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)

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167 Responses to “German Chocolate Cake”

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  1. Meghan on February 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    This sounds delicious! It’s my boyfriend’s favorite kind of cake and I want to make it for his birthday that’s coming up on Monday. Wondering, though, should the salt in the filling be unsalted?


    • Michelle on February 9th, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Hi Meghan, I assume you mean butter? Yes, it should be unsalted, but apologies for that omission, I am editing the recipe now to reflect that.


      • Meghan on February 10th, 2014 at 8:14 pm

        Haha. Yes, I meant butter. I made the cake today and my boyfriend said it was the best birthday cake he has ever had! Thank you for the recipe!


  2. selena on February 23, 2014 at 8:39 am

    having never made a german chocolate cake before i searched for a great recipe. this is a good one! i did however omit the folded egg whites and increase the egg yolks. this made a denser cake (which is what i was looking for). the filling is divine! thanks for the recipe, my aunt will enjoy her birthday cake.


  3. Jack Brydges on February 27, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I’m going to try this – just looking at the ingredients I can tell it’s going to be delicious. Can you tell me what piping tip you used to decorate the top please?
    Thank you!


    • Michelle on February 27th, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Hi Jack, I used a Wilton 1M tip. Enjoy!


  4. Sarah on March 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    This cake was incredible! Everyone loved it and ate way more than they should have. We skipped the rum syrup though and chose to substitute coconut flour for part of the regular flour. The only change I might make is to double the filling but even so it was incredible. Definitely will be making this alot!!!


  5. jill on June 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    How can I make chocolate thicker? I have left in refrigerator for a hou but is still runny


    • Michelle on June 13th, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Hi Jill, It should definitely thicken up in the refrigerator. How long depends on how cold you keep your fridge, how full it is, etc.


  6. Caitlin on June 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Hi there! Making this cake for Father’s Day! Just wondering, how long doe the filling custard usually take to heat? And is it just a medium heat or closer to boiling? Thanks!


    • Michelle on June 17th, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Hi Caitlin, You want to put it over medium heat, and depending on your stove, it could take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes.


  7. Christine on June 22, 2014 at 9:33 am

    I made this for my best friend’s 30th birthday party. He and his family are all bit german chocolate cake lovers and I’ve never been a big fan of it, so I was nervous. Every one of them said it was the best german chocolate cake they ever had. It was so good, I even loved it! Made exactly as written but I decorated a bit more with a ring of pecan halves and then a circle of toasted coconut inside that. Beautiful and delicious!


  8. Jeannie on August 15, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I , literally, just made this bad boy it came out perfect. I did substitute the dark rum for Torched Cherry Bacardi (mix with Coke Zero, tastes like a cherry coke, yummy) because thats what I had on hand and I didn’t want to run to the store.
    I always have to work on presentation, mine is always lacking, lol, otherwise I would have posted a picture.
    Thank you for sharing , it’s a hit in this house.


  9. Kathleen Taylor on August 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I made this cake on Friday for husband’s birthday and it turned out fantastic. Thank you for the great recipe. This is his favorite cake, and I am not very fond coconut, but I loved it too. The chocolate frosting was the kicker for me. It made the cake. I did not have any rum, so I just omitted the alcohol from the syrup. I also added some espresso powder to the cake and the chocolate frosting. I just read your brownie recipe and printed it. It will be nice to have a simpler version to please the Mr. more often.


  10. R on September 10, 2014 at 10:22 am

    This recipe looks great, and I was all set to make it… Until I realized there is corn syrup in the icing. What? Why?!
    Now I don’t know whether to try to substitute something else and risk it not working or just find another recipe. (Since I don’t know why it’s there, I don’t know what to substitute it with or whether it will work.)
    Do you have any thoughts?


    • Michelle on September 10th, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Corn syrup is often used in ganache-type frostings to give it a silkier consistency. You could substitute Lyle’s golden syrup, if you wish.


  11. Carrie on October 4, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    This cake looks fabulous! Would it be okay to use a combination of semi-sweet and milk chocolates for the frosting? Also does this cake need to be kept refrigerated or will it keep at room temperature?


    • Michelle on October 5th, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Hi Carrie, I think the combo of chocolate would be fine. You can keep the cake at room temperature as long as your kitchen isn’t too warm (higher than 72 degrees) or humid. If it is, then I would store it in the refrigerator.


  12. Sara on October 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    How far in advance may I make the filling and the frosting? Iit is Sunday, and I want to make the filling tonight, frowting tomorrow, and assemble on Tuesday.


    • Michelle on October 20th, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Hi Sara, That would work!


  13. Debbi on October 23, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Hi I want make this cake for my husbands birthday but he’s doesn’t eat/drink dairy is there anyway I can make this non dairy? What can I use instead of the buttermilk and the heavy cream?


    • Michelle on October 24th, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Hi Debbi, I haven’t done any work with substituting dairy, so unfortunately, I couldn’t give you any concrete suggestions that I know would work with certainty.


      • Debbi on October 30th, 2014 at 8:05 pm

        Thanx. I hav another question if I leave out the pecans from the filling should I use st instead? (No nuts)


        • Michelle on October 31st, 2014 at 12:42 pm

          Hi Debbi, What is st?


          • Debbi on October 31st, 2014 at 1:34 pm

            Sorry. should I use something else?


            • Michelle on November 2nd, 2014 at 11:01 pm

              Hi Debbi, If you can’t use nuts, I don’t think there’s anything else you could substitute.

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