This Classic German Chocolate Cake Recipe is made with layers of decadent, moist chocolate cake and frosted with rich buttery coconut-pecan frosting and indulgent chocolate buttercream. This cake is sure to impress for the holidays, a birthday or any celebration!
The Heart and Soul of the Best German Chocolate Cake Recipe
It is finally time that I share my mama’s German Chocolate Cake recipe with you. She makes it only once a year for the holidays, and it is for a very special guy: my daddy. This is my daddy’s absolute favorite cake, and he indulges in the entire cake from Christmas until New Year’s.
Cuisine Inspiration: American coincidentally
Primary Cooking Method: Baking
Dietary Info: Contains Nuts and Dairy
Key Flavor: Rich Chocolate paired with Coconut and Pecan Frosting
Skill Level: Intermediate
- Decadent Delight: Dive into layers of moist chocolate cake, sandwiched with creamy coconut-pecan frosting.
- History in Every Bite: German Chocolate Cake isn’t just a treat; it’s a trip down memory lane of traditional German baking.
- Texture Heaven: With a combo of velvety cake and chunky frosting, it’s a delightful dance of textures in every bite.
- Celebration Essential: Birthdays, anniversaries, or “just because” – this cake steals the spotlight!
- Chocolate Lover’s Dream: Rich and deep chocolate flavors intertwined with the classic topping makes it a chocoholic’s paradise.
What Is German Chocolate Cake?
German Chocolate Cake is a layered chocolate cake that is both filled and topped with a coconut-pecan frosting. The filling and/or topping is usually a buttery custard made with egg yolks and evaporated milk. Depending on the baker’s preference, these cakes can also be frosted with an additional chocolate icing.
This cake is decadent, nutty and somehow just a tad tropical because of the coconut. Each bite is rich yet perfectly balanced. In other words, you need to have some. A second slice wouldn’t hurt either.
In 1852, Sam German invented a style of sweet baking chocolate for a chocolate company. The company named the chocolate after Sam, but it didn’t become popular until 1957 when a Dallas, Texas, resident sent in her recipe for the now legendary cake to a local newspaper.
The recipe became so famous that the sales of German’s chocolate shot up through the roof! Newspapers across the country reprinted the recipe and soon the cake took on a life of its own.
Oh! I should probably also mention that Sam German was American. Sorry Germans, can’t take credit for this one!
How To Make German Chocolate Cake
Whipping Up the Cake:
- Fire up the oven to 350°F. Jazz up three 8-inch pans with non-stick spray (and parchment if you’re feeling fancy).
- Melt that chopped chocolate in boiling water, whisking to perfection. Let it chill a bit.
- Get your stand mixer in the groove! Whip butter and sugars until they’re dreamy and fluffy.
- Introduce egg yolks, one diva at a time, and blend in that cooled chocolate vibe.
- Take it slow, mix in the flour combo, and follow up with buttermilk and vanilla essence.
- Bring back those sassy egg whites! Gently fold them in.
- Portion out that luscious batter into pans. Bake for a golden 35-40 minutes. Post-oven, let them cool off for a bit.
Icing – The Crown Jewel:
- Dive into a saucepan with milk, sugar, yolks, butter, and all that good stuff. Stir & cook until it’s thick with an attitude.
- Throw in coconut and pecans. Let it cool a bit, but keep stirring now and then for that flawless spread.
You could have ten different slices of German Chocolate Cake made by ten different bakers and you’ll find that each one has its own unique flair. This is a classic cake, but classic doesn’t have to mean basic.
Here are some crucial tips for making your cake as amazing as possible!
- Bake two layers first so you don’t overcrowd your oven. Place the other batter-filled pan in the refrigerator, then bake that final layer separately. You want to bake all of your layers on the same oven rack to ensure uniform baking.
- When separating your eggs, make sure you do a thorough job of separating yolks from whites. If you get yolk in your whites, they won’t whip as perfectly!
- Air is crucial for this cake! While this cake does have some leavening in it, the beating of your fat (butter) and sugar are a crucial step. Make sure you don’t rush this as it adds air to your cake, providing additional lift. The mixed butter and sugar should be light and insanely fluffy. Beating the egg whites also adds air and creates a super fluffy cake.
Swaps and Variations
Here are a few ways you can make the cake super special. I hope you like these ideas!!
- Not a Pecan Fan? Swap ‘em.
Pecans are not the be all, end all. Walnuts or hazelnuts can be delicious alternatives, and they provide a fun twist on this classic cake. If you want to take it a step further, lightly toast your nuts to bring out their natural caramel notes.
- Choose Your Chocolate
Customize the flavor of your cake by using chocolate that fits your preference. Use darker chocolate for a more bitter, richer flavor. Go milkier for a cake that is sweeter and a bit lighter. You could even combine two chocolates to find your own perfect balance. Go crazy! I’ve even seen people make this cake with white chocolate, and it is gorgeous!!
- Add a Splash of Flavor
Extracts are your friend! Experiment with them and surprise your taste buds. Try butterscotch, coffee, maple or even orange extracts. Introducing a new flavor to your recipe will take it to the next level.
Tips for perfecting the frosting
What makes this cake so special is the frosting, right? We have all had chocolate cake, but THIS is what truly makes this a German chocolate cake. When making the custard, make sure you watch it carefully.
You will want to stir and be patient because you have added eggs and you don’t want them to scramble. You want this to come together perfectly!!
Feel free to also adjust the amount of coconut and pecans you add to this frosting to your liking. You can also make more if you want to frost the entire cake. If you love that coconut flavor and want more, this Coconut Pound Cake is a way to enjoy a ton more. The chocolate frosting offsets the coconut pecan frosting for aesthetics and a different texture and flavor.
Favorite Chocolate Cake Recipes
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Black Forest Cake
- Chocolate Birthday Cake
- Devil’s Food Cake
- Chocolate Bundt Cake
- Chocolate Pound Cake
- BEST Chocolate Cake recipe with Blackberry Buttercream
German Chocolate Cake Recipe
For the Cake
- 4 oz baking chocolate chopped
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 cup unsalted Butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs separated (egg yolks in one bowl and egg whites beaten until stiff peaks in another bowl)
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour sifted
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup buttermilk room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
For the Icing
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup brown sugar packed
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup unsalted Butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cup flaked coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans
OPTIONAL: For the Chocolate Frosting
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted Butter
- 6 cups confectioner's sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup milk
OPTIONAL: For the Ganache
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate
For the Cake
- Begin by heating the oven to 350°F. Spray the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch with non stick baking spray. Line with parchment paper if preferred.
- In a bowl, add chopped chocolate to boiling water and whisk until smooth then set aside to cool.
- To the bowl of your stand mixer, add butter and both sugars and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy.
- Next add egg yolks, one at a time, then add in cooled chocolate and mix until incorporated.
- Slow down your mixer to low speed. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt then add to bowl in increments until smooth.
- Next add buttermilk and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Finally using a spatula, carefully fold previously separated stiff egg whites into batter.
- Divide batter evenly into cake pans and bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool layers in pans for 10 minutes then remove and allow layers to cool to room temperature.
For the Icing
- In a large saucepan, whisk together evaporated milk, sugar, yolks, butter, salt and vanilla until combined. Begin cooking over medium heat for about 14-17 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly.
- Stir in coconut and pecans then cool for about 30 minutes but continue to stir occasionally until mixture is very spreadable.
For the Chocolate Frosting
- Find the full instructions for the frosting HERE
For the Ganache
- Bring the heavy cream to a boil on the stovetop then pour it over the chocolate. Mix until smooth and allow it to cool to room temperature to thicken before adding to the cake.
- Place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on a cake plate; using a metal spatula, spread 1/3 of the filling over the layer. Add second layer, rounded side down; spread with 1/3 of the filling. Add third layer, rounded side up; spread with remaining filling. Optional: Ice sides of cake with chocolate frosting and add drip of ganache if you desire and serve.