Extra Chocolatey German Chocolate Cake

December 11, 2020
2 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 6 hours
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes one triple-layer 8-inch cake
  • 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
  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 completely before using, either on the counter or in the refrigerator, 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.

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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.