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.

289 Comments

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  1. Hi Sally,
    This recipe is AMAZING!! I noticed in the comment section you mention using the pecan filling to make cupcakes with your super moist chocolate cake recipe. Have you ever made cupcakes with the Upgraded German Chocolate Cake ingredients, including the coffee and sour cream? If so, would the batter measurements be the same?

    1. Thanks Jen! Yes, I have! You can use this cake batter for cupcakes– you’ll get closer to 2-3 dozen. I recall having quite a bit of coconut pecan filling leftover.

  2. Tonya Bryant says:

    This is the best German chocolate cake ever! My family can’t get enough of it so I’m constantly making it! You have to try it!

  3. I loved this cale and the German chocolate cake was so good!! My cakes actually fell in the middle but it was still good and we cover it with frosting and coconut and pecan. Yum!! Sally, could you tell me a reason why they fell? I did only use two pans and I split the cake batter evenly. I used all room temp. Ingredients… have no idea why it fell…

    1. Hi Rhea! Since this batter is so thin, the cakes may sink a little– that’s completely normal. However, they also could have been under-baked. A couple extra minutes in the oven will be helpful if you ever try it again!

      1. Same thing happened to mine first time. I added 5 minutes and they were AWESOME! My first German Chocolate Cake and it turned out amazing. Thank you so much

  4. Hi Sally-
    I’d like to make a 6″ version of this cake. I read in another post that using any of your cupcake recipes yields the perfect amount of batter for a 6″ cake. Should I use the batter from your “super moist chocolate cupcakes” recipe?

    1. Hi Sairey, Yes, you can use my chocolate cupcakes and chocolate buttercream recipes. That batter fits perfectly into three 6-inch pans. Follow that chocolate cupcake batter recipe and my instructions here.
      You will have leftover coconut pecan filling.

  5. Instead of sour cream, can I use full-fat plain Greek yogurt? German chocolate is my Dad’s favorite and I am planning on making it for him this weekend!!

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melanie, Instead of sour cream, try using plain Greek yogurt. The cake won’t taste as rich, but it’s a fine substitution. Happy birthday to your dad, I hope he loves it!

  6. I gave not made this yet but plan to in a couple of days. I only have 9 by 1.5” pans. Will the batter overflow? Should I put less batter in and use some for cupcakes?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sue, Fill your pans 2/3 full to give your cake room to rise (and if they are thinner layers the bake time will be less). If you have leftover batter then yes, you can make a couple of cupcakes with it!

  7. Hannah Kimsey says:

    I wish I could share a picture of my cake here. It’s so beautiful. I left it naked, put the coconut and pecans on top for decoration, piped some additional frosting around the edges on top and bottom. Only tweak I needed in the recipe was 2-3 additional tbsp heavy cream. Delicious!

  8. Jessica Mendillo says:

    I have a customer requesting I add liquor to the cake any suggestions on how to go about doing this

  9. Kevin Vander Veen says:

    1 quick question…..what would whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks, and folding it into the cake batter do? Absolutely love the recipe, just curious what would happen.

    1. Hi Kevin, I do this for my red velvet cake and yellow cake recipes. It creates a lighter crumb. But this chocolate cake doesn’t need it because cocoa powder keeps the crumb extra light and spongey. The cake would be very fragile using whipped egg whites.

  10. Ahhhh…….thank you very much! Makes perfect sense! And, this cake needs nothing to improve it. IT IS OUTSTANDING!!!!!

  11. Hello –

    If this cake is made the day before serving should it be left out of the refrigerator until 45 minutes before serving or refrigerated the whole time? Will it dry out to much if refrigerated that long? Thanks!

    Mary Ellen

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mary Ellen, You can refrigerate it the whole time. If it’s completely covered it won’t dry out!

  12. Melissa Woost says:

    Hi Sally,
    Lovely recipe I can’t wait to try this week. Do you recommend any tweaks for high elevation? (5K ft)
    Thanks,
    Melissa

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melissa, hope you love this cake! I wish I could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. I know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

      1. Melissa Woost says:

        Thank you for the link. 50th bday for my hubby…. I’m going in, wish me luck!! (0:

  13. Is there any reason you use AP flour for this instead of cake flour? I love your recipes so much!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Yes there is! 🙂 This cake already has cocoa powder— which is a VERY fine dry ingredient. The combination of cake flour and cocoa powder usually results in a flimsy cake. We typically use cake flour in vanilla cakes.

  14. Can you use Gluten Free Flour I this recipe?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Susan, we haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flour but readers have had success using 1:1 gluten free flour substitutes (like Cup4Cup).

  15. Latisha Cothran says:

    Hello! I’m going to try this recipe soon and I want to leave out the coconut. Would I just add more pecans in place of the coconut for the filling?

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