Bake

Extra Chocolatey German Chocolate Cake

December 11, 2020
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
Author Notes

German chocolate cake is my idea of a good-time dessert. A one-bowl chocolate cake, a gooey filling of toasted coconut and chopped pecans, and just enough chocolate frosting to guarantee that every bite is luscious and moist. Texturally it can’t be beat: soft cake, chewy filling, velvety frosting. And although the result is nothing if not a showstopper, guess what? Assembling this beauty is easy-peasy, as each component is dead-simple.

Originally entitled German’s chocolate cake, after Samuel German, the chocolatier who created the baking chocolate called for in the first 1957 recipe, the apostrophe-s was eventually dropped. But the inclusion of melted chocolate has mostly survived, even as some recipes call for only cocoa. In the interest of paying homage to the original—and because I’m all for amping up the chocolate flavor in a sweet—chopped chocolate is called for in the recipe, as well as some cocoa and espresso powders, to insure the chocolate flavor really pops.

As for the filling, toasting both the pecans and coconut adds additional texture and depth, and a little kosher salt cuts the sweetness. Although some substitute half-and-half or heavy cream for the evaporated milk, I went old-school, and stuck to the canned stuff, as I always have some in the pantry and have a soft spot for its milky creaminess.

Finally, the frosting: Many German chocolate cakes call for it, and many do not. Because I am very much Team Frosting, I chose to cover the cake in a thin coat, just enough to keep things rich and creamy, but not so much that it overpowers the coconut and pecan. But you do you: If you want your cake sans frosting, be my guest. Alternatively, a thicker, more generous coating will also be lovely. —Jessie Sheehan

  • Prep time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes One triple-layer 8-inch cake
Ingredients
  • Cake:
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
  • 3 ounces 60% semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Filling:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 3/4 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Frosting:
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • 3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Flaky sea salt, for finishing (optional)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray or softened butter and line each with parchment paper.
  2. To make the cake layers, add the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until combined.
  3. In a small bowl or a two-cup glass measuring cup (my preference), whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Beat just until incorporated, scraping down the bowl with a flexible spatula as needed.
  4. In the same small bowl or measuring cup (no need to clean it), whisk together the cocoa powder, espresso powder, if using, chopped chocolate and boiling water until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.
  5. Pour into the stand mixer bowl and on medium-low speed beat until smooth, about 30 seconds. The batter will be very thin.
  6. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. The cakes are ready when a cake-tester inserted in the middle comes out with a moist crumb or two. Let rest for about 10 minutes, then run a butter knife around the perimeter of each cake layer and invert on to a cooling rack. Let cool to room temp or freeze before filling and frosting. (Once frozen, the layers are sturdier, which is helpful when assembling.)
  7. While the cake bakes, make the filling: Warm the butter, brown sugar, salt, egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, until the mixture begins to boil, whisking continuously, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  8. Once gently boiling, reduce the heat a bit to protect yourself from bursting bubbles, and continue whisking until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the coconut, pecans and vanilla and stir to combine with a flexible spatula. Let cool to room temperature, stirring periodically.
  9. While the filling cools, make the frosting: Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed until soft and smooth.
  10. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt together. Pour the vanilla into the heavy cream.
  11. While beating on low, add the sugar–cocoa powder mixture to the stand mixer bowl, one cup at a time, alternating with a tablespoon or so of the cream-vanilla mixture. Once incorporated, beat for 5 minutes until smooth, fluffy and spreadable.
  12. To assemble the cake, top one of the layers with 1/3 of the coconut-pecan filling, spreading it gently just to the edges. Top with another layer and repeat. Place the final layer on top, pressing down gently. Frost the top and sides of the cake with only a very thin layer of the chocolate frosting (for that “naked” look) and top the frosted cake with the final third of filling. If using, sprinkle a little flaky sea salt over the top.
  13. Refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes before serving. If your layers were frozen, let the cake come to room temp before serving. The cake will keep on the counter for up to 3 days, lightly covered in plastic wrap.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • charles
    charles
  • Yiannis Psaroudis
    Yiannis Psaroudis
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Cassandra Brecht
    Cassandra Brecht
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Bio: Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of The Vintage Baker (one of the Washington Post’s best cookbooks of 2018 and beloved by Oprah and Nigella) and the co-author of Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes, written and/or created video content for Better Homes & Garden, Rachael Ray Everyday, the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Yankee Magazine (October 2020) Epicurious, Food52, The Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Show, The Feed Feed, The Kitchn, TASTE, Chowhound, Yummly, Spruce Eats and Little Sous, among others.

51 Reviews

TomC March 4, 2021
I made two out of three parts of this cake this weekend- the cake and frosting. For the filling, I used a caramelized sweetened-condensed milk recipe from Bon Ap's site that I've been making for years. It includes toasted coconut and pecans. The cake and frosting are both exceptional. The cake is delicate and difficult to frost but it is worth the extra care. The frosting replaced the ganache that I normally make. The frosting is sweet but less rich than the ganache. I look forward to trying the filling. This go-round I decided to save some time and stick to what has worked in the past. I still spent over four hours prepping and cleaning.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. March 4, 2021
i am happy to hear you were pleased and hope you will try the filling at some point, too. happy baking.
 
charles February 27, 2021
My wife and I followed this recipe and liked parts but did not love it. We got the thin batter like it says to have but we saw all three cakes sink in the center and were ridiculously crumbly. We had to be really delicate with applying the frosting because of how much the cake was just falling apart. Speaking of the frosting, it was just intensely sweet, I ended up just scraping it off.

I will admit the cake itself did have a nice rich chocolate flavor and the filling was really good. Honestly, the filling is the one part of this dish I know I would make again, but I would not put it in the fridge. We put it in the fridge and ended up having to do a double boiler style thing to get it back down to a viscosity that could be applied to the cakes.

Overall, I would call this a really good cake idea, but not final product. There is always a chance that I screwed it up and/or me living in elevation a messed up the cake, but that still leaves the frosting being intensely sweet.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. February 27, 2021
I am so sorry to hear that you were not. 100% pleased with the cake. not sure why the layers were so crumbly and sunken - maybe the elevation? as for the filling in the refrigerator, i am going to modify the recipe, as i did not intend you to chill the filling in the fridge, i only suggested the fridge to help it come to room temp more quickly. but you're right - once it is colder than room temp, it is impossible to work with. as for the frosting, i do have a sweet tooth and apologies that u found it too sweet, but that is the way i tend to make frostings.
 
leighanne February 25, 2021
Making next week for my grandmother’s 100th birthday! I’m so excited, it looks amazing and I’m sure she will love!
 
leighanne February 25, 2021
Ma
 
Yiannis P. February 15, 2021
Just so I know…where exactly am I meant to be spending my SIX HOURS of prep time?
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. February 15, 2021
such a good question - hmmm. will try to inquire as to where that number came from . . .
 
Smaug February 15, 2021
In the kitchen, where else? Back to work- this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around...
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. February 16, 2021
just changed the prep time to 2 and a half hours, which includes 25 or so minutes to assemble the cake, 30 or so minutes to assemble the filling and frosting, 45 to so minutes to cool the cake, 20 or so minutes to assemble the cake and 30 or so minutes to chill before serving.
 
Yiannis P. February 16, 2021
Thanks! Now my BF may actually get one. 😉
 
Smaug January 19, 2021
If nothing else, this recipe inspired me to make the real thing. Surprisingly, I had to do some searching for the recipe- the current box just has the cupcake recipe, and the internet is full of "improved" versions- some kindly blogger posted the original (a xerox of an old Baker's chocolate box, actually). I very seldom make anything that sweet, but occasionally you have to have a pecan pie, or caramel or butterscotch, or German's chocolate cake. The rest of that sweetened coconut will likely die in captivity, and the toll in eggs and butter was not inconsiderable, but worth it- like most classic recipes, it really is much more than the sum of its parts.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 19, 2021
great to hear! glad you were able to track down the original recipe and that you enjoyed.
 
Mrs W. December 30, 2020
My husband requested this cake for his birthday and I made it today after narrowing my selection to this recipe. We enjoyed making it together. I have only had German's chocolate cake once many years ago, made from a box I'm sure and only remember the coconut in the filling. He has had it several times and never with frosting. I am not a baker but found this recipe super easy to follow AND absolutely delicious. Due to my lack of experience, the cake layers were not consistent in size and it seemed to me that something like a spring form pan or no parchment might have made the layers smoother. Also, because of a nut allergy of someone we wanted to share it with, we left the pecans to add later. Thank you for this. We loved making it together and nearly ate it deconstructed, sooo luxe!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 30, 2020
Yay! So glad u found the cake easy and delicious. That makes my day!!!! XO
 
Cassandra B. December 15, 2020
I personally think this recipe sounds like the bomb! I've always loved German Chocolate cake, but mostly for the coconut-pecan topping. You've added enough chocolate to make it a real chocolate cake :) My only issue is that I prefer smaller cakes...I might try to scale this one down for a single layer.
 
Smaug December 15, 2020
Not really difficult; also, I believe the German's chocolate package gives a recipe for cupcakes.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
thank you so much Cassandra!!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
thanks for the tip!
 
Smaug January 19, 2021
PS- if you have a couple of 7" pans, half the recipe will make a 7" two layer cake.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 19, 2021
thanks for the tip!
 
Emma L. December 14, 2020
Three slices for me please!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 14, 2020
coming right up! XOXOXOX
 
Rose F. December 13, 2020
Question: is the cake recipe for one cake or for all three cakes?
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 13, 2020
hmmm . . . did you read the recipe? forgive me if it was not clear, but the recipe calls for preparing three cake pans and then pouring batter into three pans . . . which means yes! the recipe makes all three layers!
 
Rose F. December 23, 2020
Instead of asking if I read the recipe you could've just answered my question. You can't control peoples' reading experiences and I'm kind of astonished that you responded to my very simple question in that way. Clearly I did not read the recipe fully. No need to be rude. I only have two cake pans, so when I first looked at the recipe that was immediately on my mind. Try to understand where people are coming from. Thank you for eventually answering my question in your response. Your cake looks delicious.
 
Rose F. December 23, 2020
My response was deleted! Thanks food52! Rude, middle-aged recipe writers get to continue their reign! Love that!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
gosh! i am so sorry. i did not mean to be rude at all - i was just asking - as a recipe writer you want to make sure your recipes are super clear and if what i had written that you had read was confusing, i wanted to change it!! am so sorry you were offended. not my intention at all. and thank you re: the cake looking delicious. that means a lot.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
i am so sorry about your response being deleted - but if i am the rude middle aged recipe writer, i want you to know it was not me!
 
Mrs W. December 29, 2020
this response wasn't deleted because I can still see it.
 
Sinamen78 January 18, 2021
I didn’t have 3 pans either so I bought three 8 -8 1/2” foil pans and it worked out great.
 
Sinamen78 January 18, 2021
Cake was excellent. Could easily have halved the chocolate frosting recipe. Had a lot left but will use it for something else. Delicious!!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 18, 2021
yay!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 18, 2021
yes - there is a lot of frosting (i'm kind of a frosting fanatic 🤷‍♀️
 
Nick January 18, 2021
Oh, for heaven sake.
 
Paula F. December 12, 2020
German chocolate cake made from scratch does not look like that
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 12, 2020
Really? Hmmm . . . All of the components are homemade (ie:from scratch) - how is it supposed to look?
 
Lizzy C. December 12, 2020
Maybe you just need to brush up on your cake decorating skills
 
Lizzy C. December 12, 2020
Looks perfect to me
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 13, 2020
I actually think the cake looks great! i did not style it, but i love what the food52 team did
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 13, 2020
me too!
 
Smaug December 14, 2020
Looks unusual to me, too, because I've never seen a German's chocolate cake with chocolate frosting; generally the filling and frosting are the same coconut mixture. People will tinker, though- my mother couldn't stand coconut and used chopped pecans instead, and it was really good. German's chocolate (made by Baker's, which is no doubt now part of some huge conglomerate) is still available. As I recall it's pretty sweet- about 56%, I think.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 14, 2020
when developing the recipe, the research that i did revealed that a lot of folks actually DO lightly frost german chocolate cakes and so i decided to do that as well. as for the traditional, slightly gooey, german chocolate coconut pecan filling, the cake is filled with it and topped with it as well . . .
 
Prathima December 14, 2020
I was scouring the web for a german chocolate cake recipe two weeks ago and found the same to be true. Some frost the sides with choc buttercream, and some don't. This filling seems to be universal -- and the evaporated milk improves the browning of the topping. Doesn't look like the cake I grew up with, because that one came from a Duncan Hines box, and we we only had a sheet pan. Seems strange to think there is one definitive recipe, as I'm sure no one wants to go back to what was actually printed on that box 100 years ago.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 14, 2020
agreed! i enjoy seeing how people have played with the recipe over the years and honestly love the addition of the frosting and the fact that i can add it to my recipe and yet still to be true to a beloved chocolate classic.
 
Smaug December 14, 2020
No doubt- it's largely tilting at windmills (which can be more fun than you might think), but I do wish that when people come up with a new recipe they'd come up with a new name too. I understand that it's easier to market a familiar name, but it leads to a sort of semantic entropy that seems irreversible. At this point, "Beef Stroganoff" can be anything from a stew to a stir fry, "chili" can be pretty much anything red in a bowl, "pizza" can be anything flat, "Key Lime Pie" can be any sort of dessert with any kind of lime in it... This is not expanding or in any way improving the language, it's simply sending meanings to a vanishing point.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
when developing the recipe, the research that i did revealed that a lot of folks actually DO lightly frost german chocolate cakes and so i decided to do that as well. as for the traditional, slightly gooey, german chocolate coconut pecan filling, the cake is filled with it and topped with it as well . . .
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. December 23, 2020
agreed Prathima! agreed! i enjoy seeing how people have played with the recipe over the years and honestly love the addition of the frosting and the fact that i can add it to my recipe and yet still to be true to a beloved chocolate classic.
 
Smaug December 23, 2020
But it's not being true to a beloved chocolate classic. Unlike most well known dishes, German's chocolate cake is a very specific recipe from a very specific, known source. Pretty much everything in the arts, including cooking, is stolen from somewhere, and there's no reason why you can't steal the coconut frosting- which is pretty unique- and use it on a different cake. But different cake it is.
 
Smaug January 16, 2021
48%, actually.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 16, 2021
👍