side. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature for a few minutes to shape it.
Cut two strips of dough Take one strip and hold each end twisting it by rotating your hands in opposite directions. Place it in a muffin cup along one side. Twist a second strip and place it in the cup on the other side.
Tuck the edges of the second twist firmly down into the sides of the cup. It is easiest to do this by using a small flexible spatula and pulling the dough already in the cup back a bit so the edge of the new piece will fit snugly against the side of the cup.
Continue to fill all of the cups with 2 strips of dough each.
Preheat the oven for 1 minute as above. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let the rolls rise until they come to the top of the cups or slightly above.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the filling is lightly browned on top and the dough is set. Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes then carefully go around the edges to release them.
Leave them in the cups. Let the rolls cool completely. Go around the edges of the cups again and turn the German Chocolate Sweet Rolls out onto a cooling rack.
Note: While any yeast product is best the day it is made, these German Chocolate Sweet Rolls are great even three days later if wrapped individually in plastic wrap and held at room temperature. These may also be baked, wrapped individually after cooling and frozen for a month. Thaw at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F and place the rolls back in the muffin tin. Cover with foil and heat for about 15 minutes.
Yield: 6 large sweet rolls. Although I only made the large rolls, 1 strip of twisted dough could be used in regular size muffin cups. The baking time may need to be reduced.
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