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.

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

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!

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 (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.

409 Comments

  1. I have a question. If I melted butter to use instead of the oil would this still work for the cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi April, I recommend sticking with oil in this cake– it’s the power ingredient providing a lot of moisture to the baked cake. You can try replacing with melted butter, but the cake will taste different.

      1. This recipe is fantastic — I made a few major adjustments, nonetheless.

        For the batter:
        – Mixture of pure cane sugar, coconut sugar, and molasses for sugar
        – Pork lard, coconut oil, and canola oil mixture for fat
        – Homemade goat milk buttermilk

        For the filling:
        – Same sugar mixture as above
        – 85 grams’ worth of brown butter + 30 grams of plain butter
        – Evaporated goat milk
        – Unsweetened toasted coconut with some plain coconut flakes

        For the icing:
        – Same as the naked buttercream recipe but with homemade pure cane powdered sugar, part lard/ part butter

        11/10 — some of the best cake I’ve ever had, honestly.

  2. Jennifer McConville says:

    Can I use walnuts instead of pecans? We have pecan allergies in my family. Thanks!

    1. Absolutely. Same amount.

  3. Shinta Oetama says:

    Can I just half the recipe and turn this into a 6 inch-cake?

  4. Angie Slensker says:

    This is quite possibly the best cake I have ever tasted, and not just cause I made but because it truly is amazing. Its very dense, and moist.

  5. If I’m not using coconut for the frosting should I add more pecans? Is the icing going to thicken up without the coconut?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Patti, 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. sounds delicious but not german’s chocolate cake at all, german’s chocolate must be present in the recipe for it to be german’s chocolate cake. coconut and pecan frosting is not what makes it a german’s chocolate cake. Nonetheless it still sounds like a great chocolate cake.

    1. Hi Raine,

      Here’s a read for ya.

      Its roots can be traced back to 1852 when American baker Samuel German developed a type of dark baking chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. … The possessive form (German’s) was dropped in subsequent publications, forming the “German Chocolate Cake” identity and giving the false impression of a German origin.

      So not sure if what you said is correct. It’s the style of baking rather than the chocolate used.

  7. Hi Sally,

    I would like to make this in a Bundt pan. Do you know of any adjustments I would need to make?

    Thank you.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Donna! You can use this cake batter for a bundt cake, but we don’t recommend adding the filling and cooking it inside. We’re unsure of the exact bake time, but we would expect it to be a bit longer because of the pan. Keep a close eye on it, and use a toothpick to test for doneness. Let us know how it turns out for you!

  8. Jennifer Battaglia says:

    Could I replace the pecans with hazelnuts or chopped heath bars? Not a big fan of coconuts. Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jennifer, You can certainly replace the pecans with hazelnuts or chopped heath bars. If leaving out the coconut, we’d recommend only adding 1 and 1/2 cups extra nuts or chopped heath bars. Let us know how it turns out for you!

  9. Nancy Collins says:

    Can I use unsweetened coconut?

  10. Jacinta Wilkins-Blodgett says:

    It was enjoyed by all! Thanks for a great recipe.

  11. I love the chocolate cake but the filling is a bit too sweet for my taste. In my opinion it doesn’t really pair well with it, I was expecting maybe a creamier filling. I did end up getting a couple chunks of cooked egg yolk by having my heat too high but there were only a couple and i removed them just fine. It does look great on the table tho, I used the naked cake version and sprinkled coconut on top.

  12. One of the best cakes I have ever made! My whole family loved it. Thanks for the recipe.

  13. I had a birthday request for German Chocolate Cake. I am so glad I chose THIS recipe. It was really delicious! I have been cooking and baking for a long time but baking is not my strength. This recipe was easy to follow and turned out perfect! It was rich, moist and has a wonderful deep chocolate flavor. Thank you!

  14. I made this cake today. I am so glad I found this recipe. I made it for my dad’s birthday. This cake is so deliciously soft and chocolatey. I used the chocolate buttercream frosting recipe listed. My cake came out perfect. I was in heaven with each bite. Thanks so much!

  15. Hello Sally,
    Am making this cake for a birthday today but just noticed when I added the coconut and nuts to the coconut pecan filling, the cooked mixture curdled. Why did this happen? I did stir for the full 5 minutes. Thanks so much for your help. I will let you know how my cousin and her family like this!

    1. Hi Ruth, I’m unsure why that happened. I wonder if it was actually over-cooked? Regardless, if it ever happens again, see if you can put it all back on low heat and whisk or stir until it smooths out and comes back together.

  16. Hello Sally,

    I’m taking this on a trip. Can I freeze it? We’re making it Wednesday and traveling Friday. Or do you recommend another way to keep it fresh?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sandy, you have a couple options here. This cake will stay well if covered tightly and left in the refrigerator for up to five days. If you’ll be enjoying the cake shortly after traveling, this might be your best bet. You could also prepare the layers and filling / frosting ahead of time — see make ahead details in the recipe notes — and assemble once arrived. You could also freeze the decorated cake and thaw once you arrive. It all depends on your preference and what works best for your plans. I hope this is helpful!

  17. I want to make 1.5x the amount of filling. How many egg yolks should I use?

  18. Dana Fernandez says:

    Crazy good!! I wish I could download a picture. I put it on a wood board with sprinkled chopped pecans and coconut all around the board. Frosted the sides only, dark cake on top bare for about a half inch in, then the filling on top is sprinkled with peacans and coconut as well. Very modern presentation for a old school cake. A HUGH hit with the crowd!!!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      So happy this cake was a hit, Dana!

  19. Sally, this recipe is simply amazing!

    I have struggled with chocolate cakes for so long that I had literally given up but I tried yours today and it was moist, indulgent and delicious.

    Thank you so much. I love your recipes

  20. We don’t have sweetened shredded coconut in NZ . Can I use the unsweetened one ? Do I need to modify anything from the recipe?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mye, you can use unsweetened without any modifications. The filling is sweet no matter what since you’re using brown sugar.

  21. Hi there! I need to make this cake for my stepdads birthday tomorrow. I LOVE cake and sugar. I have a huge sweet tooth. I’m sure I’ll love this cake, however my mom and stepdad are more sensitive to super sweet things. Although this is the cake he requested, can I put in less sugar? Because you mentioned the filling is fairly sweet. How would you recommend I go about decreasing the sugar content in this cake as a whole? Thank you! ❤️

    1. Hi Courtney, I’m glad to help as much as I can. Sugar does more than sweeten a cake– it provides moisture and structure, too. I haven’t tested this, but you can try leaving out about 1/3 cup of sugar from the cake batter and 1/4 cup from the filling.

  22. Jewelia Del Real says:

    Hello! This recipe sounds amazing and I’m planning to make it as a mini birthday cake. I’m going to use four 4 inch mini cake pans. What do you recommend I cut the recipe down to?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jewelia, you can use this guide to find out how much batter you’ll need!

      1. Jewelia Del Real says:

        Thank you so much. This was helpful!!

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