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 sub. If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.

214 Comments

  1. Hello! I’m new to baking so I don’t know much about the way different sized pans affect a recipe. I’m planning on making a 2 or 3 tier 6” round cake and would love to use this recipe! If I make the recipe as is, will everything set okay or do I need to make adjustments for the smaller pans, such as temperature and time?

    I’m not concerned about having left over batter, just want to make sure they bake right.

    Thank you!! This sounds soo good!

  2. Can I cut back the sugar in the cake part of the recipe without it affecting the cake (other than sweetness)?

    1. You can definitely slightly reduce the sugar based on your preferences. Reducing too much will alter the texture, though, so start small.

  3. Hi there – you mentioned making cupcakes and filling them with the coconut/pecan filling. How do you fill the cupcakes..?

    1. Hi Monica, I simply cut a hole in the center of the baked cupcake! You can watch me fill cupcakes in the video in this recipe: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/sugar-plum-fairy-cupcakes/

    2. I’m making this cake for my dad but he is diabetic and I dont want to make a complete diabetic cake because he want eat it. Can I substitute the sugar with a granulated sugar replacement? Will it work because this cake calls for a lot of sugar. Any recommendations will help! Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Rebecca, I don’t recommend it for this recipe. You’d need less of it (since it has a stronger flavor) and since it’s more bitter, you’d likely need to tinker with the sugar as well. For best success, I recommend sticking with the recipe.

      1. So shopping for unsweetened cocoa powder. I found the Hershey’s Cocoa Natural unsweetened. However below it, it reads 100% cacao. Is this ok to use? Asking due to the question asked by Rebecca.

  4. The icings are Delilah but I was a bit disappointed with the flavor of the cake. Reminded me more of fudge brownie than German chocolate. I grew up only eating German chocolate cakes for the holidays so this one left me longing for that distinctive taste and texture. Worth the try but I think I will stick with my tried and true Bakers chocolate recipe going forward.

  5. I made the 9×13 for my brother’s birthday last night and topped it with only the pecan coconut filling. It was delicious!! Everyone raved about good it was and not overly sweet. I did use the espresso and hot coffee in the cake recipe, and implore you all go try it. It makes such a chocolately and decliius cake! As always, Sally’s recipe delivered!

  6. I made the 9×13 for my brother’s birthday last night and topped it with only the pecan coconut filling. It was delicious!! Everyone raved about how good it was and not overly sweet. I did use the espresso and hot coffee in the cake recipe, and implore you all to try it. It makes such a chocolately and delicious cake! As always, Sally’s recipe delivered!

  7. I absolutely love this recipe. The cake was so moist and the espresso really kicked up the flavor. Leveled the top of the cake, couldn’t stop eating the cake crumbs. Will be making this cake often because my family and friends can’t get enough of it. Been looking for a good German Chocolate Cake recipe and I found it.

  8. I made this for my son’s birthday. He said it is the best German chocolate cake he has ever had. He took the remaining cake into work to get more great reviews. He said the people at his work are very fussy about eating any baked goods. He said they loved it and ate all of it.

    1. If you assemble it the day before it you can store it at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight as long as it’s completely covered. If you refrigerate it just bring it back to room temperature before serving.

  9. I had a friend request a German Chocolate Cake for his birthday, and I‘Ve tried and love your recipes with video tutorials. This cake did not disappoint!! I followed the recipe to the T (Espresso and hot coffee). I got so many compliments and many said it was the best German Chocolate Cake they’d ever tested! So delicious and moist!

  10. Hi

    It’s hard to find Pecans where I live. Would the filling recipe still work if I left the pecans out or would the other ingredients need to be adjusted ? Thanks!

  11. Can this be made to cupcakes?
    I noticed your chocolate cupcake recipe is slightly different. Any reason why?

    Thanks in advance! Love all your tips and tricks!

  12. Hello, I am living in berlin Gonna try this recipe next week for my daughter birthday party. the theme will be rubiks cube could you please quide me how to make this recipe in 23cm 9inch square cakepan(3 tier). thanks much

    1. Hi Asma, I have not tested this cake batter in a 9 inch square pan. The capacity of a square pan is larger than that of a round pan. You can use this chart by Wilton to help you figure out how much batter you will need: https://www.wilton.com/cake-serving-guide/cms-baking-serving-guide.html

  13. I’m going to be making this cake today in the Mile High City. Do you have special instructions for baking at a higher altitude?

    1. I wish I could help, but I 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

  14. FANTASTIC!! HUGE HIT! I cannot begin to tell you how much everyone loved this recipe! Chocolate is deep and tasty, and the frosting WOW Thank you!!! Any tips for making only 2 layers? I don’t want to waste batter thank you

    1. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed this cake so much, Kimberlee! For the same size layers without having any batter left over (or a third layer to freeze to enjoy later) you would have to cut the recipe by one third.

  15. Hi, I love most of the aspects of this recipe and really want to try it. However, I would like it to be a bit more traditional and want to use German chocolate. Suggestions on how I can do that with your recipe? Thanks.

    1. Hi Betina! I recommend searching for a recipe that uses sweetened/German chocolate in the cake batter. It would require some tweaking and testing switching from the cocoa powder to a sweeter chocolate in this particular recipe. Let me know what you try!

  16. My husband who doesn’t bake made this cake for my birthday. He really appreciated your specific instructions. I was expecting “good” but it turned out to be “excellent!” Everything about this cake was spectacular…the filling, the frosting, how rich and chocolatey and moist it was. It was THAT good. I will be dreaming about this cake all year and requesting it for my birthday next year.

  17. Hi Sally! I absolutely love your recipes!! I’m planning on making my birthday cake but I only have 8” pans so do you think it would affect the final result of the cake if I made the full batter and just divided that into three pans and baked them for a few extra minutes? If not pls suggest how I can bake this in 8” pans!!

    1. Hi Nishi, You can make this batter in 8 inch cake pans without making any changes. Your layers will be slightly thicker and may take an extra minute in the oven. The cakes will done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

  18. Made this cake yesterday for my boss who loves German chocolate cake! She LOVED IT! I am not a fan of this style cake, but I absolutely found it delicious! I highly recommend this recipe! I did find the frosting a bit too thick for easy spreading….. I will just double up on the milk.

  19. Really nice chocolate cake recipe and it works so well with the coconut pecan frosting. Came out great. I think this is actually my second time making it 🙂

    I was concerned that the cake layers would be too small… the batter didn’t even come halfway up the pan… but I decided not to panic and they came out absolutely perfect.

    The cococnut pecan recipe says to use 1 can of evaporated milk but then says 8 oz. Cans of evaporated milk are all 12 ounces here, so that was confusing. I increased the size of the coconut pecan recipe to 1.5 times because coconut and because pecans… the main reason for this cake!

    Nice job Sally, thanks for posting this recipe.

  20. Made this for a coworkers birthday and it was a huge hit. Definitely worth the time and effort. I followed all the directions exactly except I did two layers and naked cake style with the coconut pecan filling, no buttercream. It was amazing, moist, rich, not overly sweet. Thank you for this and all your other recitpes, spot on!

  21. Holy Moley, what a cake! Many comments of this being the best cake they’ve ever had.

    I used Dutch cocoa, olive oil, and used a walnut/almond mix instead of pecans with excellent results.

    Thanks Sally!

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