German Chocolate Cake Recipe

german chocolate cake recipe by sugar and sparrow
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German Chocolate Cake always reminds me of my Oma. She was full German, so I grew up thinking that this was one of her “cakes from the old country,” but the German Chocolate Cake actually originated in America. Even still, that was the cake we always had for Oma’s birthday – her favorite. This cake is so nostalgic for me, and I’m so happy to have developed a recipe for it that reminds me so much of what it tasted like as a kid and brings back so many beautiful  memories of Oma. I absolutely love how this cake turned out: 

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German Chocolate Cake is traditionally a light chocolate cake with Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting, sometimes coated with a layer of chocolate frosting on the outside. While other chocolate cakes are dense and decadent, this version is much fluffier and light, which really makes the frosting the star of the show. These flavors and textures work so well together that the whole thing just melts in your mouth. 

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I will say, this recipe is a marathon to make. You’ll be boiling frosting, melting chocolate, toasting pecans and coconut, separating eggs, and folding whipped egg whites into the cake batter at the end. I recommend reading through the entire recipe before you dive right in. That said, it is entirely worth it! Don’t let the complexity intimidate you – it’s basically just a big sequence of easy steps to get to the end. Once you see your final cake, you’ll be so proud and your tasters will be amazed! 

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I could not stop eating the Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting by the spoonful. It was so good. It’s made by boiling together a caramel frosting mixture and then folding in toasted pecans and shredded coconut. When you mix everything together, the frosting will look soupy, but it sets up to be perfectly spreadable once cooled to room temperature. 

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You can certainly just frost the Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting between cake layers and leave the sides naked, but I chose to add a little semi-naked finish with Chocolate Buttercream. For this look, you’ll want to pipe a circle of the Chocolate Buttercream around the edges of each cake layer before filling in the circle with Coconut Pecan Caramel frosting. This way, the filling won’t bulge out between your cake layers (here are more details about my methods for filling and stacking cake layers). 

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After refrigerating the semi-naked cake, I added more Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting to the top of the cake and piped more Chocolate Buttercream around the top edges with Wilton Tip 1M. Then, I sprinkled toasted coconut and pecans all over the top of the cake and pressed some onto the bottom edge as well. I frosted the thinnest layer of Chocolate Buttercream around the bottom edge to make the toasted coconut and pecans stick. 

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Whether you’re already a huge German Chocolate Cake fan or you just like the idea of these flavors together, this cake is sure to satisfy. It’s decadent, has amazing texture from the coconut and pecans, and is just overall a delight to eat. Remember, this is a marathon of a recipe, but so so worth every step. Enjoy!

German Chocolate Cake

Decadent layers of chocolate cake, coconut pecan caramel frosting, and chocolate buttercream to satisfy any German Chocolate Cake lover.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 15 slices

Ingredients

German Chocolate Cake

  • 3 oz Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 Cup (80ml) hot coffee or water coffee recommended
  • 1 2/3 Cups (220g) all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 Cup (180ml) buttermilk, room temperature *DIY recipe in notes
  • 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 Cups (300g) white granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting

  • 1/2 Cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup (100g) white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 Cup (95g) packed brown sugar
  • 6 Oz evaporated milk
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 Cup (75g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 Cup sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 Cups (360g) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 Cup (45g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 4 Tbsp whole milk, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Additional Toppings

  • 1/4 Cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/4 Cup sweetened shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Instructions

Make the German Chocolate Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and prepare three 6-inch or two 8-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with cooking spray and fitting the bottoms with a wax paper or parchment cake circle. 

  2. Add about an inch of water into a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Place the chocolate and hot coffee, or water, into a heat safe bowl and place it on top of the simmering saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water in the saucepan. Whisk the chopped chocolate mixture constantly until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is homogenous. Set aside.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), beat the butter for on high for two minutes until it's light and creamy. Add 1 1/4 Cups of the sugar (set aside the remaining 1/4 Cup) and continue to mix on high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. 

  5. Turn the mixer to low and add the eggs yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. Turn the mixer back to low and add the flour mixture and buttermilk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until the ingredients start to come together.

  6. In a separate bowl with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at high speed. Drizzle in the 1/4 cup of the reserved sugar and continue to beat on high for 2 minutes, until soft peaks form. Fold about one Cup of the whipped egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then carefully fold the remaining the egg whites into the batter.

  7. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans (be sure to fill the pans no more than 2/3 full) and smooth the tops. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 5 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack or baking sheet to cool for a few more hours. Make sure they're entirely room temperature before applying any frosting.

Make the Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting

  1. Place the chopped pecans into a pan and toast them over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugars, evaporated milk, egg yolks, cubed butter, and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to boil and thicken, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the toasted pecans, coconut, and vanilla extract. The frosting will look very soupy at first, but will thicken as it cools. Let cool for about an hour, until room temperature and spreadable.

Make the Chocolate Buttercream

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter on medium speed until creamy and light in color, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle and turn the mixer to low, then add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Increase the speed to medium and beat for two full minutes.

Assembly

  1. Once the cakes are fully cooled, torte each layer to level the tops. Fill a piping bag with Chocolate Buttercream and snip off about 1/2 inch opening. Starting with the bottom layer, pipe a circle of Chocolate Buttercream around the edge of the top and fill the inside with Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting. Add the next cake layer on top and repeat the process of piping the Chocolate Buttercream circle and filling it in with Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting. Add the final cake layer, upside down, on top. If you need it, here's a tutorial on this method of filling and stacking cake layers.

  2. Frost a thin layer of Chocolate buttercream all over the cake, smoothing the sides and top to create a semi-naked finish. Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to let the frosting firm up a bit.

  3. Fit a piping bag with Wilton Tip 1M and fill it with the remaining Chocolate Buttercream. Pipe swirls all around the top of the cake, then fill in the center with Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting. Generously sprinkle the top with toasted pecans and coconut flakes. Frost a very thin line of Chocolate Buttercream around the bottom edge of the cake and press more toasted pecans and coconut flakes onto it.

Recipe Notes

*DIY Buttermilk Recipe: For every Cup of buttermilk you need, add 1 Tbsp white vinegar to a measuring cup, top it off with whole milk to bring the measurement to 1 Cup. Stir and set aside for 15 minutes before using in a recipe. In the case of this recipe, you’ll need 3/4 Tbsp white vinegar topped off with whole milk to bring the total measurement to 3/4 Cup. 

Make Ahead Tips:

  1. The German Chocolate Cake layers can be baked, cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for up to two days ahead of decorating. Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to two months before thawing and frosting. 
  2. The Coconut Pecan Caramel Frosting can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature so that it’s spreadable consistency. 
  3. The Chocolate Buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one day. Alternatively, you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and rewhip with your stand mixer to bring back to frosting consistency. 
  4. The fully assembled and decorated can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 days or refrigerated for 4-5 days. If you do choose to refrigerate your decorated cake, bring it back to room temperature before eating. 

 

Did you make this German Chocolate Cake recipe? I want to know how it went! Let me know in the comments below and feel free to tag @sugarandsparrowco on Instagram and show me! I love to see what you create.

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