German chocolate cake is definitely one of those things that is worth making from scratch. I’ve heard many times through the years from customers that they thought they didn’t like it until they tried mine, and I think it’s in large part because of the frosting. This recipe uses cream, sugar, egg yolks and butter as the base so we can’t really go wrong; It’s a *vast* improvement on the mass-produced stuff! Honestly I feel that way about canned frosting on the whole…I love a box cake, but it’s so quick to make buttercream with butter and powdered sugar and it’s a million times better. Hashtag Lifehack (lol): In a time crunch, put homemade frosting on a box cake and you’ll get raves!
Back to German Chocolate though. This recipe is basically from America’s Test Kitchen’s wonderful baking cookbook, Baking Illustrated, but I find their temperature of 180 degrees for the frosting makes it way too soft for my purposes, so I cook it until it reaches 200. That way it’s a bit thicker which is just as nice to eat, but stays stable in between cake layers.
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make the batter
German chocolate cake batter is typically a less chocolate-y chocolate cake than devil’s food, which is part of what makes the combo with the frosting work so well I think.
Start by dissolving a bit of cocoa and espresso powder in boiling water, then adding buttermilk and vanilla. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time.
To finish the batter, add cocoa mixture and flour in three alternating additions.
coconut pecan frosting
This classic frosting starts with whisking together the sugar and egg yolks, then adding the cream and butter. One time I left the eggs and sugar once they were mixed and did something else, and learned that the sugar will actually start “cooking” the eggs unless the fat is mixed in! Apparently the fat is a buffer of sorts, so add the cream right after the eggs and sugar are mixed.
Cook over medium heat until thickened (if you want to use a candy thermometer, let the mixture get to 200 degrees), and cool to room temperature.
Mix in toasted pecans and coconut. Yummmmm.
A bittersweet chocolate ganache drip is the perfect finishing touch- it looks pretty and tastes fantastic.
Chop up chocolate, and microwave with heavy cream. I know you’re not “supposed” to microwave chocolate but I do it all the time 😂.
Whisk until smooth, and let set (depending on how warm your kitchen is) until it’s thickened a bit.
Spoon over a cold cake to create your beautiful and delicious chocolate drip. My recipe makes a generous batch because I have a million uses for it. If you don’t want extra it’s easily halved, or pour some of the left overs on ice cream and get ready to swoon 😍.
German chocolate cake
The perfect German chocolate cake!
1/4 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons espresso powder (this is my favorite brand)
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Coconut-pecan frosting
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
- Dark chocolate ganache
16 ounces good bittersweet chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
- In a small bowl, mix cocoa and espresso powder. Add boiling water and mix to dissolve. Add buttermilk and vanilla, and set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8” round pans.
- Cream butter and sugar together and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating a full minute each time.
- Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, then 1/3 of the cocoa mixture; repeat twice more. Only mix until barely incorporated at each step. At the end, beat for about 15 seconds longer.
- Divide batter between the pans, and bake until firm in center when lightly pressed, between 23-30 minutes.
- Cool ten minutes before turning out of pans; chill before frosting.
- Coconut-pecan frosting
- Mix yolks, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan (use the heaviest, best one you have- if I use a thin-bottomed one it burns right away). Gradually beat in the cream, then add the butter and vanilla.
- Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about 10-15 minutes. I checked with a candy thermometer, and 200 degrees was just right when it cooled.
- Let sit until completely cooled before you add the nuts and coconut. You can toast and chop the pecans in the meantime (about 7 minutes spread out on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees).
- Since this frosting is so thick and the cake is fragile, you’ll want to chill the cake layers before frosting. Just turn a layer out into your plate and chill, spread a layer of frosting over that and put the other cake layer on top. Chill again before frosting the outside.
- Chop up the chocolate into small bits, and place in a large glass or ceramic bowl.
- Pour the cream over, and microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring in between. Once the cream is quite hot, leave it to set for about three minutes, to allow the rest of the chocolate to melt. Stir until completely smooth, heating up a bit more if there’s any unmelted bits left.
- Let sit until it’s thickened a bit, but still pourable- this will depend on the temperature of your kitchen, so just keep an eye while the cake is chilling. When it seems about right (do a test drip to make sure), just spoon over the edges of the cake, nudging it into drips, then fill in the center.