Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake, traditionally made with sweet baking chocolate, is known to be unapologetically decadent and indulgent. It's pretty sweet by itself, but when paired with coconut pecan filling AND chocolate frosting, it makes my teeth hurt. And that says a lot considering I have a mouthful of sweet teeth!!

A LITTLE UPGRADE

My variation of German chocolate cake is an upgrade from the traditional. It's still unapologetically decadent and indulgent, but it starts with my favorite super-moist darker chocolate cake. We'll use a coconut pecan filling enhanced with toasted pecans and top her off with chocolate buttercream, coconut, and more toasted pecans.

So don't worry, there's still an opportunity for our teeth to ache. 😉

German chocolate cake has been a highly requested cake recipe, so I'm thrilled to finally share it. And just in case you missed March's Baking Challenge, I decorated my German chocolate cake naked style.

I love seeing that coconut pecan filling peeking out!

Moist and decadent German chocolate cake with homemade chocolate cake, toasted pecan and coconut filling and chocolate frosting on top! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

There are 3 parts to this upgraded German chocolate cake. Let's discuss all 3 so you feel prepared and confident when you try it.

1. CAKE

If you've tried my tuxedo cake, chocolate cream cheese bundt cake, or this chocolate layer cake then you are familiar with the cake itself. It's simply my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Sour cream, oil, eggs, and buttermilk keep it extremely moist. Cocoa powder supplies all our chocolate flavor, which is enhanced with a little espresso powder. The espresso powder is optional if you don't keep any. You'll also need hot liquid to properly dissolve and bloom the cocoa power. You can use hot water or hot coffee. The cake won't taste like coffee, I promise, but the chocolate flavor will certainly be deep and divine! An upgrade, if you will.

Speaking of cocoa, make sure you’re using natural unsweetened cocoa and not dutch-process. Remember why?

2. COCONUT PECAN FILLING

While the chocolate cake is fantastic, the coconut pecan filling is the star of the show. It's thick, crunchy, gooey, chewy, and sweet all in one. It's made from the best ingredients baking has to offer, so you know you're in for a treat:

  • butter
  • brown sugar
  • egg yolks
  • vanilla
  • pecans
  • coconut

You also need evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed milk. The two are often mistaken.

Evaporated milk is typically sold in a can in the baking aisle. Evaporated milk is unsweetened condensed milk. You need 1 cup or 8 ounces. You can also use half-and-half. Whole milk is too thin and heavy cream is too thick. Stick to evaporated milk or half-and-half.

Here's how you prepare the coconut pecan filling: the butter, brown sugar, egg yolks, and evaporated milk are cooked together on the stove until thickened. The egg yolks are heated enough to safely consume, but you can always use a thermometer to be certain. To avoid scrambling the eggs, make sure you cook on medium heat and constantly whisk the mixture.

Toasted pecans for coconut pecan filling in upgraded German chocolate cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com
Moist and decadent German chocolate cake with homemade chocolate cake, toasted pecan and coconut filling and chocolate frosting on top! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com
coconut-pecan-filling-2
Coconut pecan filling for upgraded German chocolate cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com
Moist and decadent German chocolate cake with homemade chocolate cake, toasted pecan and coconut filling and chocolate frosting on top! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com
german-chocolate-cake-recipe

3. CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

I used my favorite chocolate buttercream recipe to frost the top. The filling is pretty sweet, so I didn't want to overdo it with frosting. (And naked cakes are pretty!) This chocolate buttercream is thick, creamy, and spreads beautifully. The chocolate buttercream recipe was more than enough for the top, but if you want to frost the top AND sides of the cake, use these ratios. They taste identical.

Will the cake dry out if the sides aren't frosted? Overtime, yes. But this cake is so moist, especially with the gooey coconut pecan filling, that it'll take awhile to taste even a smidge dry! If you're still a little nervous about it drying out, give the sides a light swipe of frosting.

Many of you have asked me how I apply frosting to the tops of my cakes. You see all those peaks and twirls of frosting? It takes zero skill. If you have an icing spatula or even a spoon, you can recreate this look. I took a super short video with my phone decorating this exact cake:

This is not technically "German chocolate cake" since it's not made with sweet German chocolate. (Don't be mad at me, cake police!) But it has an ooey gooey coconut + toasted pecan filling, a deep dark chocolate cake, and the perfect amount of creamy chocolate buttercream on top. Definitely an upgrade if you ask me!

Moist and decadent German chocolate cake with homemade chocolate cake, toasted pecan and coconut filling and chocolate frosting on top! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

German Chocolate Cake

YIELD

serves 10-12; 2.5 cups filling

PREP TIME

45 minutes

COOK TIME

35 minutes

TOTAL TIME

5 hours, 30 minutes (includes cooling and chilling)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 and 3/4 cups (220g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 cup (65g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)*
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (180g) full fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) hot water or coffee*

Coconut Pecan Filling

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup (8 ounces; 240ml) evaporated milk or half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (160g) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup (125g) chopped toasted pecans*

Frosting

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease three round 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or you can use a whisk) mix the oil, eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add the hot water or coffee, and whisk or beat it all until the batter is completely combined.
  3. Divide batter evenly between 3 pans. Bake for 21-25 minutes. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on yours. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
  5. As the cakes cool, prepare the coconut pecan filling so it can cool and be ready at the same time. Combine butter, brown sugar, egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk occasionally as the mixture comes to a low boil. Once boiling, whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, toasted pecans, and coconut. Allow to cool completely before layering in cake. It will thicken even more as it cools.
  6. Assemble and frost: First, level the cakes if needed: using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with 1/2 of the coconut pecan filling (half is about 1 and 1/4 cups). Top with 2nd layer and evenly cover the top with remaining coconut pecan filling. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the chocolate buttercream into a thick layer on top. Garnish with extra toasted pecans and coconut, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before slicing or else the cake may gently fall apart as you cut.
  7. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Make ahead tip: Prepare cake through step 4. Wrap the individual baked cake layers tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature, make the coconut pecan filling and frosting, assemble/frost, and serve. You can also prepare the coconut pecan filling and chocolate buttercream in advance. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring both to room temperature before using. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature or serve cold.

RECIPE NOTES

Why room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information. Instead of sour cream, try using plain yogurt. The cake won't taste as rich, but it's a fine sub. If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.

Espresso powder and coffee will not make the chocolate taste like coffee. Rather, they deepen the chocolate flavor. I highly recommend them both. If coffee isn't your thing, you can leave out the espresso powder and use boiling hot water instead of the hot coffee.

Toasting the pecans is a major upgrade and I highly suggest it! Let them toast in the oven as you whisk together the filling on the stove (step 5). Simply toast for 8 minutes at 300°F (149°C). Then can be warm when stirred into the filling.

If you're concerned about consuming any raw egg yolks, use a candy/oil thermometer and make sure the mixture is cooked to 160°F (71°C). If you notice any cooked egg bits, you can run it through a strainer.

9x13 cake: You can bake this cake as a 9x13 sheet cake instead. Top with coconut pecan filling, no need for the chocolate buttercream! The cake will take 35-40 minutes at 350°F (177°C).

Cupcakes: Use this coconut pecan filling to fill a batch of super moist chocolate cupcakes. Half of the filling should be plenty, so you can halve the filling recipe or make the full filling recipe and freeze leftovers for up to 3 months. You can frost with chocolate buttercream.

© SALLY’S BAKING ADDICTION. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe. Some of the links above are affiliate links, which pay me a small commission for my referral at no extra cost to you! Thank you for supporting Sally’s Baking Addiction.

SHOP THIS RECIPE

Here are some items I used to make today's recipe.

KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Stand Mixer Glass Bowl | Dough Scraper | Pastry Cutter | Rolling Pin | Loaf Pan | Pastry Brush

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90 Comments

Comments

  1. Kristen on April 13, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Sally, I think I may be your biggest promoter, I talk about you and your blog as if we were friends in real life ☺️ I am possibly on your site more than you are! I just made this coconut pecan topping with your Seriously Fudgy Homemade Brownies and I can’t wait for the topping to cool so I can taste this amazing combination! I’ll be taking these German Chocolate brownies to work with me and I thought brownies are a bit easier for everyone to cut. You’re always my go-to and your recipes always earn me compliments

    • Sally on April 14, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      Kristen thank you so much for the kind note!! I appreciate it so much. And you are definitely in for a RICH treat. That combination sounds incredible!!

  2. Kendra Hansen on April 15, 2018 at 9:56 pm

    Can I make this cake recipe into cupcakes as well?

    • Sally on April 16, 2018 at 6:42 am

      Sure can! See my note.

  3. Ambika Sood on April 16, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Hi Sally, how different is this in texture to the Triple Chocolate Cake?

    • Sally on April 16, 2018 at 1:44 pm

      Just a TEENY bit denser 🙂

  4. MaryEllen on April 16, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    I made this this weekend for my daughter-in-laws birthday!!! A COMPLETE hit!! 😀 Just have to add, that my husband’s birthday was last weekend, so he got the triple chocolate cake! I am getting a serious reputation as “the cake lady”!! 😀

  5. Lynne (Lynne's Recipe Trails) on April 18, 2018 at 1:56 am

    Another absolutely superb recipe Sally. I made this yesterday and honestly could not be more thrilled. It is everything I had hoped for and more. Moist, decadent, delicious gooey coconut and pecan nut filling…OMW….absolutely delicious !!! This definitely will not last long in my house. Thank you so much. Have a beautiful day.

    • Sally on April 18, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      I’m so happy that you loved this recipe so much, Lynne!!

  6. Laura | Tutti Dolci on April 18, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Be still my heart, this cake is everything! Seriously considering skipping dinner to bake this instead. 🙂

  7. Renetta Frederick on April 20, 2018 at 11:35 am

    Well, to say I am in love is an understatement! Never in my life have I had such decadent German Chocolate cake.  As it’s just my hubby and I was able to freeze half the cake as well as the frosting (in two separate bags) only to bring it out a week later and have it just as yummy as the first go.
    We are attending a diner party Saturday.  I am thrilled to be bringing my new found love!

    • Sally on April 21, 2018 at 10:52 am

      LOVE reading this review, thank you so much Renetta!!

  8. Ali on April 24, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    Is there something you can recomend for me to replace the pecans with? I have several family members that are allergic to nuts and anything related to them, but they deserve cake too!

  9. Deborah A Kwiecinski on May 2, 2018 at 11:55 am

    I made this cake over the weekend for the first time. The recipe was easy to follow, and I also made the cake portion one day ahead of the rest of the cake. My family raved at how wonderful it was. Super moist and so rich. I couldn’t find espresso powder but I did use the coffee. The only ooops I had was making the chocolate buttercream frosting. I missed the part of turning the mixer to LOW when adding the cocoa powder! It looked like a chocolate dust bomb went off in my kitchen lol. After tasting the end product, the clean up was well worth it. That will now be my go to frosting! Thank you Sally, for the recipe and for helping me give my family another day of happiness!

    • Sally on May 2, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      I’m so happy this was such a hit, Deborah!! And I have had more flour and cocoa powder explosions in my kitchen than I can count, so you definitely aren’t alone 😉

  10. Julia on May 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

    I just came upon your blog looking around for a cake to make for my son’s birthday. The gas in our apartment has been turned off for several months, so I needed a cake I could bake in separate layers in my toaster oven…saw this one and realized by chance that I could pretty easily do the math to divide the batter into thirds to mix each layer separately. I had concerns about mixing it all as one recipe and then letting the batter for the second two layers sit there for 20 – 40 minutes before baking. Am under the gun for time, so don’t want to take the chance of some flat layers! But given your knowledge about baking (despite the time crunch, I took a detour to refresh my memory about baking powder vs soda, and natural vs dutched cocoa–so helpful!), and the fact that my gas will be out for many months, I wondered if you could tell me how long I can reasonably let leavened batter sit before baking without risking a fail. Love this blog, by the way — definitely bookmarking it. You answered absolutely every question I needed to know — especially re: making the components ahead. The cake filling is in my fridge now! Thank you!

    • Sally on May 4, 2018 at 6:03 am

      Hi Julia! This is a great question. I’ve had batter sit out on the counter for an hour or 2 and the cakes come out just fine. Just keep it covered on the counter until ready to use.

  11. Astrid on May 9, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Hi there! I want to try out this recipe but my husband has requested cupcakes. Your note says “Use this coconut pecan filling to fill a batch of super moist chocolate cupcakes.” Can you please clarify this? Where are we putting the filling? I looked a the recipe for the Super Moist cupcakes, and it doesn’t mention “filling”. Help!

  12. Ann Mae on May 9, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Hey Sally,
    I want to make 3 10inch cakes to stack for a birthday cake. Would you recommend doubling the batter or making 1.5 batches?
    Thanks!

    • Sally on May 9, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Hi Ann Mae! I would 1.5x the recipe, but I fear that would be too much batter. Fill the pans halfway and you can use any extra batter for cupcakes.

  13. Michelle A on May 10, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Just wanted to say I’m loving your new website redesign! Great job design team!!

    • Sally on May 10, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Thank you so much Michelle!!

  14. Meika on May 19, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Hi Sally, I absolutely love this recipe. Do you think it has enough structure to make a really large cake out of? (Ie a friend’s wedding cake), or do you think I’d need to go for something with a stronger crumb for something with alot of weight? Thanks, Meika .

    • Sally on May 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Hi Meika, I have never made a tiered cake out of this. I know other readers who have said they used the cake (from the triple chocolate cake recipe) and that it held up fine, but I have no first hand experience! Whatever you use just be sure you properly support each tier!

  15. Ambika Sood on May 23, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Hi Sally I plan to make chocolate salted caramel cake using this base cake recipe with chocolate ganache and salted caramel as a filling, do u think it would work or should I use your Triple Chocolate layer cake recipe? TIA

    • Sally on May 23, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      That sounds amazing! Either cake recipe would be delicious!

  16. nicole on June 17, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Sally!! This cake is absolutely amazing!! I made it this weekend for Father’s Day and there is only 1 slice left in the fridge… which never happens in our house. I made the cake a double layer cake and didn’t top it with chocolate frosting… My mom use to make a German Chocolate Cake when I was kid which was a real special treat without the chocolate frosting so I was trying to recreate it. The chocolate cake is so moist and I didn’t have to use a mixer .. I just used a whisk. The coconut pecan frosting is beyond amazing. It was so rich, yummy, and easy to make. I have a funny feeling I’ll be making this one again very soon

    • Sally on June 18, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      That is so special to recreate your mom’s cake! I’m glad this one worked for you 🙂

  17. Jennifer on June 23, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I just made this and sent it to a birthday party, so I’m waiting to hear how it tastes. It looked delicious! I do have one question, though – the cake crumbled and fell apart both when I took it out of the pans and when I frosted it. I popped the layers in the freezer for about a half hour to firm them up, but it didn’t help much. I glued it back together as best I could with the frosting, but how can I prevent this from happening next time?

    • Sally on June 25, 2018 at 9:49 am

      Hi Jennifer! The chocolate cake has a delicate crumb, but shouldn’t crumble as you describe. So sorry you experienced that. Did you make the recipe exactly as written? If you try again, generously grease the cake pans. (More than you think you need!)

  18. Jacqueline S Spenger on June 29, 2018 at 4:28 am

    I made this at work ( I am a cook) to have as a dessert. I was pretty frustrated because mine fell in the middle and it crumbled while I was putting it together. I managed to get it together and the pecan filling helped hold it together along with the frosting. I put it into the walk in refrigerator and left it until today. It tasted great, but I was really disappointed it didn’t bake up nicely. I was worried I would be wasting the money and ingredients at work. That wouldn’t have gone over well with the boss.
    Now I am wondering if it is an altitude issue or something like that. We are at 2700 ft. Not sure what the problem was. Sigh….Thankfully we are still able to sell it. As long as it stays refrigerated it seems to hold together better.

  19. laurie redfield on July 1, 2018 at 9:57 am

    when I first looked at this page I was delighted with how it looked and how it’s laid out. it’s very easy to read the direction,s and I don’t know if you’re using a larger font, but your website looks very nice since you upgraded it!

    my husband loves chocolate cake, and even though I’m more of a brownie person, this looks SO good I can’t wait to try it.

    • Sally on July 1, 2018 at 10:35 am

      Thank you so much Laurie!

Reviews

  1. Deborah A Kwiecinski on May 2, 2018 at 11:55 am

    I made this cake over the weekend for the first time. The recipe was easy to follow, and I also made the cake portion one day ahead of the rest of the cake. My family raved at how wonderful it was. Super moist and so rich. I couldn’t find espresso powder but I did use the coffee. The only ooops I had was making the chocolate buttercream frosting. I missed the part of turning the mixer to LOW when adding the cocoa powder! It looked like a chocolate dust bomb went off in my kitchen lol. After tasting the end product, the clean up was well worth it. That will now be my go to frosting! Thank you Sally, for the recipe and for helping me give my family another day of happiness!

    • Sally on May 2, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      I’m so happy this was such a hit, Deborah!! And I have had more flour and cocoa powder explosions in my kitchen than I can count, so you definitely aren’t alone 😉

  2. nicole on June 17, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Sally!! This cake is absolutely amazing!! I made it this weekend for Father’s Day and there is only 1 slice left in the fridge… which never happens in our house. I made the cake a double layer cake and didn’t top it with chocolate frosting… My mom use to make a German Chocolate Cake when I was kid which was a real special treat without the chocolate frosting so I was trying to recreate it. The chocolate cake is so moist and I didn’t have to use a mixer .. I just used a whisk. The coconut pecan frosting is beyond amazing. It was so rich, yummy, and easy to make. I have a funny feeling I’ll be making this one again very soon

    • Sally on June 18, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      That is so special to recreate your mom’s cake! I’m glad this one worked for you 🙂

Questions

  1. Julia on May 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

    I just came upon your blog looking around for a cake to make for my son’s birthday. The gas in our apartment has been turned off for several months, so I needed a cake I could bake in separate layers in my toaster oven…saw this one and realized by chance that I could pretty easily do the math to divide the batter into thirds to mix each layer separately. I had concerns about mixing it all as one recipe and then letting the batter for the second two layers sit there for 20 – 40 minutes before baking. Am under the gun for time, so don’t want to take the chance of some flat layers! But given your knowledge about baking (despite the time crunch, I took a detour to refresh my memory about baking powder vs soda, and natural vs dutched cocoa–so helpful!), and the fact that my gas will be out for many months, I wondered if you could tell me how long I can reasonably let leavened batter sit before baking without risking a fail. Love this blog, by the way — definitely bookmarking it. You answered absolutely every question I needed to know — especially re: making the components ahead. The cake filling is in my fridge now! Thank you!

    • Sally on May 4, 2018 at 6:03 am

      Hi Julia! This is a great question. I’ve had batter sit out on the counter for an hour or 2 and the cakes come out just fine. Just keep it covered on the counter until ready to use.

  2. Astrid on May 9, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Hi there! I want to try out this recipe but my husband has requested cupcakes. Your note says “Use this coconut pecan filling to fill a batch of super moist chocolate cupcakes.” Can you please clarify this? Where are we putting the filling? I looked a the recipe for the Super Moist cupcakes, and it doesn’t mention “filling”. Help!

  3. Ann Mae on May 9, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Hey Sally,
    I want to make 3 10inch cakes to stack for a birthday cake. Would you recommend doubling the batter or making 1.5 batches?
    Thanks!

    • Sally on May 9, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Hi Ann Mae! I would 1.5x the recipe, but I fear that would be too much batter. Fill the pans halfway and you can use any extra batter for cupcakes.

  4. Meika on May 19, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Hi Sally, I absolutely love this recipe. Do you think it has enough structure to make a really large cake out of? (Ie a friend’s wedding cake), or do you think I’d need to go for something with a stronger crumb for something with alot of weight? Thanks, Meika .

    • Sally on May 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Hi Meika, I have never made a tiered cake out of this. I know other readers who have said they used the cake (from the triple chocolate cake recipe) and that it held up fine, but I have no first hand experience! Whatever you use just be sure you properly support each tier!

  5. Ambika Sood on May 23, 2018 at 7:03 am

    Hi Sally I plan to make chocolate salted caramel cake using this base cake recipe with chocolate ganache and salted caramel as a filling, do u think it would work or should I use your Triple Chocolate layer cake recipe? TIA

    • Sally on May 23, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      That sounds amazing! Either cake recipe would be delicious!

  6. Jennifer on June 23, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I just made this and sent it to a birthday party, so I’m waiting to hear how it tastes. It looked delicious! I do have one question, though – the cake crumbled and fell apart both when I took it out of the pans and when I frosted it. I popped the layers in the freezer for about a half hour to firm them up, but it didn’t help much. I glued it back together as best I could with the frosting, but how can I prevent this from happening next time?

    • Sally on June 25, 2018 at 9:49 am

      Hi Jennifer! The chocolate cake has a delicate crumb, but shouldn’t crumble as you describe. So sorry you experienced that. Did you make the recipe exactly as written? If you try again, generously grease the cake pans. (More than you think you need!)

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