Upgraded German Chocolate Cake

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 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.

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 these ratios. 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 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 (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 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.

294 Comments

  1. Would it matter if I used cake flour for this recipe?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nicole, 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!

  2. Thanks so much! I just made this for my husband’s birthday and he LOVED it.

  3. Constance Kubacki says:

    Your cake has nothing to do with the original. This marketing gimmick is why no market has a real, milk chocolate cake made with real Germans chocolate. This confusion, I loath, soon there will be no one who knows the difference. Is this cultural appropriation, maybe.. You can surely devine a better, accurate, descriptive name for your cake. And it does look like a very good devils food cake, it deserves a better name.c

    1. Hi Constance, thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback. As I describe in the headnotes, this is not traditional German’s Chocolate Cake that the chocolate maker Samuel German developed. The only difference is that this cake is made with a darker chocolate cake instead of one made with sweeter chocolate. The other elements are similar such as the filling and frosting. Again, thank you for your feedback!

    2. German Chocolate cake has nothing to do with Germany. It’s named for the guy who originally invented the chocolate, Samuel German who worked for Baker’s chocolate company. No cultural appropriation was committed here.
      Source: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11331541

    3. Wow… who cares about cultural appropriation or marketing gimmicks. If its good, just enjoy the cake. If it bothers you that much just ignore it.

      Thanks Sally for the recipe. I am from Canada and several of your recipes have become holiday traditions for us.

    4. The original* German chocolate was made in the 19th century for the brand Bakers Chocolate by an American chocolate maker with the last name German. The company named the chocolate after him. The very first German chocolate cake was made by a homemake Mrs. George Clay in 1957 Dallas, Texas. It was featured in the Dallas Morning News. The hallmark of the cake has always been the evaporated milk custard with pecans and coconuts, which this recipe has. Cultural appropriation from… dallas? Seems rather harsh.

  4. Hands down my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Not even just for German chocolate cake. I use it for any chocolate cake or cupcakes I need. The pecan filling is yummy too. Definitely a recipe I’m keeping for the rest of my life.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Thank you so much for your positive feedback, Sarah!

      1. Nice upgrade to my other German Chocolate cake recipe. This is my new and better recipe. Also interesting to hear about cultural appropriation whence th y know not what they speak of. I can’t see any need to chastise you all. You are my new go to first site. Love love this version of German Chocolate Cake . Thank you.
        P.S. love all the interesting notes and further reading links
        throughout the recipe. Thanks Denise

  5. This recipe looks fantastic! I would like to make this cake for my father’s birthday. He loves chocolate and pecans but he can’t stand coconut. Could I just swap out all the coconut in this recipe with pecans instead?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  6. Hi,
    I would love to make this cake but am allergic to pecans, walnuts and almonds. Would this cake taste good with toasted cashews instead of the pecans? Also, could I replace the granulated sugar with sucanat?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Gary, you can certainly try replacing the pecans with toasted cashews. We’d love to help with your question regarding sucanat, but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes. Thank you!

  7. This cake is hands down the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made. Recipe was easy to follow and every component worked perfectly. Definitely going to be making it again!

  8. Made this cake once before and it was AMAZING!!! Making it again but wondering if I convert it to cupcakes will the baking time be the same? Please let me know, thanks!

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Leah, 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.

  9. Brenda Milcetic says:

    Hi Sally,
    Can I make this cake with German Chocolate in lieu of the cocoa powder? If so, how much would I use and how do I incorporate into the recipe?

    Thank you,
    Brenda

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brenda, using pure baking chocolate in place of the cocoa powder would require additional recipe testing, as the two are very different. Best to stick with cocoa powder here!

  10. Brenda Milcetic says:

    Hi Sally,

    It’s me again, Brenda!
    One more question, Can I make this cake gluten-free? My niece will be at my sister’s birthday and she can’t have gluten. Can I make this gluten-free, and if so, is there any brand you could recommend. Would I still use the same amount of flour?

    Thank you Sally,
    Brenda

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brenda, We haven’t tested this cake with gluten free flour but let us know if you give it a try!

  11. Latisha Cothran says:

    How could I make this recipe as cupcakes?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Latisha, 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.

  12. Hi Sally!

    I love this chocolate cake recipe and have used it many times. I wanted to make this for Canadian thanksgiving and was wondering if I could incorporate your chai spice mix used in other recipes. Would you suggest this in the topping or the cake? I’ll skip the frosting since it will be a sheet cake. Thanks!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Anita, we haven’t tested that but it sounds like a delicious combination! Please let us know how it goes if you give it a try.

  13. Hi Sally,
    I am hoping for a more subtle chocolate flavour. If I lowered the cocoa powder amount, would the cake still come out fine?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Zoya, we don’t recommend reducing the cocoa powder here. It can be a very finicky ingredient, and decreasing (or increasing) the amount would require testing and tinkering with other ingredients to ensure best texture.

  14. WOW, WOW, WOW!!! I made this cake over the weekend and it was amazing! I held out a little bit of batter to see how it would do as a cupcake (just did enough for 2 cupcakes) and those were awesome as well!

    I have tried your “Super Moist choc cupcake” recipe and it was very good, but this cake batter made made even better cupcakes than those, in my opinion.

    Also – that filling was soooo good! I’ve been brainstorming to see what other cakes it would pair well with, and I plan to try it as a filling and topping for a carrot cake, with cream chz frosting on the sides…

  15. This cake was amazing.
    I made this for my father-in-law’s 94th birthday!!!
    His favorite cake is German Chocolate and this was such a nice surprise.
    It was super moist and the coconut/pecan filling was decadent.
    Thanks Sally.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      We’re thrilled to hear that your father-in-law loved this cake, Glenda – we wish him a happy 94th birthday 🙂

  16. Emily Zahora says:

    I’ve made this recipe twice for my dad, who loves German chocolate cake, and he said it was delicious. Thanks!

  17. Blakeley C Potts says:

    I made this for my dad’s birthday, He LOVED it!!! It was a very big hit, and it came out perfect.

  18. This cake is awesome! I made this German Chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday last year and he requested it again this year. I will post picture’s on Instagram (sillyfillyiam4) and Facebook I will hashtag you. Thanks for this and all your amazing recipes.

  19. I adore this dark chocholate cake base and use it for most of my cakes. Thank you so much for the recipes. You’re my go-to. I’ve made this German chocolate cake before – a favorite for many. My husband is not a huge fan of buttercream, do you suppose one could substitute and use the chocolate ganache (the one you suggested on top of your version of the black Forrest cake, for which I used bittersweet and it was Devine)? Thanks again!!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mia, chocolate ganache would be wonderful on this cake!

  20. Tamara Gatlin says:

    My 1st time baking a cake from scratch and I’m so glad I came across this recipe. It’s so much better than regular German Chocolate Cake! I’m not a huge fan of buttercream icing so I only used that for decorating the bottom and I used a chocolate ganache over the cake. It turned out beautifully and delicious!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      We’re thrilled to hear that this recipe was a success for you, Tamera. Thank you so much for giving it a try!

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