German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake, with its traditional stack of dark chocolate cake layers smothered with caramel frosting and pecan goodness and coconut, invariably impresses. And it’s surprisingly easy to make.

A layered German chocolate cake with coconut pecan frosting on a platter with a few slices cut from it.

So-called German chocolate cake is, according to many, many sources, actually an American invention. As the story goes, the classic stack of dark chocolate cake smothered with gooey caramel coconut pecan magnificence was named after Baker’s brand German Sweet Chocolate, which was specified in the original German chocolate cake recipe. To unravel the naming even more, the chocolate was named after Sam German, a Baker’s employee who concocted the sweet chocolate back in 1852 or so. Consider that a conversation starter at your gathering when you slice into this lovely little legacy.–Renee Schettler

What makes German chocolate cake different than regular chocolate cake?

It’s not just the frosting that lends these layers of luxuriance their distinctive character. It’s the actual cake itself, which is typically less sweet than your common chocolate cake given its especially dulcet frosting of sugar, coconut, and pecans. This particular version includes cocoa powder as well as dark chocolate for a smoother chocolate experience; however, earlier versions of the cake called solely for melted chocolate. So typically it’s not a cake that you’d make unless it was smothered in the usual German chocolate cake coconut and pecan goodness.

German Chocolate Cake

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 1 H
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 12 to 16
5/5 - 3 reviews
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  • For the coconut pecan frosting
  • For the German chocolate cake


Make the coconut pecan frosting

In a medium saucepan off the stove, whisk the egg yolks. 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.

Pour the mixture into a bowl, whisk in the vanilla, then stir in the coconut. Let cool until room temperature. 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 patience.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Make the German chocolate cake

Keep your oven at 350°F (175°C) and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. 

In a small bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa in a small bowl and then add the boiling water. Just wait for the chocolate to melt, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth and let stand until room temperature.

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.

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 or to have separated; 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.

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 German chocolate cake

Stir the toasted pecans into the chilled filling. Set 1 cake layer on a serving platter or cardboard round that’s cut slightly smaller than the cake. Place the second cake on a work surface or leave it on the wire rack. Hold a serrated knife held so the blade is parallel with the work surface and use a sawing motion to cut each cake into 2 equal layers. Carefully lift the top layer off each cake.

Using an icing spatula, distribute about 1 cup filling evenly on the cake layer on the serving platter or cardboard round, spreading the filling to the very edge of the cake and evening the surface. Carefully place the upper cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat using the remaining filling and cake layers. Dust any crumbs from 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.) Originally published October 1, 2015.

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Recipe Testers' Tips

This German chocolate cake 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.

I loved the texture and the moistness of this German chocolate cake. I found it to be sweet but not too sweet. I’m not a huge German chocolate cake fan, but I treated myself to an extra slice with a large glass of milk.

When I think of German chocolate cake, I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’d most definitely make this one again for the holidays.

Everyone thought the cake's 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.


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  1. 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 cake for her, so all she had to do was 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.

  2. I was very pleased with the outcome of this German chocolate 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!

  3. I made this German chocolate cake for Easter Sunday. I put it together Saturday and was a little worried the pecans would be soggy by next day but they weren’t. The cake was amazing and everyone loved it! It seemed like a lot of ingredients when I was preparing to make it but the recipe was easy follow—-no problem. I will definitely be making this again- maybe new Easter tradition :)

    1. Lovely to hear this, Christine! And lovely that you shared your photo, which is gorgeous! So very happy to hear everyone was as pleased with this cake as our recipe testers were. Looking forward to hearing which recipe on the site you try next…

  4. Do you think I could make this cake in a 9-x-13-inch aluminum pan? It’s good a pan and bakes sheet cake well, if that makes a difference.

  5. If I were to omit the coconut in favor of a more “candy bar” cake, would that work? Would I need to adjust any other ingredients?

      1. no, just have the ingredients reflect more of a snickers bar, with nuts, caramel, and chocolate. If I take the coconut out, would I need to adjust anything? Many thanks!

        1. Ah, I see, Rachel. There’s a lot of coconut in there, so you’d have to substitute it with something else, otherwise, the pecan filling would be too loose and it would spill out.

  6. Just a quick question. Do I use the paddle attachment or the whisk attachment on my stand mixer for the cake batter?

  7. Tsk… Tsk! A bit of homework is obviously absent in this recipe, sorry! The whole reason for the cake’s NAME; “German Chocolate” Cake is derived from the correct and essential inclusion of sweet German chocolate for the cake batter!!! Bittersweet chocolate has no more place in a German Chocolate Cake than…sauerkraut! The cake portion of the recipe is supposed to be sweet German Chocolate, not dark or bittersweet chocolate.

    Is this a nice recipe? Yeah, I’ll give you that. But I’m being polite. This cake, however, it may be that anyone may like it, is a counterfeit and an imposter.

    1. Al, thanks for your rather, um, passionate comment. Clearly, you’re a huge German chocolate cake fan. But one point: German sweet chocolate has 48% cacao content. Semisweet, which the recipe also suggests, has anywhere from 50% to 64% cacao. If you use a lower percentage semisweet chocolate, you’re approaching the original recipe. An imposter? I think not. A variation, I say yes.

  8. I am about to suggest to my little baking buddies that for our week coming soon to all make this cake. I love your version as I am not a fan of completely covered cakes unless it’s a birthday, wedding etc. I absolutely adore German Chocolate Cake. The coconut pecans brown sugar just make me drool. Will let you know what week we might be baking. Have a great week!!

  9. This is a very good recipe. I too embellished the cake with a mocha French Buttercream icing up the sides of the cake and piped decoratively on top. Love the malted milk balls on Brooks cake above. I used candied pecans to accent the piping. Note to high altitude bakers: the recipe does not require adjustment at 7500 ft. I baked it at that altitude and it was perfect.

    1. Lovely, Diane! It’s always terrific to hear when someone takes a recipe and makes it her own. So glad you were able to do that so successfully with this cake. And many thanks, too, for the high altitude tip. Greatly appreciate it.

  10. 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. 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.

  12. 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!

    1. 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!

    1. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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???

    1. 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.

    2. 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.)

    3. 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.

  15. 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 5 bottles from me!

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

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