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Homemade German Chocolate Cake

A rich and moist homemade German chocolate cake with a smooth, sweet and nutty caramel-like frosting and fudgy chocolate buttercream. This decadent old-fashioned cake is pure perfection!

Craving more chocolate desserts with the same flavor profile? Try German chocolate brownies and German chocolate cookies, too!

Slice of German chocolate cake on white plate.
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Best German Chocolate Cake

One of my family’s all time favorite cakes is German chocolate cake. My mom would make it for every birthday and it brings back some really fun memories growing up. We made this recipe for my Dad’s birthday about a month ago and it was loved by all!

It starts with a moist and fudgy chocolate cake that’s layered with a caramelly and creamy coconut pecan frosting AND a sweet chocolate buttercream. It has all the best flavors and textures and is super decadent and delicious.

I LOVE, love, love the coconut pecan frosting and could eat it by the spoonful! Trust me, just one bite of it on this rich chocolate cake and you’ll be hooked!

Why This Recipe Works

  • Decadent: Lush chocolate flavor, coconut pecan filling, and a rich chocolate buttercream to top it off!
  • German chocolate frosting. The frosting sets this cake apart and makes it a favorite!
  • Indulgent: I swapped bakers melted chocolate for unsweetened cocoa and it adds depth of flavor and rich chocolate color to the cake recipe.
  • Perfect for a celebration: Whether you are celebrating a special birthday or holiday, this from scratch cake adds the perfect touch.

Homemade German Chocolate Cake Ingredients

This homemade German chocolate cake recipe does take a little more effort since we’re making the cake and both frostings from scratch, but trust me, it is so worth it!

German chocolate cake ingredients on a marble counter.

Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.

  • Chocolate cake: The base of this dessert starts with my trusty chocolate cake recipe. It’s simple to make with baking staples like flour, sugar, eggs, unsweetened cocoa powder, salt and vanilla and has a few extra ingredients like buttermilk and vegetable oil which helps to make it super moist and tender.
  • Coconut pecan frosting: This frosting is the real show stopper, so don’t skip on making it! It’s definitely the best part and the canned stuff just doesn’t compare. It cooks on the stove until thick and caramelly and has great texture from the flaked coconut and chopped pecans.
  • Chocolate buttercream: The finishing touch for the exterior of the cake. It’s rich, fudgy, smooth and creamy all at the same time and only takes a handful of ingredients like butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and half and half.

Variations

While I prefer making the cake from scratch if I have the time, you can definitely use a box of German chocolate cake mix to make this recipe even easier.

I would suggest adding in about 1/2 cup sour cream to make it softer, similar to how I do when making my favorite chocolate cupcakes from cake mix. It makes a difference!

How to Make German Chocolate Cake

Make a homemade German chocolate cake requires 3 separate tasks: baking the cake, preparing the coconut pecan frosting on the stove and then mixing together the chocolate buttercream. Then all that’s left is to frost the cake, which in my opinion is the best part! Learn more tips for how to make this delicious cake recipe below.

Showing how to make german chocolate cake in a 4 step collage.
  • Sift. Start by sifting the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and a teaspoon salt) through a flour sifter. This gets rid of any lumps in the flour mixture and will help make the texture of the cake more light and airy.
  • Mix. Next use a whisk or your electric mixer beaters to stir in the wet ingredients (water, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla) until the batter is smooth and well combined.
  • Pour and bake. Using a rubber spatula, divide the cake batter evenly between two greased 9-inch round cake pans and then bake in the oven at 350°F for about 28 to 35 minutes. They will be done when a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Then allow to cool completely on wire racks.
  • Mix buttercream. Use an electric mixer to cream the butter until light and fluffy. Then slowly add in the powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla and salt to taste. If the consistency is too thick, add in a little half and half, heavy cream or milk to thin it out.
  • Cook coconut frosting. Bring the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolk, butter and vanilla to a simmer in a small to medium saucepan on the stove. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens and turns an amber, caramel color (make sure to stir constantly so it doesn’t burn). Remove the pan from the heat and fold in the flaked coconut and chopped pecans, then let cool.
  • Frost. Spread the coconut pecan frosting in the center of the cake, then cover the sides with the chocolate buttercream. Then slice and enjoy!
Slice of German chocolate cake on cake stand.

Expert Tips

  • Measure the flour using the spoon and level method so that your cake has the perfect soft and fluffy texture.
  • Bake the cakes on the middle oven rack so they cook evenly and don’t brown too fast.
  • Freeze the cooled cakes for a few minutes prior to frosting to help give it a clean surface and minimize any crumbs while spreading the frosting on top.
  • Stir the coconut frosting continuously while cooking so that the caramel doesn’t burn.
  • Adjust the consistency of the buttercream if needed. Thin it out with milk or half and half or thicken the texture by adding in more powdered sugar.

Recipe FAQs

What is German chocolate cake?

The sweetness, texture and type of frosting used is what sets this cake apart. German cake is made with sweeter German chocolate, while chocolate or devil’s food cake is typically made with unsweetened chocolate. The cake is always fluffier and less dense.

The frosting has a distinct coconut pecan flavor, while the frosting on chocolate cakes typically vary anywhere from a meringue to a chocolate buttercream.

Does it need to be refrigerated?

No, it can be stored at room temperature. I used a glass cake stand (with a lid) to store mine. Just make sure you’re storing it in some sort of airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 3 days.

Can it be frozen?

Sure. Wrap each slice tightly in plastic wrap, then store in the freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to enjoy, thaw in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours until no longer frozen.

Can German chocolate cake be made in advance?

Yes, the cake and both frostings can be prepared in advance. After baking the cakes, let them cool and then wrap and freeze.

Then prepare both frostings as directed. The coconut frosting will stay fresh in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week and the buttercream will stay fresh in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Let both come to room temperature before using.

Slice of German chocolate cake on a white plate.

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Slice of German chocolate cake on a white plate.

German Chocolate Cake

5 from 28 votes
↑ Click stars to rate now!
Author: Jamielyn Nye
A rich and moist homemade German chocolate cake with a smooth, sweet and nutty caramel-like frosting and fudgy chocolate buttercream. This decadent cake is the ultimate treat!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 12

Video

Ingredients 

Cake

  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (410 grams) granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1 cup (225 grams) hot water
  • 1 cup (245 grams) buttermilk
  • ½ cup (100 grams) vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs , at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups flaked coconut (make sure it’s fresh)
  • 1 cup pecans , chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons half-and-half , can sub for heavy cream or milk
  • Pinch salt , more to taste

Instructions

Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Center an oven rack in the middle position. Line the bottom of 2 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
  • Using a handheld mixer or whisk, mix in the water, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Spread the batter evenly between the pans.
  • Bake 28 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs. Let cool 2 to 3 minutes before running a knife around the edges and turning out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely. Once cooled I like to wrap in plastic and freeze before frosting.

Coconut Frosting

  • Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolk, butter and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-heat, stirring constantly. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and turned a caramel color. Be careful not to burn.
  • Remove from heat and stir in coconut and pecans. Allow the frosting to cool slightly and thicken.

Chocolate Buttercream

  • In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and salt. Add heavy cream as needed to thin.
  • Frost the center of the cake with the coconut frosting and the sides with the chocolate buttercream frosting.

Notes

Cake Mix: To make this recipe easier you can use a box of German chocolate cake mix and follow the instructions on the box. I like to add in a 1/2 cup sour cream to make it softer. If you have the time, make from scratch, the extra steps are worth it!
Make ahead:
  • Bake and cool the cakes. Then wrap in plastic and freeze until ready to use.
  • Make the coconut frosting and allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Allow to come to room temperature when ready to use. 
  • Make the chocolate buttercream and store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Allow to come to room temperature when ready to use. You may need to beat a minute before using to fluff up. 
Storage: Keep cake in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days. Wrap individual slices in plastic wrap and freeze up to 3 months. 

Nutrition

Calories: 1026kcal | Carbohydrates: 145g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 50g | Saturated Fat: 23g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 147mg | Sodium: 495mg | Potassium: 490mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 103g | Vitamin A: 925IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 136mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegetarian

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