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 (spooned & 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-inch round 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, cake turntable, 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): 9-Inch Round Cake Pans | Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Cooling Rack | Cake Stand or Cake Turntable | Icing Spatula
- 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 sugar plum fairy cupcakes.
Keywords: german chocolate cake
Reader Comments & Reviews
Don’t skip the toasting of the pecans!!! So important to provide a deeper savory flavor to the sweet filling. Successful recipe
I recently made Sally’s lemon cake with the cream cheese buttercream icing and it was awesome. So I’m back to try this recipe and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to buy new sized pans for this recipe. Can I use my 8×2 round pans instead of 9×2? Would I just bake for a shorter period of time and have slightly more batter than necessary? I looked at the conversion chart but the sizes are so close there wasn’t an obvious answer and I’m afraid to mess anything up or overcook so I had to ask.
Hi Bekah, You can use this recipe exactly with no changes in 3, 8 inch pans. Your layers will be slightly thicker so it may take an extra minute or two of bake time but keep your eye on them and use a toothpick to test for doneness.
Best cake ive ever eaten/made!
My husband absolutely LOVES when I make him this cake!!! It’s his favorite cake in the world. I froze half of the cake and we enjoyed it again 3 months later. Thank you for all of your great recipes!
Can I use an 8 inch pan with the amount of cake batter in this recipe?
Hi Julie, You can use this recipe exactly with no changes in 3, 8 inch pans. Your layers will be slightly thicker so it may take an extra minute or two of bake time but keep your eye on them and use a toothpick to test for doneness.
I take issue with calling this a German Chocolate Cake. This is simply a chocolate cake with pecan filling. My most favorite cake is traditional German Chocolate Cake and if someone made this version for me, I would be disappointed. While I loved your Black Forest cake, Using that cake in this recipe is inappropriate. German Chocolate is notable for its lighter chocolate flavor and texture, something that I prefer. I will probably use your filling and butter crème icing recipes, but I will find a traditional light German chocolate cake recipe as the base.
This is cheap trick that otherwise good bakeries/bakers use to provide diversity in their menu without incurring the additional time and expense of another different recipe.
It is called a German Chocolate Cake because it was invented by Samuel German, not because it is a “German” recipe.
What are your thoughts on using cake flour?
Hi Lindsay, cake flour is too light. Cocoa powder is already so light, that pairing with cake flour wouldn’t produce a sturdy cake.
What happens if I use a whole egg instead of egg yolks?
The filling will thin out. I recommend using only egg yolks to keep the filling thick and stable, and so it doesn’t leak out the sides of the cake.
It’s good, but it’s not enough for 3 cakes, barely 2! Which was saddening
Can this cake be doubled and baked as an 11×15
Hi Kristie, here’s everything you need to know about cake pan sizes and conversions.
I just made this recipe and it is truly awesome! I cannot stop eating the gooey pecan and coconut filling! My question is does it have to be refrigerated? Usually my cakes are quite simple with buttercream icing and I keep them out for a few days as we are all eating them. But does this cake have to remain in the refrigerator?
Thanks for this scrumptious recipe!
Hi Randi, so glad you love this recipe! See the last step of storage instructions: Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
One of the best cakes I’ve made! Only recently started making cakes from scratch and this one turned out so delicious. It’s definitely going to be made again and again in my house
Hi could I use the coconut pecan filling in your coconut cake recipe
I made this for a Christmas party with a happy accident. First, I followed Sally’s suggestions to make this as cupcakes. Second, I am a fairly experienced baker and know full well the difference between condensed and evaporated milk, but I was in a hurry and grabbed the condensed milk by accident and added it to pot. I was annoyed, but then happily realized I had just made caramel! I pivoted and finished the soft caramel by mixing everything in Sally’s filling, except the coconut. I stirred and tested until I got a caramel that was soft enough to serve as a filling. I skipped the coconut entirely. I followed Sally’s video on how to remove a portion of a cupcake to prepare for a filling and filled each cooled cupcake with the caramel (about a teaspoon each). Then, I topped the caramel with a bit of Maldon sea salt and replaced the cone-shaped piece of cupcake (first removing the pointy tip – thanks, Sally). I lightly swirled caramel on top of each cupcake to serve as the “glue” for crushed pecans. Then I piped on the chocolate buttercream. People at the Christmas party asked the hostess if the person who made the cupcakes had a bakery. I don’t. I was proud as a peacock. 🙂 Thanks for all your amazing tips and recipes, Sally – you have given me a lot of confidence and make baking a breeze! Merry Christmas, everyone!
Made the real deal this time – precisely by the recipe. PERFECTION ❤
This cake recipe is THE BEST! From the cake to the filling to the frosting, it’s perfect. My master chef – (I’m not kidding, he’s a real master chef ) partner loves it when I make this cake. It’s his favorite.
Hello! I was wondering if you could give any insight into baking times to make this as a bundt cake? Also do you have an approximation of how many cups of batter this yields?
Hi Jen! You can use this cake batter for a Bundt cake. 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. You can simply use the pecan filling on top. Let us know how it turns out for you!
Thanks so much!
This is my go-to chocolate cake recipe! I get lots of compliments when I bake this moist & delicious chocolate cake!
Recently I made just the chocolate cake part of your recipe & paired it with a decadent chocolate French buttercream for a birthday cake! It was a big hit!
*(I was going to upload a pic, but that doesn’t appear to be an option.♀️)
So the only issue I’ve encountered, (although it’s easily resolved), is all 4 times I’ve made the chocolate cake part, if I follow the recipe exactly & add all the wet ingredients (or “liquid”) called for…the cake batter ends up being far too thin! To resolve this, I either; omit part of the coffee @ the end, or add more cacao powder to bring it back to a proper/good cake batter consistency. The solution is an easy one & I am tremendously thankful for your recipe! I am just wondering if anyone else has encountered this as well?
This cake was fantastic! I made it as a sheet cake; baked for 35 minutes. It was so moist and everyone raved about it. I did use only about 1 1/2 c. coconut in the frosting and it was plenty thick. If you like a ton of frosting, consider 1.5x the recipe for a sheet cake as you have very thick slices of cake for a fairly thin layer of frosting. However, I found each bite to be perfectly balanced and plenty sweet – more would have been too much for my palate.
I’m thinking of making this chocolate cake for my husband (just as a surprise for being so good to me), he loves chocolate cake! He is not crazy about nuts on cake, however. Anyway I can leave out the pecans and make the filling with just coconut? Or do you recommend I do the butter cream on all three layers instead?
Thank you so much for your recipe….can’t wait to try it!
Hi Diana, we haven’t tested this filling without pecans but you can try using more coconut to replace the pecans. Let us know how it goes!
I’m going to be making this cake today and can’t wait! I’m going to be making a mini 3 layer cake with the cupcake recipe, but for the pecan filling do I need to cut it in half or is the full recipe fine for the mini 3 layer?
Hi Nicole! We recommend making it as is, but you will have just a little bit left over. Enjoy!
Oh My….This sounds so delicious! My Son has a Birthday this month. This “Will” be his Cake !
I am going to give your recipe a try. Is this cake shelf stable or does it need to be refrigerated?
Hi Heidi, we recommend storing the assembled cake in the refrigerator for up to five days.
I’ve baked this cake two times already and I love it. The recipe is very clear and easy to follow. I’ll use less sugar in the future to experiment with the results because I generally prefer cakes to be less sweet than normal recipes.
I have a question. I made this cake for a friend…for her dad….can she freeze the cake until her dad gets home in a few days?
Hi Lesa! See recipe notes for make-ahead and freezing instructions. Enjoy!
I love your recipes. I want to make this cake for my son’s 17th birthday, as he is an exquisite baker. I was wondering can I leave out the coconut flakes as he is not a fan of coconut, and keep the pecans and of course the rest of the ingredients for the filling?
Thanks so much,
Hi Jasmine, we haven’t tried omitting the coconut before, but that should be fine. The filling may be a bit thinner but you could try replacing it with more pecans if desired. Let us know how it goes!
Thanks Lexi, for your kind and prompt reply. The cake turned out beautifully with just the pecans. I am so happy it turned out. My son loved it. Thanks again.
Can I substitute milk with vinegar or lemon juice if I don’t have buttermilk?
Hi Karen, see the recipe notes for a DIY buttermilk. Enjoy!
I made this last year for my boyfriend’s birthday and it was a big hit, it was so delicious! The cake is rich and moist, and the frosting and filling are perfection. I made it like the recipe with the buttercream on top. It’s the most delicious buttercream frosting I have ever had. I made it again this year with just the coconut pecan filling and put that on top. Everyone loved it and a couple friends asked me if I had ever thought of entering a baking contest! I also made a batch of cupcakes and put the buttercream on half of them in case anyone did not like coconut or had a nut allergy, and the coconut pecan on the rest. I just got a request to make it again at another family member’s birthday this month. My daughter is a trained pasty chef and I think she would be very proud of me! She lives in a different state so has not had an opportunity to try it yet.
What a cake!!! I made it into two 9″ pans instead of three. The batter itself was delish so just imagine the cake. The only thing with me was the frosting being too thick. Maybe next time I’ll use 1cup of coconut flakes instead of 1 1/2 or up the liquids. But all in all a great recipe 🙂
I liked this recipe however the coffee taste is definitely there in the cake and gives it a really strong flavor. Not bad, but I think next time I’ll just use hot water instead. We were all full after just a couple bites. I also think the coconut-pecan filling was too thick ; next time I’ll try only adding 1 to 1 1/2 cups of coconut.
Can this specific cake recipe be used to make cupcakes or mini cupcakes?
Yes, absolutely! It yields a large amount of batter for cupcakes.
What would the bake time and temp be for mini cupcakes?
Fill mini liners only halfway and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350°F (177°C). This recipe will make a TON of cupcakes. For a smaller batch you can use our chocolate cupcakes batter – you would get about 3 dozen mini cupcakes from that recipe.
I made this cake for my dads birthday. I used this recipe in place of my moms old stand by German chocolate cake recipe. This recipe was hands down better than moms (sorry mom). My sister has already put in the request to have me make it for her bday.
I made the cake layers and filling, and frosting the day before. Then, let frosting and filling come to room temp and assembled the next day.
One of the tastiest and most impressive cakes I have ever made.
I used a kitchen scale to assure accuracy and even layers. 🙂
Hi Sally, recipe is to die for. I have made it for a trial for my son and future daughter in law’s wedding cake. If possible could you help me please. I’m trying to work out the quantities for a 12inch round cake tin for a 3-4 layer sponge. I live in the U.K . As you can guess I don’t use measurement cups.
Hi Sandra, so glad you’re loving this recipe! Here is everything you need to know about cake pan sizes and conversions, so that you can scale this recipe for your needs.
I am making this Cake but my 9 inch pans are 9 x 1 1/2, not 9 x 2. Will this work out without a problem?
Hi Carol! These aren’t super thick layers so you should be OK to use your 9 x 1 1/2 inch pans.
Great recipe. Super rich. My husband detected the coffee in the cake. I made a mistake when adding the evaporated milk (used an entire can, which is 340ml here in NZ), so then I had to double the remainder the of ingredients. I made the full buttercream frosting and only needed half. So now that I have more of the filling and more frosting, I’d like to make a German Chocolate sheet cake because we are having a party. Do you think your cake recipe will work as a sheet cake?
Hi Jeri, You can bake this cake as a 9×13 sheet cake instead. See the recipe notes for details.