German Chocolate Cake

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Swiss buttercream and coconut topping make this dessert heavenly.

If you’re ready for one of the most indulgent chocolate desserts, you’ve come to the right place: try this German chocolate cake recipe! A rich chocolate sponge cake serves as the base for a creamy, dreamy coconut and nut filling. Finished with a Swiss chocolate cream and decorated with coconut and walnuts, this dessert has the flexibility to go from rustic delight to pastry beauty with just a few additional cake decorating tools.

Did German chocolate cake originate in Germany?

Contrary to popular belief, this delicious homemade cake is an American classic. Originally called German Chocolate Cake, this sweet treat is named after Samuel German, a chocolatier who created a sweet baking chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company. German’s original chocolate cake appeared in the Dallas Morning News in 1957 as part of a “Recipe of the Day” segment and quickly became a hit. Although this type of cake traditionally uses a melted chocolate bar, opt for unsweetened cocoa powder to keep this cake sweet and simple. But don’t worry, using Baker’s sweetened shredded coconut is still recommended for the filling and to decorate the sides.

Can it be prepared ahead of time?

This cake may seem a bit daunting because of its multiple components, but each of them can be prepared ahead of time! Once the cake layers are baked and completely cooled, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days. The coconut filling can also be covered and stored in the refrigerator until everything is ready to assemble. Even buttercream can remain at room temperature for up to 24 hours, if properly covered!

Do I really need the piping bag?

Don’t worry if you don’t have a piping bag for the buttercream! Simply place 1/2 cup of buttercream in a zip bag and poke a 1-inch hole in the corner. The important thing is to create a solid barrier so the filling doesn’t run out the sides.

Can I use a cake mix?

A box of German chocolate cake mix is a fantastic option to make this recipe even easier. Just follow the directions on the back of the box to bake two 9-inch layers of cake.

YIELDS: 10 – 12 serving(s)

PREP TIME: 45 mins

TOTAL TIME: 2 hrs 30 mins

Ingredients

FOR THE CAKE:

  • Nonstick baking spray with flour
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. hot (not boiling) water

FOR THE FILLING:

  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. light brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk
  • 1/3 c. melted unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c. sweetened flaked coconut, divided
  • 2/3 c. chopped pecans, plus 1/2 cup of whole pecans to decorate
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened and cubed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Directions

  1. 1For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray 2 8-inch round baking pans with nonstick baking spray with flour.
  2. 2Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. 3Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, milk, and oil in a medium bowl. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk well to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to be sure all the ingredients get mixed together and there are no clumps of batter. Add the hot water and whisk well to combine (the batter will be thin and soupy).
  4. 4Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 1/2 hours. 
  5. 5For the filling: Combine the granulated and brown sugars, evaporated milk, butter, egg yolks, and salt in a medium saucepan. Whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture just begins to boil and coats the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. 6Remove from the heat, and stir in 1 cup coconut, 2/3 cup chopped pecans, and vanilla. Transfer to a bowl; cover and refrigerate until completely cooled.
  7. 7For the buttercream: Whisk together the sugar and egg whites in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, whisking occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer registers 120° to 130°, or until the egg whites are foamy and there are no sugar granules in the mix when rubbed together with your fingers. 
  8. 8Carefully place the bowl onto a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and bowl is cool to the touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the butter, one cube at a time, beating until combined after each addition. (If buttercream breaks, beat for 2 to 3 minutes, and it’ll come right back together!) Beat in the vanilla and salt. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in the cocoa powder until fully combined.
  9. 9To assemble, place about 1/2 cup of buttercream in a piping bag and cut a 1-inch-wide opening at the tip. Pipe a ring of buttercream on top of one cooled cake right along the edge. This will act like a barrier to keep your filling from squishing out the sides. (Don’t worry if you don’t use all the buttercream in your piping bag on the ring, any leftovers can be used to frost the sides). Spread half of the cooled filling on top of the cake in an even layer inside the buttercream ring. 
  10. 10Place the other layer upside down on top of the filling. Spread the remaining buttercream around the sides of the cake and spread the remaining filling on the top, leaving about 1/2-inch around the sides. Place pecan halves around the top of the cake. Press the additional 1/2 cup coconut onto the sides of the cake, if you like. Refrigerate or store in a cool place until ready to serve.