German Chocolate Cake

When you assemble the cake, the filling should be cool or cold. To be time-efficient, first make the filling, then use the refrigeration time to prepare, bake, and cool the cakes. Toast the pecans on a baking sheet in a 350°F (175°C) oven until fragrant and browned, about 8 minutes.–Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

LC Uh, German? Note

Just to be patriotic for a moment, the so-called German Chocolate Cake is actually an American invention, according to many, many sources we’ve consulted. (Nooooo, not just Wikipedia…) Turns out it was named for Baker’s brand German Sweet Chocolate, which the original recipe specified. Actually, it was named after Sam German, the Baker’s employee who created the sweet chocolate back in 1852 or so. Consider that your conversation starter for the next time you slice into this lovely little legacy of sorts.

German Chocolate Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

  • For the filling
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • For the cake
  • 4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Directions

  • Make the filling
  • 1. Whisk the yolks in a medium saucepan off the stove. Gradually whisk in the evaporated milk. Add the sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.
  • 2. Pour the mixture into a bowl, whisk in the vanilla, then stir in the coconut. Let cool until just warm. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Do not add the pecans now or they’ll turn soggy. Have a little patience, my friend.)
  • Make the cake
  • 3. Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. Combine the chocolate and cocoa in a small bowl and then add the boiling water over. Let stand to melt the chocolate, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth and let stand until room temperature.
  • 4. Meanwhile, spray two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high straight-sided cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and then line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds cut to fit. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and tap out any excess flour. Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl or onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper.
  • 5. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter, sugars, and salt at medium-low speed until the sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through. With the mixer running at medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl halfway through. Beat in the vanilla, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer running at low speed, add the chocolate mixture, then increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once. (The batter may appear broken; this is okay.) With the mixer running at low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat in each addition until barely combined. After adding the final flour addition, beat on low until just combined, then stir the batter by hand with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. The batter will be thick. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans, spreading the batter to the edges of the pans with the rubber spatula and smoothing the surface.
  • 6. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a greased wire rack; peel off and discard the paper rounds. Cool the cakes to room temperature before filling, about 1 hour. (The cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.)
  • Assemble the cake
  • 7. Stir the toasted pecans into the chilled filling. Set one cake on a serving platter or cardboard round cut slightly smaller than the cake, and the second cake on a work surface (or leave it on the wire rack). With a serrated knife held so that the blade is parallel with the work surface, use a sawing motion to cut each cake into two even layers. Starting with the first cake, carefully lift off the top layer and set aside.
  • 8. Using an icing spatula, distribute about 1 cup filling evenly on the cake, spreading the filling to the very edge of the cake and leveling the surface. Carefully place the upper cake layer on top of the filling; repeat using the remaining filling and cake layers. Dust any crumbs off the platter and serve. (The cake may be refrigerated, covered loosely with foil, up to 4 hours. If the cake has been refrigerated longer than 2 hours, let it stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.)
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Jeremy Schweitzer

Oct 01, 2005

Everyone thought the cake texture was superior to your average German chocolate cake and the filling was good without being too sweet. I like how I could make the cake and filling in advance and just put it together right before dinner. This will definitely become part of my dessert repertoire when entertaining.

Testers Choice
Donna Rose

Oct 01, 2005

This is one of those labor-intensive cakes that’s completely worth all the fuss. Seeing the smiles on everyone’s face and experiencing the silence when they had that first bite was worth it. It’s moist with just the right amount of gooey filling. The chocolate flavor in the cake is rich, but not overwhelming. My husband loved it. If you want a culinary ace in your pocket, this cake will certainly fill the bill. You’ll impress your guests.

Testers Choice
Monita Olive

Oct 01, 2005

I was very pleased with the outcome of this cake. The directions were so clear and easy to understand that even a novice could put this one together with great results. It was flavorful and moist, and I loved the chocolate flavor. Toasting the pecans before adding them to the filling gave the cake a little extra oomph. I’ll make this one again and again, as it has always been a favorite in our home and this version is easy compared to other recipes I’ve tried. It’s a definite winner!

Testers Choice
Taryn Shapiro

Oct 01, 2005

It just so happens that one of my clients asked me to make her a German chocolate cake for a birthday. I told her I was making this test cake for her (How’s that for daring!), so all she had to do was pay me the cost of ingredients and give me a full report on the taste. Here’s some of the feedback from the party: “Wow!” “Fantastic.” “Best cake I’ve ever eaten.” “It’s moist, it’s beautiful, love it!” So there you have it. As far as making the cake, it’s a little labor-intensive, but it looked and smelled wonderful. I used Ghirardelli chocolate and cocoa. I’ll be making it again because I really, really wanted a piece, too.

Testers Choice
Robyn Rice-Foster

Oct 01, 2005

I loved the texture and the moistness of the cake. I found it to be sweet, but not too sweet. I’m not a huge German chocolate cake fan, but I’d most definitely make this one again for the holiday seasons: When I think of German chocolate cake, I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I treated myself to an extra slice with a large glass of milk.

Comments
Comments
  1. Snow Dao says:

    The cake was moist and scrumptious and the icing was just the way I like it, not too sweet. Just perfect!

  2. John Yap says:

    The cake tasted great. It had just the right sweetness. I normally don’t like brown sugar in a chocolate cake, but it blended well with the filling. I was unsure, however, about what “slightly thick” meant when making the filling. I correctly guessed that the refrigeration would thicken it, but I should have thickened it a little bit more during the cooking process. Nonetheless, the filling turned out fine. Finally, I think icing the sides (with chocolate?) would help make it more presentable. But it still gets 4 forks from me!

  3. sandra says:

    I made this recipe exactly as the recipe called for and found the cake to be very dry. I keep wondering what could I have done wrong because everyone said it was moist. It has butter and sour cream so it should have had enough to make it moist. But it was so dry it was crumbly. Did anyone else find this problem. Maybe its my oven???

    • Cindi Kruth, LC Recipe Tester says:

      Sandra, it could be your oven. If the temperature was too high, the cake could dry out. Do you use convection? The extra air circulation can also dry out cake layers.

      The brown sugar, butter, and sour cream all contribute to moistness. The flour and cocoa mainly contribute starch (as well as a little protein and fat) so if your measurements were slightly heavy that could dry the cake too. That is why professional bakers always weigh ingredients.

      The other main variable is the chocolate. Brands vary in the amount of cocoa solids and fat which can, in fact, make a rather large difference in your baking results. For instance, I love Valrhona 70% chocolate in mousse for its intense flavor, but have found the same Valrhona makes a dry cake. You might want to try Ghirardelli since that was mentioned as a chocolate that worked well with this recipe.

    • Sue Epstein, LC Recipe Tester says:

      It’s very possible that your oven temperature wasn’t correct and the cake overbaked. Even if the dial on the oven gives you a temperature reading, it may not be accurate. Try keeping an oven thermometer in your oven to get a more accurate reading. (My repairman told me that most ovens are off at least 25 degrees from what the dial shows.)

    • Regina Hayden, LC Recipe Tester says:

      Sandra, also consider these possibilities:

      Aeration: The recipe calls for room temperature butter; however, butter aerates best at a slightly cool temperature, about 65°F (18°C)–soft enough to cream but not so soft it has begun to melt. Your butter-sugar mixture should resemble whipped cream. Mixing together the wet and dry ingredients creates more air pockets into the batter. Too much or too little aeration can affect the final texture of your cake.

      Altitude: The recipe may need to be adjusted if you live at a high altitude. The low air pressure in mountain areas can cause your batter to lose moisture and produce a dry cake.

  4. John Yap says:

    The cake tasted great. It had just the right sweetness. I normally don’t like brown sugar in a chocolate cake, but it blended well with the filling. I was unsure, however, about what “slightly thick” meant when making the filling. I correctly guessed that the refrigeration would thicken it, but I should have thickened it a little bit more during the cooking process. Nonetheless, the filling turned out fine. Finally, I think icing the sides (with chocolate?) would help make it more presentable. But it still gets 4 forks from me!

  5. Sameera says:

    Would I be able to make these into mini-cupcakes? Thanks :)

    • David Leite says:

      Sameera, most cakes can be made into cupcakes. Mini-cupcakes, I don’t know. You’d have to experiment, remember that the cooking time will be considerably less.

  6. Chad Haynes says:

    BEAUTIFUL

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Why, thank you, Chad! Although we can’t take credit for the photo, that goes to the food stylist from Cook’s Illustrated and the photographer Carl Tremblay. We just know a good thing when we see it…and taste it.

  7. Eliza says:

    Does it truly matter if I use salted or unsalted butter? Will it turn out any differently?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Many baking recipes call for unsalted butter simply as a means of controlling the amount of salt in a recipe, Eliza. I have to say, I don’t think it’s going to mess up your cake—or, perhaps, even make a discernible difference—if you swap salted for unsalted. You have my blessing. Especially if it means not having to buy another pound of butter, which these days is a small investment!

  8. Jessica says:

    After searching extensively for the best GCC recipe, I decided on this one. I am so glad I did! It turned out beautifully moist and delicious. Everyone loved it!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      So glad you like this as much as we do, Jessica. Many, many thanks for letting us know….

  9. Brooks says:

    I’ve very recently made this cake and it is superb! I put a wee bit of a spin on it, but essentially the flavor and moist cake is as represented here. As others have stated, I did some research, made a few recipes, and IMHO, this version is a standout over the original.

  10. Brooks says:

    Thank you, David. Aside from upping the measures of butter and sugar, I baked the cake in three 8-inch rounds. The frosting filled and covered the entire cake. Finally, because the cake is so regal, I adorned the top with a crown of chocolate and caramel embellishments. I’m grateful you shared the recipe!

  11. Brooks says:

    I do, David.

    Brooks Walker's German Chocolate Cake

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