Classic German chocolate cake with coconut-pecan filling and chocolate buttercream
German chocolate cake is a very light, moist chocolate cake with a rich coconut-pecan filling and a little chocolate swiss meringue buttercream to hold it all together. The cake does not have a strong chocolate flavor, almost like a red velvet cake without the food coloring. If my death by chocolate cake is the epitome of a chocolate lovers cake, then German chocolate cake is the polar opposite.
German chocolate cake is German at all. It’s actually American and is named after Samuel German, the creator of a popular dark bakers chocolate. The cake was developed to market the sweet chocolate which is used in the original recipe for German chocolate cake.
German chocolate cake was actually my Dad’s favorite cake. Every year for his birthday we would buy a box of Duncan Hines German chocolate cake mix and a can of the coconut pecan frosting. Into a glass baking and into the oven. Thirty minutes later I would be unsuccessfully trying to frost a warm cake with a cold can of frosting and tearing the thing to pieces. Oh, I wish I knew then what I know now. Chill your cakes!
So I do believe it’s time I re-created this classic cake and shared it with you all. This recipe is pretty true to the original recipe you can find on the inside of the Baker’s chocolate packaging with the addition of a little vegetable oil which I feel makes the cake a bit moister. It truly is delicious made from scratch!
What does Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate taste like?
German’s sweet chocolate is not as bitter as a bar of typical dark chocolate but also not as sweet as a bar of standard milk chocolate. It’s a cross between the two with 48% cocoa content.
You can buy Baker’s German chocolate from most grocery stores like Target or Kroger in the baking aisle.
What’s the difference between german chocolate cake and regular chocolate cake?
The main differences between german chocolate cake and regular chocolate cake is the type of chocolate used and the amount of chocolate you taste. A regular chocolate cake is flavored with milk chocolate cocoa powder and has a strong chocolate flavor.
German chocolate cake does not have a strong cocoa flavor, the star of the show is the coconut pecan frosting. It is sometimes frosted with chocolate buttercream to hold in the filling and occasionally decorated with marachino cherries.
How to make German chocolate cake from scratch
The first thing you should do when baking this German chocolate cake is melt your chocolate and let it cool. I melted the chocolate for the swiss meringue buttercream and the cake batter all at once in a glass bowl then set it aside to cool down.
To make your chocolate cake, gather all your ingredients ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need and you’re not rushing to find certain ingredients. I’m following the recipe from the inside of the chocolate bar box with the addition of some vegetable oil for moisture.
The mixing method is very similar to my southern coconut cake. Whipping up egg whites and then folding them into the finished batter makes a very light and tender cake.
Be careful when you are folding your egg whites into the cake batter and take care not to crush all the air out the egg whites. Fold your batter gently by using a spatula and gently lifting the batter from the bottom of the bowl and folding it over onto itself.
The box calls for three 9″ cake pans but I only have two so I used 8″ cake pans instead and it worked out great. The color of the finished cakes will be very light.
The next thing you should do is make your coconut-pecan filling. This also takes a bit to cool down so it’s best to make it before you bake your cakes.
The filling actually comes together really easily but you need to basically be whisking the mixture for 12 minutes straight to ensure your eggs don’t curdle.
I have made coconut pecan filling with regular milk before but the traditional way is to use evaporated milk. Evaporated milk stands up to high heat better than milk so it’s less likely to curdle or scorch. Evaporated milk is not the same thing as condensed milk which has sugar added.
After your filling has thickened and darkened in color, all that’s left to do is fold in your coconut and pecans. To me, this is the best part of a German chocolate cake!
German chocolate buttercream
While my cake was baking, I made my swiss meringue buttercream. I could have added a little cocoa powder to the buttercream to make it chocolate but I wanted to stick with the bakers chocolate flavor so I used melted chocolate instead.
Oh my GOSH was it delicious and so creamy! I might make all my chocolate buttercream this way in the future. I also noticed it stayed cream even the next day instead of getting kind of spongy like my easy buttercream tends to do.
Because you have to heat the egg whites to melt the sugar, you have to give the meringue time to cool down before you add in the butter or your buttercream will turn to butter soup. I speed up the cooling process by putting some ice around the base of the bowl while it’s mixing but you can also scoop all the meringue out and put it into a shallow pan and into a the fridge to cool.
If you don’t want to fuss with making SMBC then you can use my easy chocolate buttercream instead.
Classic German Chocolate Cake Recipe
- Stand Mixer
- Whisk Attachment
For the German chocolate cake
- 4 ounces Baker's German Chocolate melted
- 4 ounces water warmed
- 4 large eggs (yolks and whites separated) room temperature
- 12 ounces All-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces unsalted butter softened
- 14 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 ounces buttermilk
- 4 ounces vegetable oil
For the coconut pecan filling
- 4 egg yolks
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 10 ounces granulated sugar or brown sugar for a richer flavor
- 6 ounces unsalted butter
- 7 ounces flaked coconut
- 7 ounces pecans chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 8 ounces fresh egg whites
- 16 ounces granulated sugar
- 24 ounces unsalted butter softened
- 4 ounces Baker's German chocolate melted and cooled to 90º
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Prepare three 8"x2" cake pans with cake goop or another preferred pan spray.
For the cake
- Melt your chocolate in a heatproof bowl in 15-second increments until just melted. Do not overheat or you could burn your chocolate. Add your warm water to the chocolate and whisk to combine.
- Place egg whites in a bowl with the whisk attachment and whip until you reach firm but moist peaks. They shouldn't look broken or crumbly. Set aside.
- Combine buttermilk and vegetable oil and set aside
- Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in color
- Add in your egg yolk while mixing on low, letting it mix in fully before adding in your last egg yolk.
- While mixing on low, add in your melted and cooled chocolate and vanilla and mix until combined.
- Mixing on low, add in 1/3 of flour mixture, then 1/3 of buttermilk. Repeat two more times with remaining flour and buttermilk.
- Gently fold in your egg whites until blended.
- Pour your batter into your prepared pans and bake immediately for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out from the center clean. Let cool before frosting.
For the coconut pecan filling
- In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together milk, egg yolks, and vanilla over medium heat until blended.
- Add in your butter and sugar and continue to cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken (about 12 minutes). Whisk continuously or you risk overcooking your eggs. The mixture will be thick and golden brown when it's ready.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and fold in your coconut and pecans. Cool to a spreadable consistency.
For the German chocolate buttercream
- Bring 2" of water to a boil in a medium saucepan then reduce heat until it's just simmering. Place your metal or glass mixing bowl on top. The bowl should not be touching the water.
- Place egg whites and sugar in the bowl and whisk occasionally to dissolve the sugar and keep the egg whites from cooking. Once the mixture reaches 110ºF or you can no longer feel any granules of sugar in between your fingers, it's ready
- Place the bowl on your stand mixer and whip on high until you reach VERY stiff peaks. The tips should stand straight up when you touch them and the meringue should feel very thick and dense.
- Place a large bag of ice under the bowl as you're mixing to cool the meringue down.
- Reduce the speed to low. Slowly add in your butter in small chunks, then your salt, melted and cooled chocolate and vanilla extract.
- Increase the speed back to high and whip until the color is light and fluffy. Give it a taste, if it still tastes buttery, keep whipping
- Reduce the speed to low again and then drizzle in your cooled chocolate and vanilla and mix until smooth.