How to Make a German Chocolate Cake From Scratch

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Despite the "German" name, this traditional cake has its origins in the United States, named after Sam German, an American chocolatier. The impressive cake is comprised of three layers of moist chocolate cake, filled with a gooey caramel frosting and laced with both coconut and pecan. A drizzle of chocolate espresso sauce renders further indulgence on many levels.


You can make this masterpiece in your own kitchen.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

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Things You'll Need

  • 3 cups cake flour

  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)

  • 1 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 3 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 12 ounces / 350 milliliters evaporated milk

  • 2 cups pecans, chopped

  • 1 cup shredded coconut

  • 2 ounces / 55 grams dark chocolate, chopped, plus extra for sprinkling

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oven to 350 F / 170 C.


Measure out all your ingredients to have them handy.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Set out all of the ingredients you will need. Grease and line three 9-inch / 18-centimeter round cake pans, and set them aside.


Grease the cake pans, and line them with parchment paper.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 1: Combine Dry Ingredients

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, 3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 teaspoon of the espresso powder, if using.


Use a wooden spoon to mix together the dry ingredients.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 2: Beat the Butter and Sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with electric handheld beaters, beat 1 cup of the butter, 1 1/2 cups of the granulated sugar and the brown sugar until light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes.


Beat the sugars and butter until light and fluffy.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 3: Add the Eggs and Vanilla

Add the 4 whole eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then beat in 1 tablespoon of the vanilla extract.


Beat in the eggs until well-combined.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 4: Incorporate the Flour

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture. Continue to beat until it's incorporated.


Add half of the flour mixture, and beat until incorporated.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 5: Add the Buttermilk and Remaining Flour

In a steady stream, add the buttermilk and beat until thoroughly combined. Then, add in the remaining half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined.


Add in the buttermilk in a steady stream.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and finish combining by gently stirring it with a spatula.

Stir the batter with a spatula until combined.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 6: Divide and Bake

Divide the batter among the prepared pans, and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in their pans for 20 minutes before inverting onto wire racks to finish cooling completely. Level off any domed tops.

Let the cakes cool in their pans for 20 minutes.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 7: Make the Filling

Combine 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, the remaining 3/4 cup of unsalted butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, the egg yolks and the evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until thick and glossy, roughly 10 to 12 minutes.

Combine the filling ingredients in a saucepan to cook until thick and glossy.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of chopped pecans and the shredded coconut. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill until firm.

Stir the pecans and coconut into the filling.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 8: Build the Cake

When the cakes are cool, place the first cake layer on a stand or plate and spread with 1/3 of the chilled filing. Cover this with the second cake layer, and spread with 1/3 of the filling. Top with the third layer, and cover it with the remaining filling.

Spread the filling evenly over each cake layer.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 9: Decorate

Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining 1/2 cup of pecans and a handful of chocolate shavings. Chill the cake while you prepare the chocolate espresso sauce.

Decorate the top of the cake with pecans and chocolate shavings.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho
Once decorated, chill the cake until it is set.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 10: Make the Chocolate Espresso Sauce

Combine the chopped dark chocolate, remaining teaspoon of espresso and 1 tablespoon of Dutch-processed cocoa powder in a small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it is boiling. Pour the cream into the bowl containing the chocolate, and let it sit for a minute before whisking the mixture until glossy and smooth.

Work the chocolate-cream mixture until it is glossy and smooth.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho

Step 11: Finish the Cake

Drizzle the chilled cake with the chocolate espresso sauce before slicing and serving.

Drizzle the cake with chocolate espresso sauce.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho


You can store this cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Remove the cake from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

This rich, moist and delicious cake can keep for 3 days in the refrigerator -- if it lasts that long.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho
Enjoy this decadent cake.
Image Credit: Thalia Ho