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!
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!
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.
If you’ve tried my tuxedo cake, black forest cake, chocolate raspberry 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:
- brown sugar
- egg yolks
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.
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.
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!
Upgraded German Chocolate Cake
- 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
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!
- 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
- use this chocolate buttercream for a naked-style cake
- use this chocolate buttercream for frosting the top and sides
- optional for garnish: extra toasted pecans and sweetened shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9×2 inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- 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.
- Why Room Temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read more about the importance of room temperature ingredients. Instead of sour cream, try using plain yogurt. The cake won’t taste as rich, but it’s a fine substitution.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 Comments & Reviews
If I use 8″ pans will they over flow? Should I make some cupcakes?
You can use 8 inch pans – your cake will just sit a little taller. Enjoy!
Is the espresso powder used any instant espresso powder?
Yes– any brand espresso powder would be great here.
My 15 yo daughter won a local cake baking competition with this recipe! The judges said they could eat the filling by the spoonful, it was that delicious. The cake was rich and moist–I love the addition of espresso powder or freshly brewed coffee. And topped off with that decadent but somehow light buttercream… I’m so glad we tried this recipe instead of the standard German chocolate baking squares recipe. Delightful twist! Thank you.
This recipe is perfect.. I made it for my husbands birthday.. everyone loved it..! He couldn’t stop praising it.. This is the best German chocolate recipe I’ve come across.. the only modifications I made was- 1.for the coconut filling , I couldn’t get evaporated milk so I used condensed milk instead and omitted the brown sugar. 2. For the frosting I used a recipe of chocolate fudge buttercream..
I made this cake in a 9 x 13 pan. It was easy and delicious. I used the espresso powder but not coffee. I also made buttermilk using almond milk. It worked out great. I also used 1 cup of unsweetened coconut and 1 cup of sweetened. The frosting was good but wasn’t easy to spread. I may have cooked it too long or something. I would definitely make this chocolate cake again and experiment with different frostings. Thanks!
I love all your recipes, Sally! I always bring my baked goods into work, and one of my coworkers wanted to make a German chocolate cake for her husband for Father’s Day. I had her and her twelve year-old daughter over to make this cake and we all had so much fun! Her daughter was involved in every step and gained so much confidence learning how to bake from scratch! 🙂 The cake turned out fantastic, and I think we’ll all be baking more of your recipes together in the future! Thank you, Sally!
I was planning to make this the night before as a birthday cake for my dad as German chocolate cake is his favorite. Would you recommend taking this out of the refrigerator a while before serving so it’s not cold or would that make it too difficult to slice? Also, will the cake still taste moist and fresh the next day?
Hi Tina! If you add a light coating of frosting around the cake, it will remain extra moist overnight in the refrigerator. I recommend serving closer to room temperature, not cold.
Does this need to be refrigerated? If so, would leaving the cake naked and putting it in the fridge dry it out a ton? Would frosting the whole cake make it more moist?
Hi Jenny! Refrigerating is best. Frosting the entire cake does keep it moister over time as the cake sits. If you’re not serving right away, that may be the better option.
This cake is absolutely, positively the BEST chocolate cake I have ever tasted!! My family couldn’t stop raving about it, it was the biggest hit! 100% recommended 🙂
First off, this recipe is fantastic… definitely recommend it! I wanted to leave a review with my personal goof-up in case anyone else did the same thing.
I wasn’t paying attention when I made the filling, and I accidentally dumped in a can of evaporated milk that was 12 oz instead of 8 oz. ROOKIE MISTAKE. I was whisking and whisking, but it wasn’t thickening. That’s when I looked at the can and almost smacked myself in the forehead with the whisk. 4 extra ounces of evap milk was not doing me any favors. So I turned the heat on the pot down to a bare simmer, and then quickly cracked an egg yolk into a small bowl, added about 2 more tbsp of brown sugar, whisked it, and then tempered some of the hot filling liquid into it so I didn’t scramble the yolk. Then I added that mix back to the pot, and sure enough, it started thickening within a few more minutes of whisking. It came together perfectly after that and tasted delicious. (My stirring arm got a nice long workout too.) I had a little extra filling but hey, who’s complaining about that?? 🙂
I made a double batch, 2-layer 9×13 for a Farewell Party. Everyone raved and said it was delicious. When I doubled the filling recipe I used one cup of light brown sugar and one cup of granulated sugar.
whats the difference between this one and your triple chocolate cake?
The cake layers themselves are very similar. The biggest difference is the amazing pecan filling in this recipe!
Can I use raw cacao powder in place of the unsweetened cocoa powder?
Hi Jennifer! Normally I would say yes, but this is a large amount of cocoa powder and that substitution will affect how the cake turns out. I recommend sticking to natural unsweetened cocoa powder.
Made these cakes twice. Neither time would they come out of the pans. The first time I greased, the second time I greased and floured. It made no difference. Despite testing done the bottoms were clearly still too moist and stuck so badly that one layer ripped in half both times.
Hi Kris! Thank you so much for trying the German chocolate cake recipe. Sorry your cakes were sticking. If you decide to try again, parchment paper rounds help guarantee cakes release from pans. You can cut 9-inch circles from parchment paper. Grease the pans, place them in, then grease the parchment.
Sally, you’ve done it again! I absolutely love German Chocolate cake and this recipe is perfection. The cake is light and moist without being too sweet. The filling adds a nice sweetness that’s more exciting than plain frosting. I have baked quite a few of your recipes, but this one stands out as a favorite. Thanks as always for sharing!
This cake is hard to put in words! It is so good! I really like the idea of putting the filling between the layers! It makes the cake 100% more moist and then the filling is in every bite! It is so easy to make too! I made it for my mom for her birthday today and she said it just melts in her mouth! Yum! Thank you so much! We all loved it!
I made the 9 x 13 version of the cake and brought it in to work for a co-worker’s birthday. I got a TON of rave reviews, and no wonder! It will now be my go-to chocolate cake. Your book and this blog are fantastic. Thank you, Sally 🙂
I made this cake this weekend and it was amazing! I have big chocolate lovers in my family and this cake hit all the right notes. Rich but not too sweet. Delicious!! Thanks for sharing.
Hi Sally! How much coconut pecan filling does this recipe make? Would there be enough to ice the top of the cake as well (instead of the chocolate buttercream) or just in between the layers?
Hi Anna! I didn’t measure the quantity of the coconut pecan filling, but you could probably get by with thinner layers of it so there is enough for the topping too. I layered it on thick in these photos!
I decided to make this cake this last weekend for family coming into town. We loved it. I made it as a9x13 cake. I couldn’t believe how soft the cake was. And that pecan filling was so delicious. Thank you so much, Sally!
I made this at work ( I am a cook) to have as a dessert. I was pretty frustrated because mine fell in the middle and it crumbled while I was putting it together. I managed to get it together and the pecan filling helped hold it together along with the frosting. I put it into the walk in refrigerator and left it until today. It tasted great, but I was really disappointed it didn’t bake up nicely. I was worried I would be wasting the money and ingredients at work. That wouldn’t have gone over well with the boss.
Now I am wondering if it is an altitude issue or something like that. We are at 2700 ft. Not sure what the problem was. Sigh….Thankfully we are still able to sell it. As long as it stays refrigerated it seems to hold together better.
Well, to say I am in love is an understatement! Never in my life have I had such decadent German Chocolate cake. As it’s just my hubby and I was able to freeze half the cake as well as the frosting (in two separate bags) only to bring it out a week later and have it just as yummy as the first go.
We are attending a diner party Saturday. I am thrilled to be bringing my new found love!
Another absolutely superb recipe Sally. I made this yesterday and honestly could not be more thrilled. It is everything I had hoped for and more. Moist, decadent, delicious gooey coconut and pecan nut filling…OMW….absolutely delicious !!! This definitely will not last long in my house. Thank you so much. Have a beautiful day.
I made this this weekend for my daughter-in-laws birthday!!! A COMPLETE hit!! 😀 Just have to add, that my husband’s birthday was last weekend, so he got the triple chocolate cake! I am getting a serious reputation as “the cake lady”!! 😀
Hi Sally, how different is this in texture to the Triple Chocolate Cake?
Just a TEENY bit denser 🙂
Can I make this cake recipe into cupcakes as well?
Sure can! See my note.