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This variation of German’s chocolate cake has a gooey coconut and toasted pecan filling, a dark and super-moist chocolate cake, and deliciously creamy chocolate buttercream on top!

slice of German chocolate cake on a cake server on a marble cake stand

German’s chocolate cake, traditionally made with sweet baking chocolate and originated back in the 1850s by chocolate maker Samuel German, is known to be unapologetically decadent and indulgent.

Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

My variation of German chocolate cake is a bit different 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.

German chocolate cake has been a highly requested cake recipe, so I’m thrilled to finally share this version. I decorated it naked cake style. I love seeing that coconut pecan filling peeking out!

3 layer German chocolate cake on a marble and wood cake stand

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 dutch-process vs. natural 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.

wet ingredients for coconut pecan filling in a saucepan on the stove with a whisk
coconut pecan German chocolate cake frosting in a glass bowl

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 the ratios from this marble cake. They taste identical.

spreading frosting onto German chocolate cake on a marble and wood cake stand

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!

slice of German chocolate cake on a gold plate
Print
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slice of German chocolate cake on a cake server on a marble cake stand

Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 1012; 2.5 cups filling 1x
  • 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

Scale
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (219g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 cup (62g) 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 baked and cooled 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. For filling baked cupcakes, we usually cut a hole in the center and add the filling. If needed for a visual, you can watch me do this in the video for these cupcakes.

Keywords: german chocolate cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hi there,
    Can I use your triple chocolate cake recipe instead?
    That is the recipe I use almost weekly and it is the best.

    1. Hi Christiaan, the cake layers themselves are very similar to our triple chocolate cake. The biggest difference is the amazing pecan filling in this recipe! So feel free to use either.

  2. I made this recipe gluten-free. I followed your directions to a tee. Except I substituted one for one gluten-free flour. It turned out perfect. I also used your chocolate butter cream frosting along with the coconut pecan frosting. It was a hit! My husband doesn’t like German chocolate cake, however, he said that this was his new favorite!

    1. Made this for my boyfriend’s birthday as he loves German Chocolate! It was wonderful – rich, but not too sweet! I’m wondering what the carb count is though? I never thought to add up the amount of carbs so I could figure that out!

  3. Why do your cakes always fall in the middle for me? Is it that I live in a high elevation?

    1. Hi Theresa! Elevation certainly plays a large role in baking. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  4. Wow!!! This cake tastes amazing!!! This is now my “go to” chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream recipe. The flavor was phenomenal. My only tweak for me was that I omitted the salt in the buttercream and used salted butter. That is my personal preference when making buttercreams-it just takes a little better to me. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

      1. Hi Pam, we don’t recommend cake flour for chocolate cakes. Cocoa powder is a VERY fine dry ingredient. The combination of cake flour and cocoa powder usually results in a flimsy cake. Best to stick with all-purpose flour here.

  5. I want to put the coconut icing on top as well as the layers ,is there enough icing to do this or do I need to make more what would the ratios be? Thanks looking to make this week!

    1. Hi Stephanie! You could double the coconut filling recipe to add some on top as well.

  6. I only want a two layer cake. How can I adjust the recipe so I don’t end up with extra batter and frosting?

      1. Really good recipe. Did the pecan / coconut filling with he chocolate top. Cake was a big hit. Can the left-overs be frozen if it is wrapped tightly?

      2. Hi David, absolutely. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature or serve cold.

      3. How long should I bake the cake if I’m doing 2 – 9” rounds?

      4. Hi Heather, there is too much batter here to use it all in 2, 9 inch or 8 inch pans, but you can make two layers (filling the pans about half way) and then use the leftover batter for a few cupcakes. We’re unsure of the exact bake time.

    1. I’ve made this cake several time-my middle son’s favorite-but I’d like to try cupcakes. Any idea how many cupcakes this makes?

      1. Hi Susie, this batter makes about 2-3 dozen cupcakes. You could use this chocolate cupcake batter instead if you need a smaller yield and then halve the coconut filling.

  7. Hello! This recipe calls for one 8oz can of evaporated milk but I’m only seeing 5oz or 13.2 oz cans. Please advise! I’m planning to make this for my husband’s birthday this weekend! Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Lacie, you can buy either (two of the 5 oz. cans, or one of the 13.2 oz cans) and then use a kitchen scale to measure out the 8 oz needed for this recipe. Hope it’s a hit for your husband’s birthday!

  8. I am going to make this cake this week-end for a friend. I learned about Dutched Choclate some time ago, and to always toast nuts for the oils and the flavors to really shine. I was wondering if anyone has toasted the coconut? If so what were the pro’s and the con’s of doing so, or not doing so. I like the flavor is the reason for the question. Thank you

    1. Hi Richard, we want the moisture of un-toasted sweetened shredded coconut for this coconut filling mixture. Hope you love this cake!

    2. Hi Rich, I toasted the coconut the first time I made this recipe. Taste was ok. I personally think it tastes better with out toasting the coconut.

      1. Hi Shanelle, we don’t recommend cake flour for chocolate cakes. Cocoa powder is a VERY fine dry ingredient. The combination of cake flour and cocoa powder usually results in a flimsy cake. Best to stick with all-purpose flour here.

  9. Hello! I am super excited to try this recipe for my husband’s birthday! Do you usually use salted or unsalted pecans for the filling? Thanks!

  10. Hello there. I want to make this cake this weekend but I have 3×8 inch cake pans. Will this be okay and how long should I bake I for. Thanks so much

    1. Hi Sandy, You can use this recipe exactly with no changes in 8 inch pans. Your layers will be slightly thicker so it may take an extra minute or two of bake time but keep your eye on them!

  11. If I don’t want it to be dark chocolate, would I just add more sugar and omit the coffee?

    1. Hi Elysa, the espresso powder is optional and you can use hot water instead of coffee if you’d like.

  12. I’m planning on making this cake tomorrow for a birthday! How would I adapt the bake time if I used three 6” cake layers instead?

    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Haileigh, for a 6 inch cake, you can use our chocolate cupcakes recipe. That batter fits perfectly into 3 6 inch pans. Follow that chocolate cupcake batter recipe and the instructions here. Use the coconut pecan filling and frosting from this recipe — you will have some leftover. Let us know if you give it a try!

  13. Sally, I’ve made this a couple of times and it’s fantastic! I would like to make a 3 tier 6 inch cake this time. Do you have any tips or suggestions for it? Should I just make your 6 inch chocolate cake and then add the topping? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Kasey! For a 6 inch cake, you can use our chocolate cupcakes recipe. That batter fits perfectly into 3 6 inch pans. Follow that chocolate cupcake batter recipe and the instructions here. Use the coconut pecan filling and frosting from this recipe — you will have some leftover. Let us know if you give it a try!

  14. This was a big fail for me. The cake came out beautifully, the coconut pecan frosting was delicious. The buttercream is ok. But all together it is a big clash and way too overpowering to enjoy.
    I should have stuck to the Baker’s chocolate recipe. It makes a fine crumb, subtle flavored cake and let’s the filling really shine. And no buttercream.
    Truly a mess, was embarrassed to serve it.
    Again, nothing wrong at all with the individual parts. But far from an upgrade.

  15. My family LOVES this recipe! It has been requested for three family birthdays in a row!!

  16. II plan to make 9 x 13 cake. Do I need to.use the wax paper on bottom of pan? Tks

    1. Hi Veronica, if you’re planning to serve it in the pan, you can simply grease the pan and do without any parchment paper. If you are hoping to serve the cake outside of the pan and need it to easily release, we do recommend a sheet of parchment paper (in a rectangle rather than a circle).

  17. I like the cake stand (marble on wood base) as well. An antique or available for purchase?

    1. Hi Linda! It’s a favorite from Crate & Barrel – linked in this post under the Carriers & Cake Stands heading.

  18. This chocolate cake is so good and very easy to make. I’ll be using this for other 3 layer cakes in the future. Thank you! I bake a lot. I chose to use one tsp of real espresso powder and hot water this time. For the frosting, toasted pecans is a must. I started toasting pecans for all of my sweets several years ago, including in pie. I hadn’t made a German chocolate cake in many years, and, WOW, it’s so much better with toasted pecans. Good call. I did mine in a pan on the stove just because I think it’s easier. I used salted butter and a dash of salt for the frosting. I really recommend the addition if you don’t have trouble with salt. It doesn’t taste salty, just good. I made if for a birthday, and everyone loved it. Thank you!

  19. Love this recipe. Never made a German Chocolate Cake from scratch before and this turned out great. Opted to have icing all over the cake (cause my kids don’t care for the naked cake look). Got great reviews!! Definitely a keeper!

  20. Does this cake need to be kept in the fridge. How long can I keep it on the bench for.
    I want to cover in ganache and fondant but still want to use the filling . Love this recipe. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Julie, we wouldn’t recommend leaving the cake at room temperature for longer than a day. After that, it’s best to refrigerate it. And we do recommend at least 45 minutes of refrigeration before cutting to ensure the slices stay in tact.

  21. Made this for a friend’s birthday celebration and it was a big hit!! The cake itself was so perfectly chocolatey with just the right hint of espresso. I frosted the 3 layers with the coconut pecan filling and omitted the chocolate frosting because I felt this was perfect and I love naked cakes. This is a keeper!

    1. Hi Heather, in this recipe and similar chocolate cake recipes, it really doesn’t matter if the sugar is mixed with the wet or the dry. The cake doesn’t have a granular texture at all.

  22. I make this recipe every year for my husband’s birthday – it’s his absolute favorite. The coffee adds so much and it’s not too sweet. Typically I half the recipe and it makes 6 jumbo cupcakes.

    I also added a splash of spiced rum to the coconut pecan filling and it adds a great flavor if you like rum!

    1. Hi SS, Fondant shouldn’t be a problem, but we do not recommend this as a bottom tier as it is not sturdy enough.

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