How to Make the Best-Ever German Chocolate Cake

updated Feb 5, 2020
Valentine's Day
German Chocolate Cake

A step-by-step recipe for making a classic German chocolate cake, complete with a gooey coconut-pecan filling and a creamy chocolate frosting.

Serves12

Makes1 (9-inch) layer cake

Prep40 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 40 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Nothing quite compares to a slice of German chocolate cake. It’s gooey, nutty, and deliciously chocolate-y all at once — and our version of the classic is the very best one you can make. It’s decadent but not too rich, and it’s impressive to look at but easy to pull off.

It’s also extremely balanced: Each of the cake’s three components was created with the rest of the layers in mind. To counter the sweetness of the coconut-packed stovetop filling, for example, the cake itself is made with tangy buttermilk, and the frosting is made with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Here’s how to make the absolute best German chocolate cake from scratch.

What Is German Chocolate Cake?

Contrary to popular belief, German chocolate cake is not actually German. Rather, it was inspired by an American named Sam German. The classic combination of rich chocolate cake and sweet coconut-pecan filling became so popular that a chocolate company (German’s Chocolate) was named after him.

While you’ll find iterations of the cake in countless shapes and sizes, it always includes chocolate, pecans, and coconut. We like to pipe a border of frosting around the top of the cake to help contain the filling, but it’s totally up to you how you want to decorate your cake.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3 Tips for the Best German Chocolate Cake Ever

Before you head into the kitchen to bake this cake, keep these tips in mind:

1. Use a high-quality semisweet chocolate: The predominant flavor of the cake is the chocolate, so you want to use one that tastes really good. For this recipe we recommend using semisweet chocolate that’s around 60 percent cocoa solids, which gives the cake a strong chocolate flavor without being bitter. Our favorite brands are Ghirardelli, Valrhona, or Scharffen Berger.

2. Bring the cake ingredients to room temperature before making the batter: Because you’ll add warm melted chocolate to the cake batter, it’s important that all of the ingredients for the batter are at room temperature. If your eggs or butter are too cold, you run the risk of the batter splitting. (If this does happen, you can still bake the cake — but the texture of the baked cake might be a bit denser).

3. Toast your pecans: This recipe calls for toasted pecans, which add a deep, nutty flavor to the cake. If you only have raw pecans on hand, you can quickly toast them by placing them in a medium skillet over medium heat and toasting them until they’re fragrant and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Difference Between Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

The filling for this cake calls for one cup evaporated milk — not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk. Both products are concentrated milk products with about 60 percent of their water content removed, which makes them perfect for recipes where you don’t want to add too much moisture (like the filling for this cake). But sweetened condensed milk is too thick to use in this recipe and would make the filling cloyingly sweet. When shopping for your ingredients, double-check that the label says evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
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Here is how to make the best German chocolate cake.

German Chocolate Cake

A step-by-step recipe for making a classic German chocolate cake, complete with a gooey coconut-pecan filling and a creamy chocolate frosting.

Prep time 40 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Makes 1 (9-inch) layer cake

Serves 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 sticks

    (1 cup) unsalted butter

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1 cup

    full-fat buttermilk

  • 4 ounces

    semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • Cooking spray

  • 2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 2 1/4 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

For the filling:

  • 1 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3

    large egg yolks

  • 1 cup

    evaporated milk

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 cups

    chopped, toasted pecans (see Recipe Notes)

  • 1 packed cup

    coarsely shredded, unsweetened coconut

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks

    (1 cup) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup

    unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/4 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3 1/2 cups

    powdered sugar

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Parchment paper

  • 2

    (9-inch) round cake pans

  • Small saucepan

  • Stand mixer or electric hand mixer

  • Cooling rack

  • Offset spatula

Instructions

  1. Make the cake: Place the 2 sticks unsalted butter for the cake in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if using a hand mixer. Place 4 large eggs and 1 cup buttermilk for the cake and the 2 sticks unsalted butter for the frosting on the counter to let them sit out at room temperature.

  2. Coarsely chop 4 ounces semisweet chocolate if needed. Place the chocolate or chocolate chips in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup water and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until fully melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven.

  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

  4. Add 2 cups granulated sugar to the bowl of butter and beat with the paddle attachment or hand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the 4 eggs one at a time, waiting until each one is fully incorporated before beating in the next. Slowly beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and the melted chocolate, and continue beating until the mixture is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Turn the mixer off. Add 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Mix on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. With the mixer still running, gradually add the buttermilk and continue mixing until the batter is completely smooth, scraping down the sides halfway through mixing, 2 to 3 minutes total.

  6. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared baking pans (about 14 ounces per pan) and smooth the tops. Bake until the cakes are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack and let the cakes cool completely in the pans. Meanwhile, make the filling.

  7. Make the filling: Place 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 1 stick unsalted butter, 3 large egg yolks, 1 cup evaporated milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.

  8. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in 2 cups chopped, toasted pecans and 1 packed cup shredded, unsweetened coconut. Set aside to cool to room temperature while you make the frosting.

  9. Make the frosting: Place the 2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter in the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on low speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.

  10. Turn the mixer off. Add 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the speed to high and beat until the frosting is light, fluffy, and doubled in volume, scraping down the sides of the bowl down halfway through, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer 1 cup of the frosting to a small zip-top bag and set aside.

  11. Assemble the cake: Remove the cakes from the pans and discard the parchment. Using a serrated knife, trim the rounded tops off of each cake. Place one cake layer, cut-side down, onto a serving platter or cake stand. Dollop 1 cup of the frosting onto the cake and smooth into a thin, even layer with an offset spatula, going all the way to the edges. Top with half of the coconut filling and gently spread all the way to the edges.

  12. Top with the remaining cake layer, cut-side down. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Snip off one bottom corner of the bag of frosting. Pipe small, decorative mounds of the frosting around the top of the cake. Dollop the remaining coconut filling onto the top of the cake and gently smooth into a thin, even layer all the way to the mounds of frosting.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The baked cake layers be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated 1 day in advance, or frozen up to 1 month. To thaw, unwrap cakes and let sit out at room temperature until completely thawed in the center, 2 to 3 hours.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers loosely covered in plastic wrap for up to 3 days.

Toasting the nuts: Place the pecans in a medium skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.

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