A Classic German Chocolate Cake is a multilayered cake filled and topped with a gooey coconut pecan filling, and if you’re lucky, iced with chocolate frosting!
This quadruple layer, homemade German chocolate cake recipe is doused with rum syrup and garnished with a to die for chocolate ganache icing to make an outrageously delicious dessert.
German Chocolate Cake
When my incredible friend, Pam, requested either German chocolate cake for her birthday a decade ago, it was my pleasure to bake up a memorable cake from her childhood. Fast forward 10 years and a close knit bunch of friends are taking her out for a birthday lunch. Guess what dessert I’m making? Yup, a German chocolate cake with the classic caramel, pecan, coconut frosting!
Thankfully, my friends’ palates are more refined than my family’s. You see, my family likes pure unadulterated chocolate cakes, so I’d never tried a German chocolate cake recipe from scratch before. Nuts and coconut are blasphemous ingredients at my house. I searched the Internet to find this David Lebovitz masterpiece. His tricks include a rum syrup that moistens even a slightly over baked cake. This homemade German chocolate cake is definitely a winner!
What Makes a German Chocolate Cake German?
Back in the 1850’s a new type of sweet baking chocolate was developed by Samuel German for the Bakers Chocolate Company. Nearly 100 years later, a recipe for German’s Chocolate Cake was printed in the Dallas paper featuring Baker’s German Chocolate. In my recipe, there’s no need to hunt down this special chocolate as a mix of semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate works just fine. Now you know the rest of the story. The German Chocolate Cake has no roots to Germany, but instead filters back to a man named German who developed a type of baking chocolate.
How Does a German Chocolate Cake Differ from a Chocolate Cake?
Typically, a German chocolate cake is 3 layers filled with a caramel frosting that may contain coconut and pecans. The sides are often left unfrosted to reveal the layers and gooey filling. If desired, a chocolate frosting can ice the sides as well as garnish the top of the cake. I went the full mile and added the chocolate frosting. The cake layers are often lighter, due to the whipped egg whites, dryer and less sweet than a traditional chocolate cake.
Tips for Making a Classic German Chocolate Cake from Scratch
There are two techniques utilized in this cake recipe that may be new to you. First is cutting both layers in half, horizontally, so there are four layers. Second is moistening the layers with a sugar syrup enhanced with rum.
Make the Cakes:
- If you’ve made cakes from scratch before, the process will be familiar. Having room temperature butter, eggs and buttermilk are important.
- PRO-Tip: f you don’t have buttermilk in your fridge, you can make your own by putting 1 tablespoon neutral vinegar (white or apple cider) in a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, then filling it will milk to the one cup mark. Let set a few minutes, stir and use as needed.
- Egg whites are beaten to lighten the cake batter and there are a few pointers for making this go smoothly. Your egg whites must not be exposed to any grease. That includes oils, butter, and even egg yolks. So when you crack your eggs, if you get any egg yolk into the whites, they will not whip to peaks. So be cautious, use 3 bowls instead of two, and make sure all your utensils are scrupulously clean.
- Use one bowl to collect all yolks, one to collect each white as it is separated, then a third bowl to collect all the whites from bowl number two.
- Most of the rest of the cake mixing is self explanatory. Once the cake batter is made, I divide it into two prepared cake pans. I like to weigh them on a kitchen scale so my layers are the same size. You can always eyeball it if you don’t have a kitchen scale.
- When the cakes are baked, removed and cool, you can cut them each in half.
Cut and Apply the Syrup:
- PRO-Tip: To make cutting the layers easier, I take toothpicks and poke them into each cake layer around the perimeter, a touch below the halfway point on the sides. This is a guide for my knife.
- Use a long serrated knife, and start by gently sawing the knife around the cake right above the toothpicks. After working around the cake, start slicing inwards until the cake is sliced in half.
- To ensure the cake stays moist, make the sugar syrup which is simply sugar dissolved in hot water. Dark rum is added for flavor, but if you do not want to add liquor, a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract will do.
- Use a pastry or basting brush to apply the sugar syrup to the cut side of each layer. I did not use all the syrup.
Make the Homemade German Chocolate Frosting:
- If you’ve only tasted the canned frosting, you must try this homemade German chocolate frosting recipe. The nuts and coconut are gently toasted first (at 350º for about 5 minutes, stirring a couple times and watching so they don’t burn), then mixed into a cooked custard of heavy cream, sugar and egg yolks.
- Once the mixture has cooked and thickened, it’s poured over the butter, pecans and coconut. Once mixed, cool before spreading onto the cake layers.
Layer and Decorate:
- Layer, fill and frost as directed. You can pipe chocolate stars around the top of the cake. Next time, I’ll make them larger to cover every speck of the cake that is revealed. I used a large open star tip to pipe the stars.
- To streamline your cake making, you can make, cool and wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap ahead of time. If you freeze the layers, also wrap in foil and defrost in the refrigerator before continuing. The sugar syrup can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
2009 birthday cake
2019 birthday cake
This post was originally shared in June, 2010. Photos and text were updated in 2019.
Homemade German Chocolate Cake
This homemade German chocolate cake to a group of 12 friends at a local BBQ spot last week. Let me tell you, it got rave reviews! I went home with an empty cake plate. Save this terrific recipe for a special occasion. My dad always asked for this cake on his birthday and my mom would run to Randall’s grocery store to purchase one. I sure wish I could make this for him!
Other German chocolate desserts on the blog include this German Chocolate Brownie Pie, German Chocolate Brownies, and German Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes. This German Chocolate Cheesecake from Life, Love and Sugar looks phenomenal, too!
More Chocolate Cakes You’ll Love:
- Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake
- Candy Bar Cheesecake
- Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
- Easy Chocolate Pudding Cake
- Flourless Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Frosting
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Cream Filled Chocolate Cupakes
- More Chocolate Recipes
- More Cake Recipes
German Chocolate Cake
The ultimate German Chocolate Cake with 4 layers, caramel, coconut, pecan filling and a luscious chocolate frosting!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 55 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Yield: 16 servings 1x
- Category: Dessert, Cake
- Method: Mixing, Melting, Baking
- Cuisine: American
- 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 6 tablespoons water
- 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
- 1 1/3 cups coconut, toasted
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Butter two 9 inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Melt both chocolates with the 6 tablespoons of water in the microwave. Heat for 30 second increments until mostly melted. Whisk until smooth, then let cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture, then the buttermilk and the vanilla, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff. Gently fold about one third of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites and mix just until the egg whites are incorporated
- Divide the batter into the 2 cake pans, smooth the tops with an offset spatula, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake layers completely.
- While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup, and icing.
- To make the filling, mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a saucepan. Put the 6 tablespoons butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon.
- Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool to room temperature.
- In a saucepan, heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat, and stir in the dark rum. Set aside.
- To make the frosting, place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and the 3 tablespoons of butter. Heat the cream until it starts to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand about a minute, then whisk until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
- Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally, using a long, serrated bread knife. Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush well with syrup. Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top.
- Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.
- Frost the sides with the chocolate icing, then if desired, pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, to circle the coconut topping.
Adapted from David Lebovitz.
Cake may be stored at room temperature for a day or two, then refrigerate.