German Chocolate Cake

I have long associated German Chocolate Cake with Father’s Day, although I’m not entirely sure why. I think I remember my mom making it for my dad once or twice growing up (although never on Father’s Day, ironically) and the correlation must have stuck somewhere along the way. Although I don’t have a distinct memory to tie the two together, German Chocolate Cake just seems like a “man’s man” cake, doesn’t it? So many chocolate layers with a sugary pecan-coconut filling in between and then iced in more chocolate… it’s certainly not a cake for the faint of heart! With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, I’m sure this cake could make many men in your life happy!

Up until recently, I thought that this cake actually originated in Germany, hence the name. Turns out, it’s as American as the Big Mac. Who knew?! Way back in 1852, Sam German developed a brand of dark chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company and the resulting product, Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate, was named in honor of him. Then, in the late 1950’s, the original recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake”, which used the baking chocolate, was submitted by a homemaker to a local newspaper. It became insanely popular, so much so, that the company that owned Baker’s Chocolate noticed and distributed the recipe to other newspapers across the country. Reportedly, sales of the chocolate increased 73% , and the cake became famous. Here’s hoping that homemaker from Dallas who came up with the recipe got a little piece of the action!

This recipe was actually my second go at German Chocolate Cake recently, and I’m pretty confident it will be my last. I first turned to my usual trusted source for classic recipes when I set about making the cake, but ended up being surprisingly disappointed. The cake layers were wispy thin and the chocolate flavor was severely lacking. I started my search over and when I came across this recipe I thought it looked extremely promising. It was described as a “big, tall” cake with four layers brushed with a rum syrup, lots of filling and iced with a fantastic chocolate ganache. This cake delivered and then some.

You can’t taste the rum in the syrup, but it accents the chocolate flavor and keeps the cake nice and moist. The filling is studded with toasted pecans and toasted coconut; the toasting takes mere minutes but adds so much in terms of flavor and texture. Finally, the icing isn’t overpowering, but a perfect complement and finishing touch to the cake – you don’t want to skip it!

Are you making anything special for Father’s Day on Sunday?

One year ago: Creamy, Lighter Macaroni Salad
Two years ago: Oven-Fried Onion Rings, Take II
Three years ago: Chocolate Espresso Semifreddo

German Chocolate Cake

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes


For the Cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons water
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cup + ¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the Rum Syrup:
2/3 cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons dark rum

For the Chocolate Icing:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream


1. Make the Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

2. Melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolates together with the 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Use either a double-boiler or microwave on 50% for 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Stir until smooth, then set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1¼ cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the melted chocolate until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add the buttermilk and the vanilla extract, mixing until combined, and then add the remainder of the flour mixture.

5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the ¼ cup of sugar and beat until they form stiff, glossy peaks.

6. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.

7. Divide the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake layers completely (leave them in the pans). While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup and icing.

8. Make the Filling: Stir together the heavy cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, salt, pecans and coconut in a large bowl and set aside. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom of the pan as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170 degrees F.). Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature.

9. Make the Rum Syrup: In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum. Set aside until ready to use.

10. Make the Chocolate Icing: Place the chopped chocolate, corn syrup and butter in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand one minute, then stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

11. Once the filling and icing are both cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for 1 hour.

12. Assemble the Cake: Remove the cake layers from the pans and cut both cake layers in half horizontally using a sharp serrated knife, so you have four cake layers. Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush the top of the cake layer with the rum 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, brushing the top of each cake layer with the rum syrup, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top. Ice the sides with the chocolate icing, then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping.

(Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)


193 Responses to “German Chocolate Cake”

Comment Pages 1 2 3
  1. Mary @ Bake Break on June 14, 2012 at 1:36 am

    Thanks for the history lesson – I had no idea! Also, German chocolate cake is one of my FAVORITES and this one looks fantastic!!


  2. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on June 14, 2012 at 1:44 am

    This looks heavenly…the rum syrup just makes it perfect. I can’t believe German chocolate cake is not German! :)


  3. Candy on June 14, 2012 at 2:17 am

    This cake looks so delicious! Here Father’s Day was three months ago, but I’ll keep the recipe for next year.


  4. KitchenMason on June 14, 2012 at 2:45 am

    I have never tried this cake before but it looks divine!


  5. Villy @ For the love of Feeding on June 14, 2012 at 3:15 am

    *Gasp*. It looks perfect!


  6. IdaBaker on June 14, 2012 at 4:32 am

    I love learning the origins of food, and when it’s cake, it’s even better.

    Please save me a slice. :)


  7. Kathryn on June 14, 2012 at 4:54 am

    This cake looks just fabulous!


  8. Sharon Peek on June 14, 2012 at 7:05 am

    My mother took orders for several varieties of cakes to supplement the family income when I was young. This was the most requested cake. The cake she made was moist and delicious but differed in that the icing was used all over the cake and in between the 4 layers. The icing utilized evaporated milk instead of whip cream. The evaporated milk gave a distinctive take to the frosting. I am anxious to try your adaption to see the difference. Your cake looks amazing.


  9. Katrina on June 14, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Sweet goodness, YES! This sounds so awesome and looks just as lovely.


  10. Meghan @ After the Ivy League on June 14, 2012 at 7:07 am

    If a layered chocolate on top of chocolate cake is my all time favorite dessert (birthday worthy) does that make me manly? This recipe looks great and I loved reading about the history of the cake! Trivia like that always fascinates me.


    • Michelle on June 14th, 2012 at 10:36 am

      I always say that I feel like I have more of a “meat and potatoes”, “manly” food preferences than lighter, “girlier” fare. I don’t see anything wrong with that 😉


  11. Ellen @ The Baking Bluenoser on June 14, 2012 at 7:19 am

    I have been looking for a good german chocolate cake recipe, and this looks like a winner!


  12. Jeri Barry on June 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

    This cake is beautiful. Your photography is incredible as well. My dad is in the hospital with a collapsed lung…we are hoping to have him home for Father’s Day. I will definitely surprise him with this cake…it should be especially delicious after eating hospital food!


    • Michelle on June 14th, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Hi Jeri, I hope your dad is home soon and recovers quickly!


  13. Jennifer on June 14, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I’ve made this cake a few times because people at work have requested it as their favorite cake. I’d never even had it before until I started working at the publishing house (where they request this cake). It’s a good cake! I love the historical info you added to the post today. Fun stuff!


  14. Brittany @ Brittany Cooks on June 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I had no idea German chocolate cake wasn’t a German recipe! Thanks for the recipe. :)


  15. Lori on June 14, 2012 at 7:48 am

    This cake looks amazing. You are really talented. It’s too bad my sons are allergic to nuts :( It cuts down on my choices.


    • Diane on March 13th, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      You can probably omit the nuts. I think it would taste just as good with all coconut!!


  16. Jessica @ Portuguese Girl Cooks on June 14, 2012 at 7:55 am

    This looks delicious! My dad has been asking me to make this for some time, so this is definitely what I’m making for Father’s day.


  17. Jen on June 14, 2012 at 7:58 am

    German chocolate cake is my husband’s favorite cake, and I have made it for his birthday (in July) for the past 4 years. I have always just used the recipe off the back of the box of German chocolate, which is what my mother always used, and it is good, but I can’t say it’s “great” (it’s hard for me to call this cake great anyway, since I do not like coconut and am mildly allergic to pecans.) My husband has raved about a childhood friend’s mother who made a German chocolate cake that was to die for when he was a kid — here’s hoping this recipe can live up to it!


    • Wolfgang on June 15th, 2012 at 2:32 am

      Dear Jen,
      no fear ,dear Jen, I’m an “origin” german man (now aged over 60) living in Cologne and I love the “origin german chocolate” cake since my youth and I can say you: The real “origin” ones are NOT made with nuts like walnut, hazelnut or coconut! They are called in germany like they are: Just “Nut Cakes”! So you must not have fear about any kinds of health or special illnesss of that.
      So you can like and eat it much more.
      Many greetings from the Rhine River and from me
      Sincerely Yours


      • Mia on June 16th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

        Ahhh, thank you for that response! I´m also German and I was wondering why there should be coconut and pecans in a german cake, because both don´t grow in these parts. :)


  18. Emily @Sweet Bella Roos on June 14, 2012 at 8:24 am

    When I saw the top picture in my feed I thought, hmm that looks good. When I saw the first slice i thought, ok now I have to have this. Looks sooo yummy and I’m not even a huge fan of German Chocolate Cake!


  19. Terri on June 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Your cake looks lovely. I have never been a fan of this cake since I don’t like coconut. Or maybe it is just that when I was a kid and saw this kind of cake at a local bakery and heard it was German Chocolate Cake I thought the light brown stuff was sauerkraut!!


  20. Jessica@AKitchenAddiction on June 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

    This would make me and my dad happy! :) Delicious!


  21. Ali @ Gimme Some Oven on June 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

    GORGEOUS!!!! And love the story behind the cake!!


  22. Heather on June 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

    This is my Dad’s favorite birthday cake. I tried making one for him one time from scratch. It tasted wonderful but it’s appearance left something to be desired! It pretty much collapsed. If I remember correctly I tried icing it too soon out of the oven. I have since learned patience, lol!


  23. Barbara on June 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for the history! This is one of my favorite cakes and I look forward to making it…I hope it turns out as pretty as your!


  24. Chandra@the plaid and paisley kitchen on June 14, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I always sthought the cake came from Germany also! Thanks for sharing! And this recipe looks amazing!!!! Beautiful photos as always!


  25. megan @ whatmegansmaking on June 14, 2012 at 11:12 am

    wow does this look good! I always thought this cake was from Germany too, and I minored in German in college!


  26. Ally on June 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Incredible recipe… stunning presentation!


  27. Riley on June 14, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I’ll be making beignets and some yummy vanilla ice cream for Father’s Day. But I get the feeling that I’ll be dreaming of this cake on Sunday!


  28. Julie on June 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I don’t cook/bake with alcohol – do you think just doing the simple syrup bit of the run syrup would work?


    • Michelle on June 14th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      Hi Julie, You can definitely omit the rum and do a regular simple syrup, that would work just fine.


      • Diane on March 13th, 2013 at 7:25 pm

        They make rum flavored extract too that would probably work


  29. Courtney @ Bake.Eat.Repeat. on June 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    So excited for this! Though German Chocolate isn’t my favorite, it seems to be the fav of many friends and family. I can’t wait to ditch the box mix and try the real thing!


  30. Chelsea on June 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I made this cake for Mothers Day this year and it was SO amazing! I don’t even really like German chocolate cake but I couldn’t get enough of it!


  31. CulinarilyCourtney on June 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Well, if this is a man cake, then I guess I must be a man! I would eat this in a heartbeat if someone were to set it down before me. This cake looks absolutely stunning.


  32. Rebecca on June 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I made this cake for a friend’s birthday in January without the syrup and I agree the recipe is a keeper.


  33. Shelby N. on June 14, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I used to waitress in a restraint that had the most fantastic German Chocolate cake EVER. This looks and sounds like it will be really close to that one. Your cake looks do good… I can taste it now! I will be making this VERY soon. My FIL loves German Cocolate so that’s a pretty good excuse. I wonder if he would mind if I only gave him half a cake…. Lol


  34. DB-The Foodie Stuntman on June 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Fascinating history lesson. Cake looks good too.


  35. Pennie D on June 14, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    German cake not native to Germany! Wow. Who knew. My dad and brother both love German choc. cake. And this one looks great. Also great tip on keeping the cake moist, mine dry out so bad. Am going to give this one a try and see how father likes it on his day. Thanks.


  36. Madeleine @ teeniebaker on June 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    This looks fabulous! I love German Chocolate Cake – heck, I like anything that involves chocolate and cake!


  37. Peggy on June 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve always wondered how German Chocolate Cake came about! Thanks for the lesson =) Your final result looks absolutely stunning!


  38. Steph@stephsbitebybite on June 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Tall and chocolatey! Just how I like it!


  39. Ashlee on June 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    OMG my dad is goin to love this when I make it for fathers day! Beautiful photo


  40. Shirley@bells-bakery on June 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    This looks sooooo good,wish I was eating a big ol’ chunk right this minute :)


  41. Kristy on June 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    This looks so good, German chocolate cake is delicious!


  42. Mi Vida en un Dulce on June 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    So, a German Cake maybe named by the same person who made French Fries…it curious how people named food.
    Hope I have time to make some Lemon Pie cupcakes, but now I’m dealing with a tons of cookies. Anyway, now I’m not sure if I want to make cupcakes or this terrific cake.


  43. Kelly on June 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Hi again :) As I’ve said before our family doesn’t take in alcohol at all , so maybe would you have any substitution ideas for the rum in the rum syrup ?


  44. Nicki on June 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Thank you so much for the history lesson! When I visit the US, people never believe me when I say that we don’t even know stuff like German chocolate cake or German pancakes (not the way they are made in the US, anyway)! Now I can at least tell them why a German choc cake is called a German choc cake!
    And it looks delicious, too, I might just have to try it!


  45. Kelly on June 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    This cake looks absolutely stunning!!


  46. Kate on June 14, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    This was always the cake I requested for my birthday! Haven’t had any in a very long time…of course, not, I stopped having birthdays! I will have to give this a try. Looks amazing.


  47. bergamot on June 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Wow the cake is just perfect and looks really scrumptious.


  48. Tor on June 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    This looks so, so good. The sliced shots have me at my knees, it looks glossy and dense and amazing!


  49. brandi on June 15, 2012 at 10:05 am

    this is my husband’s favorite cake -ever. it looks perfect!


  50. Tracy on June 15, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    What a gorgeous cake!!


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