Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

This show stopping German chocolate cake has a gooey coconut and toasted pecan filling, a dark and super-moist chocolate cake, and deliciously creamy chocolate buttercream on top! Get ready to indulge in the best chocolate cake on the planet.

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, 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!!

Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

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. I decorated it naked cake 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

How to Make German Chocolate Cake

There are 3 parts to 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, black forest cake, or regular chocolate 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 the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch-process cocoa powder?

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.

How to make coconut pecan German chocolate cake frosting on sallysbakingaddiction.com

How to make coconut pecan German chocolate cake frosting on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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.

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

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.

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

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

Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 10-12; 2.5 cups filling
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This show stopping German chocolate cake has a gooey coconut and toasted pecan filling, a dark and super-moist chocolate cake, and deliciously creamy chocolate buttercream on top!


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
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  •  3 large egg yolks
  • 1 can (8 ounces; 240ml) evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup (125g) chopped pecans

Frosting


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9×2 inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  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.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: 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.
  2. 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 substitution.
  3. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. Add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1/2 cup. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  4. Espresso Powder / Coffee: 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.
  5. Pecans: 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.
  6. Eggs: 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.
  7. 9×13 Cake: You can bake this cake as a 9×13 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).
  8. 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.

346 Comments

  1. I want to make this, as German Chocolate Cake was my favorite once upon a time. However, I’ve since discovered I’m allergic to coconut, do you think there’s a way to mimic the coconut in the frosting? Like replace coconut with more pecans?

    1. Hi AilĂ­s, I think using more nuts in the filling would be delicious. Simply replace the coconut with extra pecans– maybe only 1 and 1/2 cups extra.

      1. Believe it or not, sauerkraut will mimic coconut and give a mild buttermilk flavor too. It needs to be rinsed well to eliminate salt and then squeezed dry in paper towels.

  2. Hi Sally, What would you suggest doing if I only have two 9 inch round pans? I know I could make some cupcakes with the extra, but what would you think of cutting the recipe by 1/3? Do you think everything would be OK and it wouldn’t mess up with the rise or texture? So excited to make this, thanks!

    1. Hi Meaghan! You can squeeze this batter into 2 9-inch pans (I do it with my triple chocolate cake). The bake time will be a little longer.

      1. Thank you so much! My mom can’t wait to have this for her birthday!

  3. I have made this recipe about 7 times it is amazing but when I made it tonight I put the parchment paper in the bottom of pans and greased it like always but for some reason every layer fell apart when stacking it? Any idea what I may have done wrong? The only thing I think I done different was scooped the sour cream with the measuring cup instead of spooning and leveling not sure if it was just so moist? Please help I’m nervous to make again I dont want to mess it up

  4. Hey Sally! So excited to make this! Can you recommend a bake time for 6-in cakes? Or do you have a conversion chart somewhere? We are just a family of 2 and a 9-in cake would never get fully eaten! Especially since we can’t share with co-workers right now.. 🙂

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alex, Just about all 6 inch cake layers take about 18-21 minutes at 350°F (177°C). You can read even more tips about this size cake in the post 6 Inch Cakes.

  5. HEATHER F. LUTZE says:

    Hello I made this cake twice tonight. The first did not rise so I did it again to same outcome. Does this recipe rise much? I liveb in Denver so not sure what I did wrong. I followed the recipe exactly.

    1. Alissa Ayers says:

      Baking at high altitude places, like Denver, requires adjusting because of the different atmospheric pressure! Here is an article about it that will help with this problem! https://www.wheatmontana.com/content/high-altitude-baking-how-make-your-recipes-work-mountains

  6. This was THE best German Chocolate Cake I have EVER had, whether it be homemade or restaurant-quality. Made it for my mom’s 96th birthday, and literally everyone was raving about it. I have to agree with them. Super dense and moist, delicious cake, with a perfect rise and tight crumb that made frosting it so easy. The coconut/pecan filling (I used chopped walnuts instead!) that went in between the layers and on top was the perfect balance of crunchy, creamy, chewy, a bit salty. I used simple whipped dark chocolate ganache to frost the sides and made frosting flowers with it to decorate the top. Definitely my go-to chocolate cake recipe from now on, regardless of whether I am making the German Chocolate Cake, or really any time I need a great chocolate cake. Perfections. 5 *’s.

  7. If only I could give it 10 stars 10/5! I made this for my dad’s 85th birthday–German chocolate is his favorite–this was over the moon!!! Born in the depression has made him a little funny about food. Usually, he doesn’t ever have a second piece of cake! BUT this was an exception–he was so enamored he took a second piece for the next day. PS I used a full pound of pecan halves–WOW! Toasting the pecans was definitely an upgrade!!! My son’s birthday is also on my dad’s birthday so we had a lovely sized group of seven…all seven of us gave this recipe 10/5 stars **********/*****
    I used unsweetened coconut as I didn’t feel it needed more sweetening (we all liked it). I would probably use pecan pieces for the filling and halves just for the top–to save a penny. I also used Starbucks Via Italian (2 packets) for the espresso powder–that added a big punch, imo. Does anyone have another recommendation?

  8. Emily from Phoenix says:

    Can’t wait to make this recipe for my 36th birthday tomorrow! Do you have any substitution ideas for the sour cream and condensed milk??? We are dairy free (except for butter lol) so i can make my own buttermilk no problem but I haven’t found a way around those other dairy ingredients yet. TIA!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Emily, We haven’t tested this recipe with dairy free substitutes but you can certainly try a dairy free yogurt in place of the sour cream and coconut milk should work in place of the evaporated milk. Let us know if you try it and happy birthday!

  9. heather tower says:

    Have you tried this using a gluten free flour, and if so, which one/
    Can one taste the espresso and coffee? Thank you for the feedback.

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Heather, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flour but let us know if you try it! Espresso powder and coffee will not make the cake taste like coffee. Instead, they deepen the chocolate flavor.

  10. Sally!
    Thank you for your reply above. So I need to make this Amazing cake of yours TODAY. I don’t have parchment paper to line pans. I can either go without or use wax paper or foil. What do you suggest? I dont’ have any margin for error…..argh. Thanks!

    1. Hi Heather! I’m just seeing your question now. You can simply grease the pans (and skip the parchment lining). I prefer using nonstick spray in cake pans.

  11. Sally, I’m excited to make this cake for my husband’s birthday! Is it possible to make this recipe use two deep 8-inch round pans instead of the three 8-inch pans? How would that affect the proportions of the filling and the frosting?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Maria, You can divide the batter between two pans (9 inch would be best). Your bake time will be longer since the cakes are thicker, use a toothpick to check the cakes. The filling could be cut in half since you are only using one layer instead of two. Happy baking!

  12. I have made this recipe a few times before and it is amazing! I would like to do it as cupcakes this time, but not sure what the bake time and temp would be for cupcakes?

  13. Lindsay Parisoli says:

    Omg the best cake I’ve ever made. I made this last weekend for my Mother’s birthday. German chocolate cake is her favorite & this was by far the best German chocolate she’s ever had. I prepared it all a day prior to serving then just put it all together the day of. I was so glad I had pre made all the ingredients and they had time to chill in the fridge prior I would suggest doing it that way. I made the butter cream frosting & it was all so perfect it looked gorgeous, I was very proud of it! Thank you so much for the recipe.

  14. I am generally a terrible cake baker but decided to make this for my husband’s birthday. It was quite the hit and came out beautifully. Moist and delicious. I even got a compliment from my sister in law who does a lot of baking, and she said it was “the best cake she ever ate”!

    Thanks for a great and treasured recipe!

  15. Hi Sally! I made this recipe a few months ago as a cake and it was PERFECT! I ended up doubling the pecan filling and using it as the frosting all over the cake instead of the buttercream. Everyone gushed over it! I am making it a second time, but as cupcakes. I’ve read all of the reviews and recipe notes, but have a few questions. I want to use the same cake in this recipe (rather than the one you suggest for cupcakes) because I know how amazing it is! 1) Do I bake the cupcakes at 350 for 18-21 minutes as your other cupcake recipe suggests? 2) Do you also suggest still only filling the batter half way? 3) Do you ever spray your cupcake paper liners? Sometimes my cupcakes stick to the liners, so I was wondering if there’s a way around that. Thank you for the wonderful recipe! I can’t wait to make it again 🙂

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Syd, You can use this cake batter for cupcakes– you’ll get closer to 2-3 dozen. Yes, the bake time will the same as the chocolate cupcake and you should still only fill them half way.
      While you could try lightly greasing your paper liners, we found that once we started using higher quality + grease-proof liners our cupcakes and muffins stopped sticking to the sides of the wrapper. We love these parchment paper liners (or use any quality liners labeled “grease-proof”): https://www.amazon.com/Standard-Paper-Cupcake-Liners-Baking/dp/B00J4U8QX0/ref=as_li_ss_tl?&ascsub&linkCode=sl1&tag=sallsbakiaddi-20&linkId=130bc5d5c552356e38e8d63f2244d212

      1. Thank you, Stephanie! Can’t wait to bake these tonight! 🙂

  16. Hi Sally! I’m planning to make this as a 9×13 cake this weekend. I’m just curious – why is the buttercream not needed for this option? (I’m totally fine to omit it, but was just wondering why!)

    Thanks so much!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi C, It is simply because it’s only one layer of cake. But you can absolutely add it if you wish – it would be pretty (and tasty!) to pipe the frosting on top of the pecan layer, or spread a thin layer between the cake and the pecans. Enjoy!

  17. Lauraine Barto says:

    I made this EXACTLY as directed and it was amazing! Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful recipe – my family really enjoyed this.

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