German chocolate cake, traditionally made with sweet baking chocolate, is known to be unapologetically decadent and indulgent. It’s pretty sweet by itself, but when paired with coconut pecan filling AND chocolate frosting, it makes my teeth hurt. And that says a lot considering I have a mouthful of sweet teeth!!
My variation is a little upgrade. It’s also unapologetically decadent and indulgent, but it starts with my favorite super-moist deeper and darker chocolate cake. We’ll use a coconut pecan filling enhanced with toasted pecans and top her off with chocolate buttercream, coconut, and more toasted pecans.
So don’t worry, there’s still an opportunity for our teeth to ache. ?
This has been a highly requested cake recipe, so I’m thrilled to finally share it. And just in case you missed March’s Baking Challenge, I decorated my German chocolate cake naked style. I love seeing that coconut pecan filling peeking out!
There are 3 parts to this upgraded German chocolate cake. Let’s discuss all 3 so you feel prepared and confident when it’s your turn to try it.
I’ve you’ve tried my tuxedo cake, chocolate cream cheese bundt cake, or this chocolate layer cake then you are familiar with the cake itself. It’s simply my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Sour cream, oil, eggs, and buttermilk keep it extremely moist. Cocoa powder supplies all our chocolate flavor, which is enhanced with a little espresso powder. The espresso powder is optional if you don’t keep any. You’ll also need hot liquid to properly dissolve and bloom the cocoa power. You can use hot water or hot coffee. The cake won’t taste like coffee, I promise, but the chocolate flavor will certainly be deep and divine! An upgrade, if you will.
Speaking of cocoa, make sure you’re using natural unsweetened cocoa and not dutch-process. Remember why?
2. COCONUT PECAN FILLING
While the chocolate cake is fantastic, the coconut pecan filling is the star of the show. It’s thick, crunchy, gooey, chewy, and sweet all in one. It’s made from the best ingredients baking has to offer, so you know you’re in for a treat:
- brown sugar
- egg yolks
You also need evaporated milk. Not sweetened condensed milk. Evaporated milk is typically sold in a can in the baking aisle. Evaporated milk is concentrated/condensed milk, but it’s unsweetened. You’ll need 1 cup or 8 ounces. You can also use half-and-half. Whole milk is too thin and heavy cream is too thick. Stick to evaporated milk or half-and-half.
The butter, brown sugar, egg yolks, and evaporated milk are cooked together on the stove until thickened. At this thickness, the egg yolks are heated enough to safely consume, but you can always use a thermometer to be certain. To avoid scrambling the eggs, make sure you constantly whisk.
As the mixture thickens on the stove, throw your pecans into the oven for a quick toast. Toasted pecans are my secret for an upgraded coconut pecan filling. What flavor! You have just enough time to toast them as the butter/egg yolk mixture cooks on the stove, so why not?
Stir in the warm pecans, vanilla extract, and sweetened shredded coconut. You can certainly toast the coconut too, but I prefer its chewy texture right from the bag.
Time-saving tip: As the chocolate cake cools, make the coconut pecan filling. The filling, just like the baked cakes, needs to cool down. So cool them all down at the same time. ?
3. CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
I used my favorite chocolate buttercream recipe to frost the top. The filling is pretty sweet, so I didn’t want to overdo it with frosting. (And naked cakes are pretty!) This chocolate buttercream is thick, creamy, and spreads beautifully. The chocolate buttercream recipe was more than enough for the top, but if you want to frost the top AND sides of the cake, use these ratios. They taste identical.
Will the cake dry out if the sides aren’t frosted? Overtime, yes. But this cake is so moist, especially with the gooey coconut pecan filling, that it’ll take awhile to taste even a smidge dry! If you’re still a little nervous about it drying out, give the sides a light swipe of frosting.
Many of you have asked me how I apply frosting to the tops of my cakes. You see all those peaks and twirls of frosting? It takes zero skill. If you have an icing spatula or even a spoon, you can recreate this look. I took a super short video with my phone decorating this exact cake:
So simple! You can do it too!
This is not technically “German chocolate cake” since it’s not made with sweet German chocolate. (Don’t be mad at me, cake police!) But it has an ooey gooey coconut + toasted pecan filling, a deep dark chocolate cake, and the perfect amount of creamy chocolate buttercream on top. Definitely an upgrade if you ask me!
- 1 and 3/4 cups (220g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 3/4 cup (65g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)*
- 1/2 cup (120ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (180g) full fat sour cream, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) hot water or coffee*
Coconut Pecan Filling
- 1/2 cup (1 stick; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 240ml) evaporated milk or half-and-half
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (160g) sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup (125g) chopped toasted pecans*
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease three round 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or you can use a whisk) mix the oil, eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add the hot water or coffee, and whisk or beat it all until the batter is completely combined.
- Divide batter evenly between 3 pans. Bake for 21-25 minutes. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on yours. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
- As the cakes cool, prepare the coconut pecan filling so it can cool and be ready at the same time. Combine butter, brown sugar, egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk occasionally as the mixture comes to a low boil. Once boiling, whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, toasted pecans, and coconut. Allow to cool completely before layering in cake. It will thicken even more as it cools.
- Assemble and frost: First, level the cakes if needed: using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with 1/2 of the coconut pecan filling (half is about 1 and 1/4 cups). Top with 2nd layer and evenly cover the top with remaining coconut pecan filling. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the chocolate buttercream into a thick layer on top. Garnish with extra toasted pecans and coconut, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before slicing or else the cake may gently fall apart as you cut.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Make ahead tip: Prepare cake through step 4. Wrap the individual baked cake layers tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature, make the coconut pecan filling and frosting, assemble/frost, and serve. You can also prepare the coconut pecan filling and chocolate buttercream in advance. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring both to room temperature before using. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature or serve cold.
Why room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information. Instead of sour cream, try using plain yogurt. The cake won’t taste as rich, but it’s a fine sub. If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk.
Espresso powder and coffee will not make the chocolate taste like coffee. Rather, they deepen the chocolate flavor. I highly recommend them both. If coffee isn’t your thing, you can leave out the espresso powder and use boiling hot water instead of the hot coffee.
Toasting the pecans is a major upgrade and I highly suggest it! Let them toast in the oven as you whisk together the filling on the stove (step 5). Simply toast for 8 minutes at 300°F (149°C). Then can be warm when stirred into the filling.
If you’re concerned about consuming any raw egg yolks, use a candy/oil thermometer and make sure the mixture is cooked to 160°F (71°C). If you notice any cooked egg bits, you can run it through a strainer.
9×13 cake: You can bake this cake as a 9×13 sheet cake instead. Top with coconut pecan filling, no need for the chocolate buttercream! The cake will take 35-40 minutes at 350°F (177°C).
Cupcakes: Use this coconut pecan filling to fill a batch of super moist chocolate cupcakes. Half of the filling should be plenty, so you can halve the filling recipe or make the full filling recipe and freeze leftovers for up to 3 months.
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Here are some items I used to make today’s recipe.
KitchenAid Stand Mixer | 5-qt Tilt-Head Glass Mixing Bowl | Measuring Cups | Glass Measuring Cup | Round Cake Pans | Medium Saucepan | Whisk | Baking Sheet | Silpat Baking Mat | Icing Spatula | Marble Cake Stand
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