Tender and moist, this German Chocolate Cake features two chocolate cakes layered with a toasted coconut pecan frosting and chocolate buttercream. It’s a rich, decadent, showstopper dessert, perfect for special occasions.
The Best German Chocolate Cake Recipe
This German Chocolate Cake recipe is absolutely amazing. It turns a classic chocolate cake recipe into a rich, decadent dessert that guests will be talking about for days to come.
This cake is extremely moist and tender but still stands up to both of the yummy frostings. There’s a decent amount of steps involved and the cake and pecan frosting must cool before making the buttercream or assembling the cake, but it is not difficult at all. I tend to make the cake and pecan frosting in the morning, then come back to assemble it in the afternoon.
I also take the added steps of toasting the pecans and coconut flakes. It takes under 10 minutes and really elevates the flavor so much.
What Is German Chocolate Cake?
German chocolate cake is a moist, decadent chocolate layer cake covered with coconut pecan frosting and chocolate buttercream. It did not originate in Germany but rather the name comes from Sam German, who created the sweet baking chocolate for a company in Boston.
German chocolate cake is made with melted chocolate in the batter, unlike most chocolate cakes that are made with cocoa powder. The other key to a good German chocolate cake is the German chocolate cake frosting, which is made with toasted pecans and coconut. It’s layered between the two cakes, as well as spread on top. I also add chocolate buttercream for an even richer flavor, though that does not appear on all German chocolate cakes.
Besides the German chocolate, this chocolate cake recipe is made with pretty basic pantry staples. Though the list looks long, many ingredients repeat on both the cake and frosting lists.
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- All-purpose flour – Use the spoon and level technique for accurate measuring.
- Baking powder & baking soda – Helps the cake rise and creates the soft, moist texture.
- Sea salt – To heighten the other flavors.
- Sugars – Both granulated sugar and light brown sugar are used in this recipe for the perfect sweetness.
- Vegetable oil – Helps to keep the cake moist.
- Eggs – Gives the batter structure.
- Buttermilk – Buttermilk helps create a tender, moist cake.
- Vanilla extract – For flavor.
- German baking chocolate – Gives the cake the rich chocolate flavor.
- Boiling water
Pecan Coconut Frosting:
- Sugars – Both brown sugar and granulated sugar are also used in the pecan coconut frosting.
- Butter – For rich flavor and creamy texture.
- Egg yolks – Discard the egg whites or use them in another dessert, like coconut macaroons.
- Evaporated milk – Provides moisture and flavor.
- Vanilla – For flavor.
- Toasted sweetened coconut flakes – See directions below for toasting.
- Toasted chopped pecans – See the directions below for toasting the pecans.
- Unsalted butter – Softened to room temp, so that it whips up nicely.
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips – Melted and cooled.
- Powdered sugar – For sweetness and a smooth texture.
- Vanilla extract – For flavor.
- Whole milk – 2% would work, though whole milk is best. Skim milk is too thin.
- Pecan halves – An optional garnish but they add a nice presentation.
What If I Can’t Find German Chocolate?
What makes this a German chocolate cake, is using actual German chocolate otherwise it’s just a chocolate cake with the frosting. It is still extremely delicious but not a traditional “German Chocolate Cake”. German baking chocolate can be found in most stores, but if you can’t find it, you can use semi-sweet or dark chocolate instead.
How to Toast Pecans
Toasting the pecans for the frosting is super easy.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Then spread the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until aromatic. Be sure to turn every 2 minutes to prevent burning.
- Cool. Immediately place them on a room temperature plate as they will continue to toast while hot.
How to Toast Coconut
Toasting coconut is pretty similar to toasting pecans.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread the coconut flakes in a single layer.
- Bake. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until they start to brown. I always pull my coconut a shade or two before what I want in the end because it does keep getting more brown as it cools.
- Cool. Immediately transfer the coconut to a room temperature plate as they will continue to toast while hot.
How to Make German Chocolate Cake
Making this decadent chocolate cake is easier than you may think.
(Scroll down to the printable recipe card for details and measurements, and don’t miss the video below.)
- Make the cake batter. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugars, oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk in the melted chocolate to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and whisk until there are no clumps. Pour in the boiling water. Whisk again.
- Bake. Evenly distribute the batter between two greased cake pans lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375F for 23 to 28 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
- Make the pecan frosting. Add the sugars, butter, evaporated milk, and egg yolks into a saucepan. Whisk until combined (chunks of butter are okay) and cook over medium heat. Whisk constantly until it comes to a low boil. Continue whisking for another minute as it thickens.
- Cool the frosting. Remove the frosting mixture from heat. Stir in the vanilla, toasted coconut, and toasted pecans. Cool to room temperature.
- Make the chocolate buttercream. After the cake and pecan frosting are cool, move on to making the buttercream. Cream the butter and melted chocolate until smooth, then slowly add in the powdered sugar. Stir in the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk. Whip for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add extra milk if needed.
- Assemble the cakes. Trim the cake tops off if uneven. Place one cake onto the serving platter. Frost with a thin layer of butter cream, then top with half of the coconut pecan frosting, leaving a half-inch border.
- Add the second cake. Place the second cake on top. Frost with a thin layer of chocolate frosting on top of the cake, as well as the sides. Add the remaining pecan frosting on top.
- Finish frosting. Pipe the remaining chocolate frosting around the edge of the cake. Garnish with pecan halves. Enjoy.
Do I Need To Make Both Frostings?
The chocolate buttercream is completely optional but adds a delicious and polished finishing touch to the cake. If you don’t want to make the frosting, I suggest cutting back to just 1 & 1/2 times the recipe for the coconut pecan frosting. Still, add 1/2 of the coconut pecan frosting between the layers and then on top. It will end up being more of a “naked” cake.
Tips & FAQs
Here are a few tips for making the best German chocolate cake, along with some commonly asked questions.
- How to measure out boiling water. I always put more water than what I will need into a small pot, then measure it once it comes to a boil, then pour it into the batter. Be careful though as it is extremely hot.
- What do I do if the buttercream is too thick? If the buttercream is too thick after whipping it, add in the 3rd tablespoon of milk and whip it to incorporate it. I always start with 2 tablespoons then add more as needed, as sometimes it’s not necessary.
- How do I know when the chocolate cake is done? Like with most cakes, the easiest way to tell when your German chocolate cake is finished is to insert a toothpick in the center. If it comes out with no crumbs, the cake is ready.
- Use German chocolate in the buttercream. For a delicious twist, use melted German chocolate in the chocolate buttercream instead of semisweet.
- Do I need to toast the pecans and coconut? I toast the pecans and coconut because it adds a huge dimension of flavor to the coconut pecan frosting. I highly suggest doing this step if you have time. If not, you can just use sweetened coconut flakes out of the bag along with chopped pecans.
Video: German Chocolate Cake Recipe
Serving and Proper Storage
- To serve. This layered German chocolate cake is best enjoyed at room temperature but I find it easier to slice if it is chilled. So before serving, I like to chill it in the fridge, then slice it, then allow it to come back to room temperature before serving.
- Storing leftovers. Leftover German chocolate cake will stay fresh at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the fridge for up to a week. In either case, you’ll want to keep it in an airtight covered container.
- To freeze. You can also freeze this chocolate cake for up to 3 months. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and also foil to prevent freezer burn. Thaw on the counter or overnight in the fridge.
More Chocolate Cake Recipes:
- Chocolate Pound Cake
- Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
- Kahlua Coffee Chocolate Poke Cake
- Chocolate Icebox Cake
- Chocolate Mocha Cheesecake
German Chocolate Cake
FOR THE CAKE
- 1 & 3/4 cups cups all-purpose flour , spooned and leveled
- 1 & 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 & 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 & 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar , packed
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 ounces German baking chocolate , chopped and melted
- 1 cup boiling water
FOR THE PECAN COCONUT FROSTING
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar , packed
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 & 1/4 cups toasted sweetened coconut flakes
- 1 & 1/4 cups toasted chopped pecans
FOR THE CHOCOLATE FROSTING
- 1 cup unsalted butter , softened
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips , melted and cooled
- 4 & 1/3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons whole milk
- pecan halves , for garnish, optional
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray 2, 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray. Place parchment paper in the bottom of the pan. Spray the top of the paper with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sugar, brown sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla until smooth. Whisk in the melted chocolate until combined.
- Pour the wet mixture into the dry and whisk together until there are no lumps. Pour in the boiling water and whisk to combine.
- Evenly distribute the batter between the two cake pans. Bake for 23-28 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
- While the cakes are cooling, make the pecan coconut frosting:Dump the brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, egg yolks, and evaporated milk in small pot. (Whisk until combined, there will be chunks of butter, that’s okay.)Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until it comes to a low boil. Continue to whisk until it starts to thicken, about 1 minute.Take off the heat and add the vanilla, toasted coconut, and toasted pecans and stir it in until combined. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Once the cakes and pecan coconut frosting are cooled, make the chocolate buttercream:In the body of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and the melted chocolate together until smooth. Add the powdered sugar in a little at a time until fully mixed in.Add the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk. Stir it in until combined. With the mixer on medium-high speed, whip for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. If the frosting seems too thick, add the extra 1 tablespoon of milk.
- Take the cooled cakes out of the pan and trim off the top if it is uneven. Place one of the cakes bottom side down onto your serving platter.
- Frost with a thin layer of chocolate buttercream on top of the cake. Add half of the coconut pecan frosting on top and smooth it out almost to the edge, leaving a half-inch border.
- Add the other cake, top side down on top. Add a thin layer of chocolate frosting on top and on the sides of the cake.
- Add the remaining coconut pecan frosting on top of the cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
- Pipe the remaining chocolate frosting around the top edge of the cake (I used a 1M star tip.) Garnish with pecans halves if desired. Serve immediately