German chocolate cake is a light, velvety chocolate cake with rich coconut pecan filling between the layers. It’s a uniquely delicious cake to bake!

layered german chocolate cake on white cake stand

Happy birthday to me! I would be lying if I said I didn’t like my own birthday.  Oh, and yes, I usually bake my birthday cake! This year’s specialty is german chocolate cake. This decadent cake has layers velvety smooth chocolate cake with coconut pecan filling inside.

Why this recipe works: The chocolate cake is made with buttermilk, which produces a mild chocolate flavor and a light, soft cake. This is necessary because the coconut pecan filling is quite decadent and provides plenty of textural contrast. The cakes also rise quite high so you can cut them in half length-wise for a high-rise cake.

german chocolate cake ingredients in bowls labeled with text
photo collage demonstrating how to make german chocolate cake batter in a mixing bowl

Overview: How to make German chocolate cake

  1. Make the chocolate cake: Whisk together the cocoa, espresso, water, buttermilk and vanilla in one bowl—set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt—set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, eggs and sugar. Alternate adding the wet cocoa ingredients and the dry flour mixture to the large mixing bowl. Mix just until combined. Divide batter between two lightly greased cake pans and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes.
  2. Make the coconut pecan filling: Beat egg yolks, sugar and salt together with an electric mixer. Add butter, then cream and vanilla, mixing until well combined. Transfer mixture to a saucepan and cook over low heat until mixture is puffy and thick. Let mixture cool, then stir in pecans and coconut flakes.
  3. Assembly: Use a serrated knife to slice the cakes lengthwise creating 4 round cakes. Place one cake on a cake stand. Spread
german chocolate cake coconut pecan filling ingredients
photo collage demonstrating how to make coconut pecan filling for german chocolate cake

Tips for making coconut pecan filling

This filling is what makes German chocolate cake unique. In my opinion, it is irresistible. The cooking process is crucial so the eggs aren’t raw. Be sure to constantly stir the filling gently and slowly over low heat. This will prevent the eggs from scrambling.

The filling is done on the stove when it becomes thick and puffy. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature should read close to 180° F.

two photo collage demonstrating how to assemble a german chocolate cake with coconut pecan filling
layered german chocolate cake on a white cake stand

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you split a cake? This recipe requires splitting the cakes in half lengthwise to create four layers. I suggest marking the edge of the cake with a serrated knife (this is called “scoring”). Make the mark about halfway up the edge. Use the same serrated knife to slowly cut the cake in a sawing motion. Take your time!

Does the cake dry out? Not when stored properly. The filling is so moist that it keeps the layers moist. If you’d like, you can add chocolate buttercream frosting to the sides.

How do you store German chocolate cake? Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for 5 days. German chocolate cake does not need to be refrigerated since the filling is cooked and not raw.

Can you freeze German chocolate cake? Yes. Place cake in the freezer until set, about 1 hour. Then wrap the cake in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator before bringing to room temperature and serving. In my opinion, it’s easier to freeze the cake layers and filling separately, then defrost and assemble before serving.

slice of german chocolate cake with coconut filling on white round plate

German chocolate cake usually has German sweet chocolate in the batter. However, this cake tends to turn out too sweet and dense for the rich coconut pecan filling. The use of cocoa powder and buttermilk creates a lighter cake that complements the filling better.

This cake is one of my all time favorites. I can’t resist the coconut pecan filling! If you enjoyed this cake, be sure to leave a rating and share on social media by tagging @ifyougiveablondeakitchen. Enjoy!

top of german chocolate cake with coconut pecan filling

German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake is a light, velvety chocolate cake with rich coconut pecan filling between the layers. It's a uniquely delicious cake to bake!

Ingredients

Cake

  • ¼ cup (24 g) nonalkalized cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder
  • cup (78 ml) boiling water
  • cup (80 ml) buttermilk (or plain yogurt),, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons (170 g or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, , room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cup (250 g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs,, room temperature
  • 1 ¼ cups (156 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Coconut Pecan Filling

  • 4 egg yolks,, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g or 1 stick) unsalted butter, , room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups (187 g) toasted pecans (whole or roughly chopped)
  • 2 cups (150 g) lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut

Instructions 

Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Generously grease two 8-inch round cake pans and caver the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the parchment rounds and dust the pans with flour, tapping out excess. Alternatively, you can use my Miracle Cake Pan Release.
  • Mix the cocoa and instant espresso powder in a small bowl. Add boiling water and mix until smooth. Let cool and then stir in buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), beat butter on medium high speed until smooth—30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and beat until fluffy and almost white—3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each egg.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • With the mixer on low, add about a third of the flour mixture to the batter. Follow immediately with about a third of the cocoa mixture. Repeat the process twice more.
  • When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer, scrape sides with a rubber spatula, and return mixer to low speed. Beat until the batter is “satiny,” about 15 seconds. Divide batter evenly between two prepared pans. Using an offset spatula, smooth the tops. Tap pans to release any air bubbles.
  • Bake for 23-30 minutes until they feel firm in the center and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (maybe a crumb or two on it). Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Coconut Pecan Filling

  • Mix the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat in the butter, and then gradually beat in the cream and vanilla.
  • Pour mixture into a medium, nonreactive saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Continue until puffy and begins to thicken and the temperature reaches 180° F on an instant read thermometer—15 to 20 minutes.
  • Pour mixture into a medium bowl and cool to room temperature. Stir in pecans and coconut.

Assembly

  • Use a long serrated knife to cut the cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms 2 layers. Place 1 of the cake bottoms on a serving plate. Spread about 1 cup filling over the cake half. Repeat stacking and filling process with the remaining filling and cake, ending with a final layer of filling. Cut the cake into slices and serve.

Notes

Buttermilk substitution: Place 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a  measuring cup. Fill the rest of the measuring cup with milk up to the 1/3 cup measure for this recipe. Stir and let mixture sit for 5 minutes before using.
Store German chocolate cake in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for 5 days. It is not necessary to chill this cake.
How to freeze German chocolate cake: Place cake uncovered in the freezer for 1-2 hours to set. Then wrap the cake in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container. Freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator before bringing to room temperature and serving.
Recommended tools: Kitchen scale, stand mixer or hand mixer, 9-inch round cake pans, serrated knife, candy thermometer, small saucepan.
Serving: 1slice, Calories: 634kcal, Carbohydrates: 59g, Protein: 7g, Fat: 43g, Saturated Fat: 22g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 184mg, Sodium: 268mg, Potassium: 208mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 44g, Vitamin A: 1039IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 56mg, Iron: 2mg

Recipe from Baking Illustrated

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