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
Hi, can I double this recipe for 2 10 inch pans?
Hi Monet, here’s everything you need to know about cake pan sizes and conversions.
I accidentally left my filling out overnight. Is it still okay to use ?
Hi Alex, we would recommend making the filling again.
IMO if it’s not made with German’s chocolate, it isn’t a German chocolate cake. This cake was created to sell the German brand of chocolate. When the company got bought out by the big chocolate companies, this cake has kept the brand of chocolate alive. IMO it’s the best chocolate cake because it lacks the bitterness in most chocolate cakes, and has a creamy milky flavor that reminds me of old Cadbury chocolate you get in England. The cake should have a mild, milky chocolate flavor.
I made this cake for my husband. He is from Austria, loves German Chocolate Cake. This was the best ever.
Hello, I have tried the recipe twice now and for some reason it keeps sinking in the middle. The first time I filled the cake pans too much and it got to heavy. I weigh out all my ingredients to make sure they’re just right. The second time my egg and milk wasn’t 100% room temperature. The batter looks great and the cakes taste great but it still sinks.
Hi Ashtin! Are you using three 9 inch cake pans? Using different pans can lead to too much batter in the cake pans, which will make the cakes sink.
Yes, I use my 9 in round pans. But I only have two so I split up the batter the second time around and they still sunk. The only other thing I could think of was to cook them 1 at a time. To see if they’re not cooking right in my oven with the two cake pans
Using two cake pans means there is too much batter in the pans, causing the sinking. We would bake in three layers as instructed – you can leave the last 1/3 of the batter covered at room temperature while you wait to use one of your pans for the third layer.
I am completely blown away. My whole family was blown away. This recipe was absolutely outstanding and each component came out flawlessly. I added a healthy pinch of sea salt to both the chocolate buttercream and the coconut pecan filling and I garnished the cake with more toasted pecans and toasted coconut chips. This is going to be our new go-to birthday cake. Thank you so much for this recipe!!
So glad this cake was a hit with your family, Clare!
I love this cake!! I’ve made it many times for birthdays and special occasions. My only issue I’ve run into is that my cake is so crumbly and can be difficult to frost without tearing. I freeze the cake usually 24 hours before frosting. I also live in high altitude so maybe that makes a difference? I’ve wondered if I should use cake flour instead of all-purpose? I hate to change the recipe but definitely need some advice on what to do. Help, please! Thoughts? Thank you!
Hi Becky! Cake flour isn’t the best for chocolate cakes, it’s too delicate when combined with cocoa powder. We have no experience baking at high altitude but some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html
I made this cake last year and plan to do so again this weekend for a birthday. Everyone raved about it last year! The only part I had trouble with was the buttercream frosting. My cake seemed somewhat sticky when I went to frost (it was completely cooled) and spreading the buttercream over it sort of tore the cake apart. Anything you’d recommend to avoid that happening this time?
Hi Laura, that’s pretty common for chocolate cakes. Use an extra gentle hand and try scooping the frosting on evenly over the top of the cake, then spreading it around so you’re not spreading the frosting as much over the cake and that should help prevent tearing. Hope this helps!
THIS IS THE RECIPE!! I made it for a friend’s birthday. Everyone LOVED it. I was beautiful, moist, tasty, rich and altogether lovely. I will definatley be using this recipe again.
I’ve never been disappointed with any recipe from your site and this is my husband’s fav so I tried the icing last April and am here to try the whole thing this time! I see on the Google thumbnail and above that “Total Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes” – I am pretty sure it is just a mistake but IF I am missing where that extra time is added, please let me know!
Hi Tia, that is the total time to include preparing, baking, cooling, assembling, and then the 45 minutes of refrigerating before cutting. Hope the cake is a hit!
This is an impressive dessert. I followed the instructions and it was simple and delicious. My guests LOVED it.
German chocolate cake is my dad’s favorite and it was all he wanted for his birthday this year. I made this recipe (without the espresso powder because I did not have any, but with strong coffee) and the whole family loved it. My dad swore up and down it was the best German chocolate cake he had ever had. It was perfectly moist and airy, and very chocolatey without being rich. He has requested that I make this cake for all his birthdays from now on.
Hi Sally could I put a small layer of the chocolate buttercream on top of sheet cake then put coconut frosting on top
Hi Gina, absolutely!
The batter barely covered the bottom of the 9 inch pans so I just used two. If I make it again I’ll use 3 8 inch pans
I’ve made this recipe before and i absolutely love it, I’m wanting to make it again but in 6 x 2 instead, just wondering about the bake time for this?
Hi NaNessa, this would be too much batter for 6 inch cake pans. Here is everything you need to know about converting recipes to different Cake Pan Sizes. Our chocolate cupcakes batter works perfectly as a three layer 6 inch cake if you would like a three layer cake. More on baking 6 inch cakes in this post!
This is my go to german chocolate cake recipe! I was wondering would this amount of coconut pecan filling be enough for a half sheet (12×18) two layer cake? Or should I double it?
Hi Adiba! We would double it, you may have a little extra, depending on how thick you would like the layer to be. Happy baking!
Holy cow – I don’t like German Choc cake, but I made for my dad’s birthday as its his favorite…and I LOVE this recipe!!! I could literally just eat that filling – was easier than I thought and so so good. Thinking about turning this fabulous cake into 2 bite cupcakes, as it is very decedent…but still so amazing!!
Baked it and is absolutely decadent, I love it.
But my filling is far from vibrant yellow on the pictures, just brown. I did it by recipe, so any advice on making creme?
Also if anyone is looking for pecan substitute, macadamia worked pretty well.
Would love to make this, can I make a substitution for the pecans (nut allergy)? What would you suggest? If omitting pecans altogether, would I need to use less evaporated milk and/or eggs?
Hi Marisa, 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!
May I use dark chocolate cocoa powder instead of plain chocolate? Or maybe half of each? My mom loves dark chocolate and it’s for her birthday. Thanks!
Hi Trish, unsweetened natural cocoa powder is required for this recipe, and dark chocolate cocoa powder is typically Dutch process. For best results, we recommend sticking with unnatural sweetened cocoa powder (the cake is still plenty dark and rich!). You could try doing half and half, but we haven’t tested it to know just how it will turn out. If you’re interested, here is more on the difference between natural and Dutch process cocoa powder. Let us know what you decide to try!
What’s left over cake never ever had any
Hi, can I substitute vegan yogurt for the sour cream? And coconut condensed milk and do less sugar? I can’t do dairy.
Hi Cheri! We haven’t tested those dairy free substitutes, but let us know if you do!
Could this cake be used in a 2 tier cake? I’m making a cakes for my grandson’s birthday. One tier will be kid themed the other adult
Hi Sarah, there is too much batter here to use it all in 2, 9 inch pans, but you can make two layers (filling the pans about half way) and then use the leftover batter for a few cupcakes.
I want to make this with two tiers! Thinking 2 9 by 2 layers and 2 4.5 by 2 layers on top. If I put straws or dowels to hold it in place, do you think it will be fine? I would keep recipe the same and just split the third layer between the two 4.5 pans.
Should be just fine, especially with dowels.
All my family could say was “Wow!” This was the best chocolate cake I have ever had. Thank you!