German Chocolate Cake

German chocolate cake has been my dad’s favorite cake for as long as I can remember.  So, it’s probably pretty surprising that I have never attempted making one from scratch before now.  Growing up my fabulous nanny who was more like a second mom always brought us a birthday cake in our favorite flavor – always a sheet cake, and always from a box with canned frosting.  She still makes me my standard strawberry cake with vanilla icing and darn it, it’s delicious!  This year though, she has had some other things going on in her life requiring her attention so Dad did not get his standard German chocolate cake.  I saw this as the perfect opportunity to finally try my hand at one – I’ve been itching to give it a shot for so long!

I’ve had this recipe from David Lebovitz bookmarked for quite some time.  It was of course, not surprising to me that this turned out nothing short of amazing, like nearly every other recipe of his that I have tried.  Truly, this cake was to die for.  One of my brothers was working while the rest of the family sampled the cake, but the next day I received a text message from him stating, “Last night, hands down, best cake I have ever eaten in my entire life.”  Considering that German chocolate is his favorite, and that he has tasted nearly every cake I have made, I think that says it all.  The coconut-pecan filling was absolutely divine, the cake tasted wonderful and the rum syrup really helped keep the layers moist.

As far as the recipe goes, I had a few minor issues.  Despite the fact that I drenched my cake layers, there was a TON of rum syrup left over so unless you have some other use for it, I would reduce the amount by at least half and maybe even more (I have reduced by half in the version below).  The only other problem was that this is frosted with a ganache-like icing which, when freshly made, cannot possibly neatly frost a cake and would really require pouring.  I chilled mine in the fridge and then the freezer for quite a while but I finally ran out of time before we needed to leave, so I just did the best I could with the consistency I had.  I definitely recommend chilling this ganache very thoroughly before attempting to frost or decorate with it.  This cake may seem like a big project, but I made the whole thing easily in one morning with no trouble (other than waiting for the frosting to cool).  Enjoy!

German Chocolate Cake
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For the cake:
2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp. water
4 large eggs, separated
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the rum syrup:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp.  salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted*

*I was unable to find unsweetened coconut, so I used sweetened and the filling tasted great

For the icing:
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the sides of the pans; set aside.

Using a double boiler (or the microwave in short bursts), melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the water, stirring until smooth.  Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature.

In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft droopy peaks.  Slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.  Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to the mixer base.

In the bowl the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with 1¼ cups of the sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in the melted chocolate.  Mix in the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture on low speed just until incorporated.  Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract until combined.  Mix in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it.  Then fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, make the rum syrup.  Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.  Off the heat, stir in the rum.

To make the filling, combine the cream, sugar and egg yolks in a medium saucepan.  Put the butter, pecans and coconut in a mixing bowl; set aside.  Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon (170-175° F.)  Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted.  Cool completely to room temperature.  The mixture will thicken as it cools.

(*Note – I found that my filling was still a bit thin even after cooling.  I mixed in more coconut and that thickened it up perfectly.  Probably depends on how tightly packed the coconut is in measuring.)

To make the icing, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the corn syrup and butter.  Heat the cream just until it begins to boil.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.  Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth.  Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating.

To assemble the cake, cut the two cake layers in half horizontally to yield four layers.  Set the first layer on a cake circle, cut side up.  Brush well with the rum syrup.  Spread ¾ cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach the edges.  Set another cake layer on top of the filling.  Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading ¾ cup of the coconut filling over each layer, including the top.  Ice the sides of the cake with the chilled chocolate icing.  Pipe a decorative border around the top layer, encircling the coconut topping.

Source: adapted from David Lebovitz

63 Responses

  1. Looks divine! I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making a German chocolate cake from scratch. Although, what could I sub for the rum? We have plenty of kids around any time a cake is made/eaten in our family!

    • Hello HB,
      You can just omit the rum altogether, no need to substitute anything. Then you will just have a basic simple syrup, perfect for keeping cake layers moist, mixing into drinks, etc. Good luck!
      🙂 Annie

  2. It really is the BEST German Chocolate cake ever. SO good. I’m glad you had some of the same issues as me (namely, extra syrup and a hard time piping the ganache). I ended up chilling mine but also adding a little confectioners sugar. Mmm, I want a piece of this right now!

  3. Wow, this looks incredible!

  4. I make this cake and it is divine! Love your photos!

  5. Looks so pretty! Bet this was so good 🙂

  6. Oh my goodness, this is exactly what I needed this morning. I’m a complete sucker for a good german chocolate cake. And this looks sublime! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  7. Though not a huge chocolate cake fan, I love German chocolate cake for the gooey coconut factor. It looks gorgeous! The bummer is that I am now going to be sad that I’m not eating a slice for breakfast. =(

  8. This cake looks divine!! I wonder if there is a non-alcoholic substitute for the rum. Hmmm.

    • Memoria,
      See my response to HB’s question above about the rum. You can simply omit it, no need to substitute.
      🙂 Annie

  9. It’s my husbands favorite cake too. This one looks wonderful!

  10. German Chocolate Cake is a favorite in my family! I’ve made a couple versions, but not this one (yet!). Looks delicious!

  11. WOW. that cake looks just about perfect. What an appealing dessert. It’s one of my favorites…but I’ve never seen one as pretty!!!

  12. This looks so delicious! My dads favorite cake is German chocolate too. I wish I had a slice in my kitchen right now:)

  13. Just wondering what Icing Tip # you used to make the little starbursts of icing?

    • Hi Robyn,
      I’m honestly not sure, I never pay much attention – I just grab one that looks good and go for it! I just went and looked at them, and I *think* the one I used was a small one that came with my mechanical pastry bag from Williams Sonoma, but I’m not entirely sure. It has #7 on it, but that’s about all I know.
      🙂 Annie

  14. This is my husband’s absolute favorite cake! I’ll have to make this for our 10 year anniversary next week!

  15. This cake looks absolutely delicious ! I’ve never made a German chocolate cake but I think it won’t be long before I try !

  16. Holy Cow that looks absolutely fabulous!!!!!

  17. that’s one STUNNING cake, annie, and perfect for a birthday celebration. 🙂

  18. Wow! Your pictures always look so spectacular! Are you using a light box? I am thinking of making one of my own at home out of cardboard. I hear it helps with the lighting when photographing food. Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi Veronika!
      Thanks for the compliments on my photography. I’m constantly trying to improve! I currently use only natural light since it is still summer, but I do have a lightbox that I use occasionally in the winter months. You can read about it in my post about cranberry sorbet. I haven’t used it much since I got an external flash for my camera, but it is a good cheap way to get better lighting!
      🙂 Annie

  19. Oh my goodness! This cake looks beautiful! I was checking in for recipe ingredients so I can add them to my list, and the first thing I see is this cake – there goes any thoughts about dinner 😉 It looks amazing – great job!

  20. Even though you had to make a few adjustments, the final result is simply spectacular!

  21. My favorite cake! It looks gorgeous!

  22. Holy cow! This looks beautiful and dangerous. German Chocolate is my dad’s favorite cake too. Maybe one day I’ll have to make this for him. Yum!

  23. This is my dad’s favorite cake too! What is it with men and German Chocolate cake? I am putting this on my must try list. I’m already to make the chocolate cake from few days ago too! Thanks for great inspiration!!

  24. That cake looks absolutely AMAZING!!! Wow!

  25. This looks incredible! I’ve been searching all morning for a great German Chocolate Cake recipe. I wanted to make one for my husband’s birthday this weekend, and this looks like a winner! Can’t wait to try it out!

  26. Great photos – this one looks amazing!

  27. Oh my lord, I loveee German Chocolate Cake. It’s my favourite, and I’ve never made it because of the condensed milk based frosting.

    I will have to try to do this….

  28. I made this cake this week as well for my friend’s birthday. I agree about the syrup! I made the cake, filling and frosting the night before and let it all cool so I didn’t have a problem with the ganache being too thin. Leaving it overnight made it perfect for piping. I also had to use sweetened coconut and it tasted great. I could have used a bit more filling however.. I had to do the ganache border as well, because I simply didn’t have enough filling (I used it sparingly between layers).. just a little more would have been good. Maybe I’ll just use more pecans/coconut.

  29. What a Gorgeous Blog!

    I haven’t had German Chocolate Cake in quite some time! I can’t wait to try this recipe out!

  30. Hi Annie,

    I am going to make this cake tomorrow for my husband’s birthday. Since it’s just the 2 of us and our 3 year old, I was thinking about halving the recipe…just making one round cake and slicing it in half…so my cake would be 2 layers and the same diameter as your cake, but half as tall. Can you forsee any issues I would have doing it this way? Thanks!

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      I can’t think of any reason that would cause a problem. Just know that the layers are fairly thin to begin with, so the cake will definitely not be tall. If you have any small round pans (like 5 or 6-inch) I would probably use those, but if not I’m sure the one regular layer will be fine.
      🙂 Annie

  31. Thanks Annie. I don’t have any smaller round pans. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  32. My “half cake” turned out really well. I didn’t quite halve the filling so that I would have plenty and it worked out nicely. This cake is very rich!

  33. Annie – How far in advance do you think the icing could be made since it should be well chilled?

    • Hi Melanie,
      That is a really tricky question that I just can’t answer. If you let the ganache chill for too long, it will become solid. Also, even if you do use the fridge to help speed up the cooling process, you need to stir it every 10-15 minutes to help it cool evenly. I wish I had a better answer. You really can’t make it in advance because it will set and then not be workable.
      🙂 Annie

  34. omg my dad loves german cake to thats what me and my mom are making for his b-day!

  35. My daughter and I made this today, for my husband’s 40th birthday…. he loved it, and it really was amazingly not that hard to make. It looked intimidating at first, but once we got started, and my peaks formed with the egg whites, it was all good from there! And, I used imitation rum extract, and we could still pick up that “rum” taste, and it was absolutely delicious!!! I love your site…. thank you!! 🙂

  36. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I used it for my husband’s birthday cake, and we both loved it!

  37. Annie,

    I live in CO about a mile high!! Will this recipe work at high altitudes? I saw another – similar recipe (I want to try yours tho!), and it said that the cake WILL collapse at about a mile high altitude….. WILL THIS WORK??? Thank you (quick response please – I am standing by ready to bake!)…..

    • Hi KJ,
      Unfortunately since I live in Indiana, I know absolutely nothing about baking at high altitude. I don’t know what the conversions are, pitfalls, etc. I just have no idea! I’d suggest Googling high altitude baking and see what research you can do.
      Good luck!

  38. Can I just use the Baker’s German Chocolate vs the two different types of chocolate?

    • Hi April,
      I’m sure you could, but I’m guessing the recipe calls for those two chocolates for a reason. But you can try whatever you would like.
      🙂 Annie

  39. I made this cake last night for my boyfriend’s birthday, and Googled it this morning to see if my results were the same as others who had tried the recipe. I also found the icing to be very difficult to work with, and not having time on my side, I couldn’t chill it to see if it would thicken. I wound up making a buttercream out of it and it was still runny. Needless to say, it’s not pretty but my good lord, it’s rich and gooey and tasty and amazing!

  40. Hi Annie,
    I’m looking just to make a (regular) chocolate cake for my son’s birthday party this weekend — would you say the cake recipe is as good for just cake? I’m looking for an outstanding chocolate cake recipe and Annie’s Eats never lets me down 🙂 I’m planning to decorate it as a race track, which is why I’m not as interested in the “German chocolate part” — thank you 🙂

    • Hi Michelle,
      It’s tough to say because I’ve only ever eaten this cake as the German chocolate cake, so I’m not sure about it on it’s own. I think it is good but it’s tough to evaluate the cake alone when it’s covered in all the other good stuff 🙂 To be honest I haven’t found my perfect chocolate cake yet, but I am planning on doing a comparison soon to find the one I like the best (rough job, I know 😉 )

  41. Hey Annie,

    I’m making this for a friend’s birthday this week, and was just wondering if you had ever tried this with your Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting instead of the ganache? Thanks! Love your blog!

    • Nope, I love ganache way too much to use something else instead. Just made this cake yesterday, actually!

  42. Hi Annie,
    With the unsweetened coconut.. Is that dessicated coconut or shredded coconut?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Daniella,
      My grocery store only sells one kind – sweetened shredded coconut, so that’s what I use. I always thought dessicated and shredded were the same thing.

  43. Hey, Annie!

    Just wanted to let you know I baked this cake for our county fair yesterday and won 1st place! Never made a german chocolate cake in my life, so I was absolutely thrilled! It was absolutely beautiful and I will definitely be making it again soon.

  44. My cake is sitting on the counter right now! It’s a little lopsided… And my ganache was too runny last night, so I gave up trying to frost with it and just stuck it in the fridge! It’s now sort of “gritty”, but it still tastes delicious! I wish I would hVe read the comments about not cooling it in the fridge before I made it!

    Also – the filling calls for salt in the ingredient list, but does not tell you when to add it.

    • Cooling it in the fridge is perfectly fine but you have to stir it every 10-20 minutes or it will cool unevenly. Cooling overnight is too long.

      • Yes, that’s what I found… But it was still wonderful! So many compliments on this cake! Thanks for the recipe! 🙂

  45. Hi Annie,

    I am making this cake for my mom’s 60th birthday party. The party is on Sunday but I would like to make the cake in advance. Is it ok to let it sit for a day?


  46. I know Michelle asked the question like 6 or 7 months ago, but the cake on it’s own is fantastic. I hate pecans so very much, so I made the cake part with a cherry chocolate glaze and it was delicious. So, yes, the cake on it’s own is lovely.

  47. I made this cake last night and it is sitting at home in my fridge waiting to be eaten tonight for my Grandfather’s bday. I used ALL semisweet chips for the cake cause I could not find unsweetened and I did not have a scale so I did 1/2 cup plus 12 chips to equal 4oz. for the cake and then I used the remainder of the 12oz bag (now 8oz) to make the ganache. I had no trouble with the ganache. I let it sit out for a little while and then transferred to the freezer and kept stirring every 10-15 min. until I like the consistency. I have not tasted the cake all together, but took little taste throughout the baking process last night and it is AMAZING!! My only tips would be to double the filling. I did this and it was the perfect amount for the cake. 1 recipe of the filling was not enough. Also, I would make a 1.5 batch of the ganche. I would have liked to coat the cake in more ganache and then I only had enough to pipe on the top and not the bottom. Thanks Annie!!! This cake was awesome!!

  48. I love toasting unsweetened coconut flakes and putting them around the sides of my german chocolate cake! It’s delicious, and adds a little crunch! 🙂

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