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My friends here in Oki know how much I love to bake cakes and cupcakes so, occasionally, I’ll get a special request for a birthday or other event. A good friend of mine had a birthday a few weeks ago and asked me to make her favorite kind of cake, German chocolate. Never one to say no to a baking adventure, I gladly started searching for the perfect recipe for her birthday. Through my research, I stumbled upon a little a little bit of a history worth mentioning. Interestingly enough, German chocolate cake is not from Germany, but named after an American, Samuel German, who created a dark baking chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate. The company named the chocolate bar after him and, later, a recipe was created using the specific chocolate bar, titled German’s Chocolate Cake. The apostrophe and “s” have since been dropped from the name, but the recipe remains an American favorite.
I have to say I was surprised by how much I loved this entire cake. I shouldn’t be surprised, as David Lebovitz is the mastermind behind this particular version and everything I’ve ever made from him is phenomenal. I particularly loved the cake in this recipe. Unlike many oil based chocolate cakes that are rich and fudgy, this cake has a moderate chocolate flavor and is very light and fluffy! The milder chocolate flavor is due to the combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate (aka, German’s chocolate). The airy texture that I loved is created by whipping the egg whites into a meringue and folding them into the batter. It is an extra step but totally worth it! I’ve already made this cake recipe again with a different frosting and loved it just as much. I think it will be my “go-to” for a lighter chocolate cake in the future!
As for the rest of this cake, it is filled with the traditional toasted coconut and pecan filling. Even though the filling is on the sweeter side, it is delicious and the caramel, toasted flavor balances nicely with the light chocolate cake. The whole cake is frosted with a whipped chocolate ganache. In my opinion, chocolate ganache tends tip the scale on richness for me, but this cake is an exception. The ganache adds just the right amount of dark chocolate that some might think is missing from the cake itself.
My friend and I were scraping our plates clean after each eating a slice of this cake and I had a hard time sending the rest away with her. Needless to say, I think her birthday cake was a success and I know I’ll be making a lot more German chocolate cake in the future!
German Chocolate Cake
For the cake:
- 1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 3 tbsp. water
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cups sugar, divided
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the rum syrup!
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dark rum
For the filling:
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted
For the whipped ganache frosting:
- 5 ounces (150g) best quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
To make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line three 6-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 2 tablespoons 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 the rest of the sugar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons). 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 18-20 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.
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.
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, but still remains somewhat runny.
Make the whipped ganache frosting:
- Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream, light corn syrup and salt to a boil.
- Quickly pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let sit for about 1 minute, then, whisk until smooth and shiny.
- Add the butter and vanilla and blend until super smooth, 1 more minute.
- Let the ganache come to room temperature. Beat the ganache with an electric mixer using the whisk attachment until just thick and fluffy, about 20-30 seconds. Be careful not to overbeat as the ganache will get grainy.
Assemble the cake:
- Set the first layer on a cake circle and brush well with the rum syrup. Pipe a border of chocolate ganache around the rim of the cake. Spread 1/3 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer.
- Set another cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then piping a border of ganache and, finally, spreading 1/3 cup of the coconut filling over this layer.
- Top with final cake layer. Refrigerate cake for at least 30 minutes.
- Once cake is chilled, frost with a thin crumb coat of the chocolate ganache. Refrigerate again for a least 30 minutes, until ganache is tacky to the touch.
- Frost the cake with another, thicker layer of ganache. Pipe a decorative border around the top layer. Fill center with toasted coconut filling.
- The cake will keep at room temperature for 8 hours and refrigerated for 3 days.
1. To make this cake a little less of a project, it can easily be split up into parts and assembled the day of. Here's how I usually break it up. Make the rum syrup, filling and ganache two days ahead of time, but do not whip the ganache. Store in air-tight containers in the fridge. Bake the cakes one day in advance. Once completely cooled, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature. The day of, let the ganache return to room temperature and then whip, according to the directions. If needed, ganache can be warmed in the microwave in 3-5 second bursts, stirring in between, until desired consistency is reached. Follow the assembly instructions, as written.
2. The consistency of my filling was very runny, even after chilling and adding more toasted coconut. Pipping a ganache border around the layers of the cake helped contain it, so if your filling seems runny, I would highly recommend this extra step.
3. Originally, this cake was written to be a 9-inch round, 4 layer cake. I scaled it down to be a 6-inch round, 3 layer cake. If you would prefer the larger version, double everything. The cakes will bake as two, 9-inch layers that will need to be cut in half lengthwise to make 4 layers. The larger cakes should bake for 40-45 minutes in the same temperature oven.
Cake, rum syrup and filling recipes adapted from David Lebovitz. Ganache frosting from The Sweetapolita Bakebook.