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German Chocolate Cake

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A slice of German chocolate cake has something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of chocolate, coconut, pecans—or all three!

German chocolate cake is a decadent chocolate layer cake with a rich coconut-pecan frosting. It gets its name from Sam German, who created a sweet baking chocolate called “German’s chocolate” for Baker’s chocolate company in 1852. The recipe for the cake became popular in the 1950s after a Texas homemaker shared her recipe in a Dallas newspaper. It was such a hit that it was reprinted in newspapers across the country, resulting in a 73% increase in German’s Chocolate sales in one year! Nowadays, the cake is simply called “German chocolate cake.”

Typically, the sides of a German chocolate cake are left bare or coated with chocolate ganache. For an attractive and easy-to-achieve finish, I suggest leaving the sides uncovered and drizzling a glossy chocolate ganache over the top of the cake. This creates a pretty drip effect without the extra effort of covering the sides. If you have three 9-inch cake pans, I recommend making the cake in three layers for more even distribution of the frosting. However, the cake can also be made as a 2-layer cake. Bonus: you can make the cake a day or two in advance—it keeps beautifully on the counter.

Heads up: You will need an electric mixer for both the cake batter and the egg whites. Unless you have two bowls for your stand mixer, it’s more efficient to use a hand-held mixer.

What You’ll Need To Make German Chocolate Cake

german chocolate cake ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray 3 or 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment circles and spray again.

To cut parchment circles for cake pans, lay out a sheet of parchment paper on a flat surface and use a pencil to trace a circle around the cake pan, then cut out the circle using scissors. If you need multiple circles, you can stack several sheets of parchment paper and cut them all at once. An alternative to cutting your own parchment circles is to purchase pre-cut parchment circles. You can find them in the baking aisle of some grocery stores and online.

prepping the cake pans

Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring the water to a boil in the microwave (or on the stovetop) and pour over the chocolate; let sit for one minute.

pouring boiling water over chocolate

Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is completely smooth.

whisking melted chocolate

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside and clean the beaters (you’ll use them again for the batter).
beaten egg whites

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

whisked dry ingredients for german chocolate cake in bowl

In a very large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (start on low, then increase the speed to medium).

beating butter and sugar

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

adding the egg yolks

Add the melted chocolate mixture and the vanilla.

adding the melted chocolate to batter

Beat until blended.

batter with chocolate beaten in

On low speed, add 1/3 of flour mixture.

adding the dry ingredients to the batter

Mix to combine, then add half of the buttermilk.

adding the buttermilk to the batter

Continue by mixing in another third of the flour, then the remaining buttermilk, and then the remaining flour.

batter with buttermilk and dry ingredients incorporated

Add about ⅓ of the egg whites to the cake batter; fold until evenly combined. Then add the remaining egg whites.

adding the beaten egg whites to the batter

Fold just until the batter is uniform.

folding the egg whites into the batter

Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans.

german chocolate cake layers ready to bake

Bake until the cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 3 layers or 35 to 40 minutes for 2 layers. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

cake layers cooling on a rack

Step 2: Make the Coconut-Pecan Frosting

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the egg yolks, evaporated milk, and light brown sugar.

egg yolks, brown sugar, and condensed milk in pot

Whisk to combine, then add the butter and bring to a gentle boil.

melting the butter into the frosting mixture

Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until thick, about 12 minutes (adjust the heat as necessary to keep the mixture at a gentle boil).

thickened frosting base

Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut, pecans, vanilla, and salt.
adding coconut, pecans, vanilla, and salt to the frosting base

Let cool to room temperature.

coconut pecan frosting cooling in pot

Step 3: Make the Chocolate Glaze

Pour the cream and corn syrup into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power until boiling, about 1 minute. Add the chopped chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth and glossy. Let the ganache cool until slightly thickened but still pourable, whisking occasionally so a film doesn’t form on top, 10 to 15 minutes.

chocolate drizzle in bowlStep 4: Assemble the Cake

For a 3 layer cake: Place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on a cake platter. Using a metal spatula, spread ⅓ of the coconut-pecan frosting over the layer. Add the second layer, rounded side down; spread with ⅓ of the frosting. Add the third layer, rounded side up; spread with remaining frosting, leaving the sides of the cake unfrosted. For a 2-layer cake, follow the same procedure but spread half of the frosting over the bottom layer and the remaining half over the top layer.

frosting over the first layer of cake

Drizzle it over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Cut the cake with a small, very-sharp serrated knife, using a sawing motion and wiping the knife clean (carefully!) between slices.

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German Chocolate Cake

A slice of German chocolate cake has something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of chocolate, coconut, pecans—or all three!

Servings: One 9-inch layer cake

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled off
  • ¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder, such as Hershey’s, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk (see note)

For the Coconut-Pecan Frosting

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
  • 1½ cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2½ cups (lightly packed) sweetened flaked coconut (preferably Baker’s)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the Chocolate Glaze

  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position.
  2. Spray 3 or 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment circles and spray again.
  3. Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring the water to a boil in the microwave (or on the stovetop) and pour over the chocolate; let sit for one minute. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is completely smooth.
  4. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside and clean the beaters (you’ll use them again for the batter).
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  6. In a very large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (start on low, then increase the speed to medium). Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the melted chocolate mixture and the vanilla. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.
  7. Add about ⅓ of the egg whites to the cake batter; fold until evenly combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold just until the batter is uniform. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
  8. Bake until the cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 3 layers or 35 to 40 minutes for 2 layers. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

For the Coconut-Pecan Frosting

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, evaporated milk, and light brown sugar; add the butter and bring to a gentle boil. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until thick, about 12 minutes (adjust the heat as necessary to keep the mixture at a gentle boil). Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut, pecans, vanilla, and salt. Let cool to room temperature.

For the Chocolate Glaze

  1. Pour the cream and corn syrup into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high power until boiling, about 1 minute. Add the chopped chocolate. (Alternatively, place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream and corn syrup to a boil and then pour it over the chocolate.) Let the mixture sit for 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth and glossy. Let the ganache cool until slightly thickened but still pourable, whisking occasionally so a film doesn't form on top, 10 to 15 minutes. (If it gets too thick, you can warm it in the microwave for 10 seconds, or until just pourable.)

To Assemble

  1. For a 3 layer cake: Place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on a cake platter. Using a metal spatula, spread ⅓ of the coconut-pecan frosting over the layer. Add the second layer, rounded side down; spread with ⅓ of the frosting. Add the third layer, rounded side up; spread with remaining frosting, leaving the sides of the cake unfrosted. For a 2-layer cake, follow the same procedure but spread half of the frosting over the bottom layer and the remaining half over the top layer. Prepare the chocolate glaze and drizzle it over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Cut the cake with a small, very-sharp serrated knife, using a sawing motion and wiping the knife clean (carefully!) between slices.
  2. Note: If you’d like to make your own buttermilk, check out the easy method here.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (16 servings)
  • Serving size: 1 slice
  • Calories: 705
  • Fat: 42 g
  • Saturated fat: 22 g
  • Carbohydrates: 79 g
  • Sugar: 60 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 8 g
  • Sodium: 307 mg
  • Cholesterol: 142 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Turned out excellent! Had to really work on frosting to get it right consistency but it did finally work out. The ganache coating is stunning!

    • — Ann Delong on February 2, 2023
    • Reply
  • Jenn, thank you for developing this recipe! German chocolate cake is my favorite dessert. I’ve tried numerous recipes and I’ve finally found the right one! Not only does this taste delicious, moist, and indulgent, but it’s also beautiful to look at – you knocked another one out of the park!

    • — Joanne on January 23, 2023
    • Reply
  • Normally I love all your recipes but this one I unfortunately have to say I was not a big fan. I found the cake itself very heavy and dense. I like my cakes light and fluffy so I will add baking powder the next time I make it. Overall my guests said it was delicious but very filling.

    • — Cynthia Garofalo on January 22, 2023
    • Reply
  • Does this cake need refrigeration? I made this cake today and it turned out beautiful. It’s for my brother’s 50th birthday so we won’t be cutting it until tomorrow evening,

    • — Debby on January 19, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Debby, No need to refrigerate the cake — it keeps well at room temperature — although it won’t hurt it. If you do put it in the fridge, make sure to let it come to room temperature before serving.

      • — Jenn on January 20, 2023
      • Reply
  • Jenn, this beautiful cake was to be shared with friends but my husband tested positive so now we have it all to ourselves. It’s only the three of us and we can’t eat all of it. Can the cake slices be frozen? Thanks!

    • — Sonja on January 8, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yep it freezes nicely. 🙂

      • — Jenn on January 9, 2023
      • Reply
  • This is AMAZING!!! Absolute perfection! Hands down, the best cake I have ever had and the best I have ever made! It is everything German Chocolate cake should be! The cake is light and airy, yet the chocolate flavor is solid. The icing was downright sinful; it was so good! We served ten people for Christmas Day dessert and then had it the next day for breakfast!

    • — Angela on January 8, 2023
    • Reply
  • Beautiful cake! I used 3 8in pans and baked them little longer. The sponge is fluffy but rich. The filling is basically caramel sauce with pecans and coconut, what’s not to like, but it does overpower the sponge and I did not use all of it. Next time I will use less maybe cut it in half as I like to taste more of the sponge and less the filling. This is a very personal preference for a perfect cake.

    • — Sonja on January 7, 2023
    • Reply
  • I made this beauty on Christmas Eve and it was incredibly rich and delicious. This cake is the confectionery embodiment of hedonism, and I mean that in a good way.

    • — Beth Buck on January 2, 2023
    • Reply
  • I made this cake yesterday for Christmas Eve dessert and OMG – it was so rich and so good! My family said it was the best cake I’ve ever made. This will be a new tradition!

    • — Liz on December 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Best ever

    • — Denise on December 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, can I use dry roasted pecans ?

    • — Mlak on December 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yes that’s fine. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on December 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, also can I use dry roasted pecans for this ?

    • — Mlak on December 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yep!

      • — Jenn on December 25, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, how far in advance can I make this gorgeous cake ? Should I assemble right before serving?

    • — Mlak on December 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • It keeps beautifully for a few days, so I would make it and assemble it a day or two ahead.

      • — Jenn on December 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • Oh my goodness Jenn – how did you know that my favorite sweet in the whole wide world is German Chocolate Cake? I’ve always had it with mocha frosting and the pecan coconut filling between the layers and on top; but this looks way better. I will make this at the earliest appropriate opportunity. Thank you for being a wonderful source of flawless recipes!

    • — Heather Lampman on December 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    What is the best way to bake 3 layers? Do you place all three on the same shelf or stagger them on 2 shelves. Or bake 2 and then 1? Thank you! For all the great recipes. Happy holidays to you and your family.

    • — Mary on December 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Mary, If they’ll fit, I’d put all 3 layers on one shelf. And so glad you like the recipes – happy holidays! 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jen, I have 3 8″round cake pans. How can I make them work for this beautiful cake?

    • — Gayle on December 18, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Gayle, It will work fine; they cakes will just take a bit longer to cook. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on December 18, 2022
      • Reply
      • German Choc Cake is one of my all time fav cakes! Used to request it for my birthdays as a teen. I can’t wait to try yours! I’ve been searching for years for the perfect recipe, and you never fail, Jenn. Can’t wait to try! Question : in Australia, where I am currently living, I cannot get German Choc, is there a substitute? Is there something that makes it unique? Thank you!

        • — StephDownUnder on December 19, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Steph, You don’t need a specific brand of chocolate to make this recipe — any semi-sweet baking chocolate will work well. Enjoy!

          • — Jenn on December 19, 2022
          • Reply

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