This Traditional German Chocolate Cake recipe is made with a rich and moist chocolate cake layered with a homemade coconut pecan frosting that is buttery, gooey, and bursting with amazing texture from the coconut and pecans. This cake has been officially dubbed a “family favorite.”

If you are looking for a smaller cake, then I’d recommend my 6-Inch German Chocolate Cake rather than adapted this recipe to fit smaller pans. If you are looking for an even smaller option, then German Chocolate cupcakes are for you!

A four layer A traditional German Chocolate Cake recipe with a slice cut from the main cake.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Made with homemade German chocolate cake frosting. The classic German chocolate cake recipe is served with a frosting made with toasted pecans and sweetened coconut. They are the stars of the show in this highly addictive frosting.
  • Incredibly moist chocolate cake layers. This German Chocolate cake recipe is made with ultra moist cake layers. Creaming the butter and sugars + using sour cream are key elements to getting a deliciously moist texture. 
  • Deep chocolate flavor. We use Dutch process cocoa powder and a semi-sweet chocolate bar to receive an ultra rich chocolate cake flavor for the best German chocolate cake ever! 

Ingredient Notes

Traditional Traditional German Chocolate Cake ingredients portioned into glass bowls on a silver baking sheet.
  • Chocolate: Use good chocolate! You’ll be able taste a difference. I would use bar chocolate over chocolate chips. You can use Baker’s German Chocolate if you’d prefer. I used semi-sweet. 
  • Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder: Yes, it has to be dutch process!For more information on the different types of cocoa powders, when to use them and why, read my post on the Best Cocoa Powder for Baking
  • Boiling Water: The hot water will not only help to melt the chocolate, but it will bloom it as well. Blooming cocoa powder will enhance and deepen the flavor. 
  • Flour: Use regular, all-purpose flour. 
  • Unsalted Butter: The butter will provide a delicious buttery flavor while also providing the necessary fat for the cake.
  • Sugars: Using a combination of brown sugar and granulated sugar will give us a moister texture. 
  • Eggs: The eggs will beat up nice and light to provide a rich and light texture. 
  • Sour Cream: Adding full fat sour cream will make this an extra moist German chocolate cake recipe! 
  • 1 Batch Homemade Coconut Pecan Frosting: I highly recommend making my homemade coconut pecan frosting recipe! It’s a million times better than the store-bought frosting. Trust me. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Prepare the cake pans. Move your oven rack to the center position. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick cookie spray (that contains flour). Line the bottoms with a circular piece of parchment paper. Then spray the parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Combine part of the dry ingredients. To a small bowl add 2 cups flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda, and 3/4 tsp salt. Whisk to combine.
  3. Bloom the chocolate. In another small bowl, add 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder and 4 oz chopped chocolate. Boil water then measure 1/2 cup and pour into the chocolate bowl. Cover the bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth then let cool to room temperature.
  4. Cream the wet ingredients. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add 12 T unsalted butter, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup brown sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl so everything is combined.
Top left photo is glass bowl with hot water, chopped chocolate and cocoa. Top right photo is a whisk stirring a melted chocolate mixture. Bottom left photo is creamed sugar and butter with an egg. Bottom right photo is a light yellow mixture in glass bowl.
  1. Add the chocolate mixture. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is combined. 
  2. Alternate flour mixture and sour cream. Starting and ending with the flour mixture, alternate adding it and the sour cream to the bowl (flour, sour cream, flour, sour cream, flour) while mixing on low. Mix until just combined. 
  3. Bake. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove the cake pans from the oven and let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  
Top left image is yellow mixture in a glass bowl with melted chocolate overtop. Top right image is a brown wet ingredients to make Traditional German Chocolate Cake in a glass bowl. Bottom left image is Traditional German Chocolate Cake batter in a glass bowl. Bottom right image is Traditional German Chocolate Cake batter in a circle pan.
  1. Make the coconut pecan frosting. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting! Follow along in my coconut pecan frosting recipe for instructions. 
  2. Frost the cake. Slice each cake in half horizontally so you have 4 cakes. Generously slather the frosting between all the German chocolate cake layers. Add the coconut frosting to the top of the cake too. Keep the sides of the cake bare or frost with my Chocolate Buttercream Frosting if desired. Slice and serve. Enjoy! 
Top left image is of two baked Traditional German Chocolate Cakes in a cake pan. Top right image is coconut pecan frosting on top of a chocolate cake round. Bottom image is four layer traditional Traditional German Chocolate Cake on a brown cake plate.

Recipe Tips

The difference between semi-sweet and German chocolate is their sweetness. German chocolate is a sweet baking chocolate with a milder flavor than semi-sweet chocolate. I opted for semi-sweet chocolate out of preference. 

For the boiling water, fill a small saucepan with water, bring to a boil and then measure the 1/2 cup of boiling water.

By creaming the butter and sugar together, the sugar is aerating the butter – these air bubbles expand when in the oven and contribute to leavening the cake (helping it rise).

Be sure to use room temperature eggs and room temperature sour cream.  

If you want to add a chocolate frosting to the German Chocolate layer cake, I recommend my Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. It’s the same frosting I use on my German chocolate cupcakes. 

If you still want a naked cake looks, you can layer a small layer of the chocolate buttercream, then add the coconut pecan frosting, and still keep the edges bare. 

If I had it my way, there would be equal frosting to cake ratios on this cake. Unfortunately, that may have been a tad overboard for most of you! I just love the frosting so much!

Make Ahead, Storing, and Freezing

Store the German Chocolate cake in the fridge (because of the frosting) in an airtight container or covered for 2-3 days. After that, I would recommend slicing the cake and freezing any leftovers. 

To freeze cake slices, wrap in two layers plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to 2 months. Remove and let thaw in the fridge overnight. 

To freeze the whole German chocolate cake with the frosting, flash freeze until the frosting has set. Then wrap the entire cake in two layers of plastic wrap. Then, if freezing for longer than 7 days, add an extra layer of aluminum foil.

Freeze for up to 2 months. Remove and let thaw in the fridge overnight. Remove the wrappings and store covered at room temperature until the traditional German Chocolate cake reaches room temperature. Then slice and serve. 

For information on storing and freezing cakes, check out my How to Store and Freeze Cakes guide!

A slice of a four layer Traditional German Chocolate Cake balancing on a spatula.

Recipe FAQs

What’s German Chocolate cake?

German Chocolate cake is cake made with melted chocolate. It comes from the name Samuel German who developed a baking chocolate for Baker’s chocolate company. 

What is German Chocolate cake frosting?

The traditional frosting for German Chocolate cake is a gooey, caramel-like frosting packed with toasted coconut flakes and pecan pieces. 

Can I make this cake in 6-inch pans?

If you want to make a smaller German chocolate cake, I would follow my Small German Chocolate Cake Recipe which uses 6-inch cake pans. 

Can German Chocolate cake sit out?

If you’ve already frosted the cake, then you’ll need to store it in the fridge. If the cake is unfrosted, you can store it (covered) at room temperature. 

A slice of Traditional German Chocolate Cake made with sour cream, on a gray plate with a fork cutting into the cake.

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A slice of Traditional German Chocolate Cake taken from a four layer Traditional German Chocolate Cake on a wooden cake plate.
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5 from 51 votes

Traditional German Chocolate Cake

A delicious and moist German Chocolate Cake topped with a homemade coconut pecan frosting.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients
 

Chocolate Cake Layers

  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate - finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter - softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar - packed
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 2 cups heavy cream - or evaporated milk
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups pecans - toasted and finely chopped
  • 4 cups sweetened shredded coconut - toasted

Instructions
 

Chocolate Cake

  • Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2- 9 inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, and then grease and flour the parchment paper and sides of the pans. Set aside. 
  • In a small bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 
  • In a second small bowl combine the cocoa powder and chopped chocolate. Add the boiling water to the bowl, cover the bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, whisk the chocolate mixture until smooth. Let the chocolate mixture cool to room temperature. 
  • Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  • Add the vanilla and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  • Add the chocolate mixture, and beat again (about 30-45 seconds). Scraping down the sides of the bowl so that everything is evenly combined.
  • With the mixer on low alternate adding the flour mixture and sour cream, starting and ending with the flour. (Flour, sour cream, flour, sour cream, flour).
  • Divide the batter evenly amongst the two pans. 
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. While the cakes are baking, make the coconut pecan frosting (instructions below underneath "coconut pecan frosting."
  • Remove cake pans from the oven and place on a wire rack for 10 minutes. 
  • Remove the cakes from the pans (discard the parchment) and let cool completely on wire rack. 
  • Remove the coconut frosting from the fridge and stir in the pecans. 
  • Once cake is cool, slice the two cakes horizontally to create 4 layers. 
  • Place a cake layer on a cake stand, add about 1 1/2 cups of the frosting to the top of the cake layer and spread to the edge of the cake. Add another cake layer to the top of the frosting, and continue adding 1 cup of the frosting until you’ve used all of the cake layers and the frosting is gone. Keep the sides of the cake bare. Slice, and enjoy!

Coconut Pecan Frosting Directions

  • In a medium saucepan whisk the heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks, and salt. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally.
  • Bring to a low simmer and cook until slightly thickened.
  • Remove from the heat and add the butter, vanilla, toasted coconut and pecans. Mix to combine. Set aside to cool to room temperature. The frosting will thicken even more as it cools.

Notes

Storing: baked cake can be stored at room temperature (wrapped in plastic wrap) for 24 hours, or frozen for up to 1 month. If freezing the cake layers, wrap in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. Defrost cake at room temperature.
Frosted cake can be refrigerated for 24 hours, bring to room temperature before you serve it.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Nutrition

Calories: 1097kcal (55%)Carbohydrates: 104g (35%)Protein: 11g (22%)Fat: 74g (114%)Saturated Fat: 42g (210%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 278mg (93%)Sodium: 539mg (22%)Potassium: 389mg (11%)Fiber: 5g (20%)Sugar: 82g (91%)Vitamin A: 1722IU (34%)Vitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 109mg (11%)Iron: 4mg (22%)
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, German
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