German Chocolate Cake Recipe

The best homemade German Chocolate Cake recipe from scratch! It’s decadent and sweet, with rich chocolate cake layers topped with sticky coconut pecan frosting. Add some chocolate buttercream frosting to put this cake recipe over the top!

Love this cake? Make our delicious German gingerbread, Lebkuchen, next! For more chocolate decadence, give our Black Forest cake and easy chocolate sheet cake a try.

German chocolate cake on a white cake platter.

What Is German Chocolate Cake?

If you’re like me and have wondered what makes a German chocolate cake different, I’m hear to tell you!

The cake recipe uses Baker’s German Chocolate, which was developed over 100 years ago! Despite the name, the chocolate bar was not developed in Germany, but named after the man who created it instead. He thought combining chocolate with sugar would save bakers a step in their process!

Then 100 years later (in the 1950’s) a homemaker created this moist chocolate cake recipe, and millions of people enjoy it daily.

So now you know the story behind a traditional German chocolate cake, but let’s get to the important part: why is this recipe still so popular after all these years? I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s why my family loves it:

  • German chocolate cake is amazingly decadent. If you love your cakes over-the-top, it doesn’t get much better than this! The rich chocolate layer cake is perfectly complemented by the sweet and sticky coconut pecan frosting.
  • This German chocolate cake recipe is homemade. While it may take a bit more effort than using a boxed mix, homemade cakes always taste better in my opinion. It must be because they’re made with love!
  • It’s great for special occasions. Whether it’s a birthday, holiday, or a potluck with neighbors, this from-scratch German chocolate cake always makes a statement and is sure to impress your guests.
  • The combination of coconut and pecans is something a little different compared to other popular chocolate cake recipes. The frosting is truly the star of the show!

If you love pecans and chocolate, our chocolate pecan pie is always a reader favorite! And of course you’ve GOT to try our german chocolate brownies too.

Important Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make german chocolate cake.
  • Baker’s Sweetened German Chocolate Bar – This is important! You can’t make homemade German chocolate cake without starting with German chocolate. 
  • Unsalted butter – Always use unsalted butter in baking unless a recipe says otherwise. It gives you more control over the flavor.
  • Buttermilk – Buttermilk reacts with the baking soda in the recipe, giving the cake a light, airy texture. If you don’t like buying a whole bottle of buttermilk at the store, you can keep a can of powdered buttermilk on hand in your pantry for whenever you need it or learn how to make buttermilk.
  • Light brown sugar – I recommend light brown sugar because it has a bit of caramel flavor, but not quite as strong as dark brown sugar.
  • Egg yolks – Let these come to room temperature. You can save the egg whites to make our chocolate meringues or easy white cake recipe.
  • Evaporated milk – Be sure to buy evaporated milk, not condensed milk! They’re often sold near each other and the cans can look similar.
  • Chopped pecans – Since you’re chopping them anyway, buy the less expensive pecan pieces rather than whole pecans.
  • Shredded sweetened coconut – Shredded coconut has the perfect texture for the frosting; flakes would be difficult to spread.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder – You can use Dutch processed cocoa powder or natural cocoa powder; just don’t use hot cocoa mix!

How To Make German Chocolate Cake

Prepare: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and grease two 9-inch round baking pans with baking spray, then line the bottoms with parchment paper circles

Step by step photos showing how to make german chocolate cake layers.

Make the Batter:

  • In a small bowl, combine the boiling water with the German chocolate. Allow the chocolate to melt while you combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, eggs, and buttermilk until combined. Add the vanilla extract.
  • Stir the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture. Whisk the chocolate with the water to combine and add the mixture to the cake batter. Beat just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Bake:

  • Pour the batter into prepared round cake pans (we use 9-inch cake pans) and bake for 36-38 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and cool the cakes in the pans for 5 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes onto a parchment paper lined wire rack and cool completely.
Step by step photos showing how to make coconut pecan frosting.

Make the Coconut Frosting:

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg yolks, salt, and evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a low boil over medium heat.
  • Continue cooking until the mixture thickens, about 8-12 minutes. 
  • Add the vanilla extract, chopped pecans, and shredded sweetened coconut. Stir and set aside until cooled. 
Step by step photos showing how to make chocolate frosting.

Make the Chocolate Frosting:

  • Beat the butter with unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Step by step photos showing how to assemble german chocolate cake.

Assemble:

  • Set the first german chocolate layer on a cake platter. Pipe the edges with chocolate frosting. Add 1/2 of the coconut pecan frosting to the center of the cake. Repeat with the second layer.
  • Spread the chocolate buttercream frosting around the sides of the cake.
  • If desired, use an open star tip to pipe swirls on top of the cake to give it a finished look.
Slice of german chocolate cake with a bite taken out.

Tips and Tricks

  • Soften the butter before you get started with this recipe. It’s much easier to beat softened butter (it won’t get stuck to your beaters!), it will incorporate more smoothly into the other ingredients, and it will hold more air when beaten, which gives frostings and cakes a lighter texture.
  • When making the coconut frosting, use a whisk or rubber spatula to continually scrape the bottom of the saucepan while stirring. Doing this will keep the frosting from burning or building up along the sides and bottom of the pan.
  • To speed up the cooling of the coconut frosting, you can pop it in the refrigerator.
  • Use Wilton bake even strips to wrap around your baking pans to create smooth, even cakes that don’t dome on the top and create waste!
  • If you don’t use bake even strips, you may need to trim the tops of the cakes to make them level before frosting. It’s not a must, but it will make your cake look more polished and professional.
  • We haven’t yet tested this recipe for German chocolate cupcakes, however it’s on our to do list!

Freezer Friendly Ideas

You have several options. 

1. Bake cake layers and cool. Wrap in parchment paper, then foil, and freeze cake layers. Thaw at room temperature.

2. Bake cake and cool. Frost as directed. Freeze cake whole (in airtight container). Thaw at room temperature.

3. My favorite option! Bake cake and cool. Enjoy for several days. Wrap leftover SLICES in parchment paper then slide in ziploc bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature.

Slice of german chocolate cake on a white plate.

Recipe FAQs

What makes a German chocolate cake different?

For one, German chocolate cake is made with melted chocolate, while most other chocolate cakes get their chocolate flavor purely from cocoa powder. And then there’s the fact that German chocolate cake is finished with that signature, sticky coconut pecan filling!

Is devil’s food cake the same as German chocolate?

No, devil’s food cake is a type of chocolate cake that is made with cocoa powder and has a deep, dark color. German chocolate cake is made with melted chocolate and has a lighter color. 

Should you refrigerate a German chocolate cake?

I recommend refrigerating German chocolate cake because of the butter-based frosting. However, if you plan on enjoying it within a day or two, you can leave it at room temperature. If storing for longer periods, keep it in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before serving.

Why is my German chocolate cake frosting runny?

There are two possible culprits here: either you didn’t let it cool fully before frosting your cake, or it didn’t thicken enough on the stovetop. Make sure to give it enough time to cool and thicken before using. If it’s still runny, you can try refrigerating it for a bit or adding more powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.

More Chocolate Cake Recipes

German Chocolate Cake

4.70 from 36 votes
By: Aimee
This German Chocolate Cake recipe, from scratch, is decadent and sweet with the rich chocolate cake layers topped with coconut pecan frosting! Add some chocolate buttercream frosting to put this cake recipe over the top!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 16 servings

Ingredients 

For the cake:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 ounce Baker’s Sweetened German Chocolate Bar
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup light brown sugar packed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

For the Chocolate Frosting

  • ½ cup unsalted butter softened
  • cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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Instructions 

For the cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans with baking spray and line bottom with parchment paper circles. Set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of boiling water with a 4 oz package of German Chocolate. Allow chocolate to melt while you combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with eggs and buttermilk until combined. Add in vanilla extract.
  • Mix in dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture. Finally, whisk the chocolate with the water to combine and add to cake batter. Beat just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Pour into prepared baking pans and bake for 36-38 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and cool in pans 5 minutes. Invert onto parchment paper lined wire rack and cool completely.

For the Coconut Frosting:

  • In a medium sized saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, room temperature egg yolks, salt, and evaporated milk. Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low boil. 
  • PRO TIP: Use a whisk or rubber spatula to continually scrape the bottom of the saucepan while stirring so it doesn’t burn or create build up!
  • Continue cooking until mixture thickens into a custard-like texture. This can take 8-12 minutes depending on many factors including the type of saucepan you’re using, the size of the pan, and the type of heat. 
  • Once your frosting base has thickened, add in vanilla extract, chopped pecans, and shredded sweetened coconut. Stir and set aside until cooled. 
  • PRO TIP: I refrigerate the coconut pecan frosting to speed up the cooling time!

For the Chocolate Frosting:

  • To make the frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter with unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla extract.
  • Beat for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

To assemble the cake:

  • Lay the first layer of chocolate cake on a cake platter. Pipe the edges with chocolate frosting. Add 1/2 of the coconut pecan frosting to the center of the cake. Repeat with the second layer.
  • Spread chocolate buttercream frosting around the sides of the cake.
  • Using an open star tip, pipe swirls on top of cake to give it a finished look (optional).
  • Slice and serve!

Notes

  • Soften the butter before you get started with this recipe. It’s much easier to beat softened butter (it won’t get stuck to your beaters!), it will incorporate more smoothly into the other ingredients, and it will hold more air when beaten, which gives frostings and cakes a lighter texture.
  • When making the coconut frosting, use a whisk or rubber spatula to continually scrape the bottom of the saucepan while stirring. Doing this will keep the frosting from burning or building up along the sides and bottom of the pan.
  • To speed up the cooling of the coconut frosting, you can pop it in the refrigerator.
  • Use Wilton bake even strips to wrap around your baking pans to create smooth, even cakes that don’t dome on the top and create waste!
  • If you don’t use bake even strips, you may need to trim the tops of the cakes to make them level before frosting. It’s not a must, but it will make your cake look more polished and professional.
  • See blog post for more recipe tips and tricks and substitutions.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice, Calories: 666kcal, Carbohydrates: 81g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 36g, Saturated Fat: 19g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 14g, Cholesterol: 140mg, Sodium: 486mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 66g
Course: Cake
Cuisine: American
Did you make this recipe?Mention @shugarysweets or tag #shugarysweets!
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About Aimee

Aimee is a dessert lover (specifically rice krispie treats), workout enthusiast, self-taught foodie, and recipe creator.

Learn more about Aimee.

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Posted on October 12, 2023

Comments & Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    This cake was just marvelous!! My family loved it!!! I bake a lot of cakes – but this one is the best I have ever baked!!
    One question – can you use 3 cake pans instead of 2? My cake rose over the cake pans and I would like to make it again for Valentine’s Day but not sure if the layers would be too skimpy with 3 pans. – if I use 3 how would I increase the wonderful custard and frosting? Thank you for a grand recipe!!

    1. Hi Joy, First, thank you 🙂 Second, I’m thinking maybe your cake pans are 8inch, not 9inch? Could be why they rose too much? I haven’t tested in other size cake pans, but if you do let us know!

  2. Can you us heavy whipping cream in place of evaporated milk in both cake and frosting. . I really dislike evap milk. Thank you. I can’t wait to make this♥️♥️

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