One of the most iconic chocolate cake recipes – German chocolate cake is unbeatable! My recipe for this classic coconut cake includes rich chocolate cake layers, classic American chocolate buttercream, the classic pecan and coconut custard filling, chocolate ganache as garnish and more toasted coconut flakes! This stunning cake is simply the best and it’s almost too pretty to eat, almost! And, try my new ‘German Chocolate Cheesecake’, too!
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History of German Chocolate Cake
Did you know that this cake actually has nothing to do with Germany? That’s right! It’s named after the man who invented the dark chocolate that is used in the original recipe, Samuel German. The chocolate recipe can be traced back to 1852! Then in 1957 Mrs. George Clay came up with this cake recipe, using German’s iconic baker’s chocolate. This version with chocolate buttercream and ganache pays tribute to the original in the prettiest way possible!
How It’s Made: The Chocolate Cake
This incredible coconut cake starts with delicate chocolate cake layers. For this recipe, I used my ‘Perfect Chocolate Cake’ recipe from my ‘Back to Cake Basics’ series and made 1 1/2 portions of the recipe to make thick layers of cake. It’s the perfect cake recipe – rich, chocolate-y and very moist! It’s made with a combination of cocoa powder and melted chocolate to get the most flavor. This cake is very moist but if desired, a syrup can be used to soak the layers. Simply combine 1 cup hot water with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons coconut extract. Stir the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool, then transfer into a dispenser bottle for soaking the cake layers.
German Chocolate Cake Filling
The chocolate cake layers are then filled with the iconic German chocolate cake filling made with toasted coconut and pecans. The classic coconut custard filling is super easy to make!
- It’s made with egg yolks, sugar, butter and evaporated milk. When making the custard, make sure to continuously stir it with a rubber spatula to avoid burning it.
- Also, don’t allow the custard to boil which can cause it to separate; low and slow does it!
- And then go in the toasted coconut flakes and chopped pecans. I love using unsweetened coconut flakes because the filling is already sweet enough.
- Make sure the filling is completely cooled before using in the cake! Otherwise, the buttercream will melt. I spread the filling onto a baking sheet and place it into the fridge for faster cooling!
The Chocolate Buttercream
Sticking with the classic American theme of this recipe, I use my ‘Basic Chocolate Buttercream’ recipe for this cake. It’s a super simple and delicious frosting that’s perfect for this cake! If you don’t like American buttercream, this cake will work with other buttercreams! Try making a chocolate version of my ‘French Buttercream’ by adding a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Also, my ‘Italian Meringue Buttercream’ can be made chocolate with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1/2 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate chips.
And to finish off this stunning cake, I went with a combination of my classic ‘Chocolate Ganache’, the remaining toasted coconut flakes, dollops of chocolate buttercream and the coconut pecan filling. To add the toasted coconut, I just lightly pressed it into the sides of the cake, gently into the buttercream. When making the chocolate ganache, allow it to cool until it’s room temperature and then garnish the cake. Hot chocolate and buttercream don’t mix!
Looking for more incredible cake recipes? Here are some similar recipes on my blog you’re sure to enjoy!
- German Chocolate Cheesecake – rich and velvety smooth chocolate cheesecake with coconut!
- Coconut Kahlua Cake – incredible coconut cake recipe with Kahlua coffee liqueur!
- Chocolate Zucchini Cake – rich, chocolate cake with shredded zucchini! The best chocolate cake ever!
- The Ultimate Chocolate Sponge Cake – fluffy chocolate sponge cake recipe.
- Almond Roca Cake – a cake inspired by the famous toffee candy!
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Need some supplies to make this recipe? You can get them here (Amazon affiliate links):
- This set of jumbo cake decorating tips has all my favorite tips that I use!
- I always use these disposable pastry bags for cake decorating.
- Use this offset spatula and this cake spatula to get a smooth finish.
- I LOVE my classic Ateco cake turntable for cake decorating!
The BEST German Chocolate Cake (video)
For Chocolate Cake:
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 tbsp instant coffee
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
For German Chocolate Filling:
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp coconut extract, optional
- 3 cups coconut flakes; divided
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
For Chocolate Buttercream:
- 2 cups unsalted butter
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
For Chocolate Ganache:
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup cream
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp coconut extract
- Prepare the cake layers first. Preheat oven to 350F/177C. Line three, 8-inch baking pans with parchment paper and spray sides with baking spray. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar for 3 to 4 minutes until light and fluffy. Then add in the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix again until creamy. Prepare the coffee: dissolve the 3 tablespoons of granules in 1/3 cup water, then add to the batter along with the melted chocolate. Whisk again for a minute until the mixture is smooth. Add the milk but don’t mix it in yet.
- In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Mix together, then sift into the cake batter to get rid of any clumps. Using a hand whisk, mix the flour into the batter just until combined. Be careful not to over-mix the batter! Divide the cake batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake the layers in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then remove onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cake layers are cooling, prepare the coconut pecan filling. Place all 3 cups of the unsweetened coconut into a large saute pan and toast on high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the flakes are golden. This can also be done using a baking sheet; bake under the broiler for several minutes and toss often. Reserve 1/2 cup of the flakes for garnishing the cake.
- Into a medium-sized saucepan, add the butter and melt it over medium heat. To the melted butter, add the evaporated milk, egg yolks and sugars. Whisk for a minute until smooth. Cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the custard thickens and holds its shape on the back of a spoon. Do not boil the custard; reduce heat when needed.
- Once the custard has thickened, remove it from the heat and add the vanilla and coconut extracts, toasted coconut and chopped pecans. Mix until well combined, then allow the filling to cool completely. Place into the refrigerator to cool faster.
- For the buttercream: Soften the butter at room temperature. Butter should still hold its shape and not be melted! Place butter into mixing bowl and whisk on high speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Melt chocolate chips in microwave or over a double boiler until smooth. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, then add it to the frosting, along with the cocoa powder, vanilla and salt. Continue whisking for a few minutes, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the confectioner’s sugar. After its incorporated, turn mixer to high speed and whisk for 3 to 4 minutes, or until frosting is light and fluffy.
- To assemble the cake, first trim the layers to make sure they’re straight. Transfer several cups of the frosting into a pastry bag; I used Ateco tip #847. Pipe a barrier ring of frosting around the edge of the cake layer, then fill with 1/3 of the coconut pecan filling. Repeat with the next layer, then frost the top and outside of the cake with a crumb coat of the chocolate buttercream. Smooth with an offset spatula, then refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Once the crumb coat has set, add the final layer of buttercream and smooth out. Garnish with toasted coconut on the sides, chocolate ganache and dollops of buttercream along the edge. Add the remaining 1/3 of the filling on top, carefully using a fork.
- For the chocolate ganache: combine the chips and cream in a measuring cup and heat in the microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute; the cream should be hot. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes, then use a whisk to stir until the chocolate is completely smooth and melted. Reheat if the chocolate isn’t melted. If the ganache is too thick, add HOT heavy cream. If too thin, add more chocolate chips. Allow the glaze to cool until at room temperature; do not use hot ganache on the cake! Transfer the glaze into a pastry bag and drizzle down sides first, then fill center.
- Optional: This cake is very moist but if desired, a syrup can be used to soak the layers. Simply combine 1 cup hot water with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons coconut extract. Stir the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool, then transfer into a dispenser bottle for soaking the cake layers.
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