This incredible four-layer German chocolate cake is luscious, rich, satisfying and features two secret ingredients that make it extra special.
German chocolate cake is a beloved classic for a reason; the cake is top-tier. Known for its rich, moist chocolate layers, distinct icing, and decadent coconut-pecan filling, this dessert is a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth. My version varies from the traditional recipe and is truly impressive (if I do say so myself). I incorporate pudding into the cake batter to enhance its moisture, density, and flavor. Additionally, I use buttermilk in the batter to tenderize the cake. I’ve also chosen to cover the cake with chocolate buttercream and top it with ganache. But the indulgence doesn’t stop there – the cake is finished with toasted shredded coconut and a drizzle of caramel sauce! Does that sound tempting or what?
Why You’ll Love German Chocolate Cake
Stunning presentation – This cake is a showstopper. A single glance will leave you craving a slice (or maybe three). It’s ideal for special occasions like birthdays, graduations, and any celebration that demands a visually striking dessert.
Multi-dimensional delight – While German chocolate cake is rich and chocolatey, it offers much more complexity. Subtle salty and vanilla notes, a hint of complementary bitterness, and the toasty nuttiness of coconut complement the chocolate and sugar.
Triple chocolate indulgence – Chocolate cake, buttercream, and ganache – this cake is a chocolate lover’s dream. Despite the trio of chocolate elements, the flavors are perfectly balanced and not overwhelming.
Varied textures – Tender, fudgy, sticky, creamy, gooey, chewy – German chocolate cake boasts exquisite textures. You’ll experience a delightful assortment, and it’s all incredibly delicious!
German Chocolate Cake Ingredients Notes
While this German chocolate cake requires a somewhat lengthy list of ingredients, the results are well worth it. Key components include:
- Flour: All-purpose flour works best for German chocolate cake, as its protein content is ideally suited.
- Granulated sugar: Granulated sugar is in the cake, frosting, and caramel sauce. It provides sweetness without overshadowing the other flavors (except in the caramel). Brown sugar isn’t necessary, given the cake’s complexity.
- Instant chocolate pudding: The pudding adds flavor and moisture, contributing to a denser, richer texture that elevates desserts, especially cake batters.
- Vegetable oil: The neutral oil ensures a tender, moist cake that retains its qualities even after refrigeration.
- Buttermilk: The slight acidity tenderizes the cake crumbs. While pudding lends density to the batter, buttermilk maintains the cake’s lightness.
- Unsalted butter: Butter is crucial in the frosting (hello, buttercream), imparting flavor and adding thickness and richness to the caramel.
- Shredded coconut: The crispy chew of shredded coconut introduces delightful textural contrast.
Find the complete list of ingredients in the recipe card below!
How to Make German Chocolate Cake
- Prepare the cake batter: Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, followed by the wet ingredients. Beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined.
- Bake: Divide the German chocolate cake batter between two prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Once baked, allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
- Make the buttercream: Incorporate butter, powdered sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and heavy cream. Blend until the chocolate buttercream is velvety and ready for use.
- Craft the caramel: This step involves melting sugar in a saucepan until it achieves a deep amber hue. Incorporate butter, cream, vanilla, and salt to create a sumptuous caramel sauce. Remove from heat as soon as it’s ready and set it aside.
- Toast the coconut: Toast the tropical shreds under your oven’s broiler, keeping a watchful eye to prevent burning.
- Glorious ganache: Melt chocolate over a double boiler to create a smooth ganache.
- Assemble: Divide each cake into two layers, applying buttercream between each layer. Cover the German chocolate cake with buttercream, then follow with ganache, coconut, and a drizzle of caramel sauce.
Variations, Substitutions, and Cooking Tips
For easy cake release – Grease your cake pans with butter, place parchment rounds at the bottoms, and lightly dust the sides with flour. This ensures effortless cake removal every time.
Consider pan color – Dark-colored pans expedite the cake-cooking process due to their heat-absorption properties. Conversely, light-colored pans reflect heat. One isn’t better than the other. However, if you use dark cake pans, the cakes will cook more quickly; therefore, keep an eye on them to prevent overbaking.
Use a serrated knife – Employ a serrated knife when dividing the cakes for the cleanest cuts. Slowly rotate the cake while cutting for even halves. More importantly, don’t worry about making a mistake. I find that I’m less prone to errors when I relax and go in with enthusiasm to complete the task at hand. Also, if the layers aren’t perfectly even, it is not the end of the world.
Incorporate pecans – If you like pecans, consider adding them to the coconut toppings. After all, this is your cake – customize it to your liking!
- I. Chocolate Cake
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghiradelli)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 packet of instant chocolate pudding
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- II. Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp (DON'T melt in the microwave!)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 4 TBS. heavy Cream
- ¼ cocoa powder (Again, I used Ghiradelli)
- 3¼ cups powdered sugar
- III. Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 TBS. unsalted butter
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- IV. Toasted Coconut
- 2 cups shredded coconut
- X. Chocolate Ganache
- 1 bag (8 oz) Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate
- Chocolate Cake: Pre-Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (I used two spring-form pans). Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix on low until dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add eggs, buttermilk, pudding, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for about two minutes; the batter will be thin. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Once ready, remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before carefully placing onto wire racks. Cool completely.
- Buttercream: In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 2-3 minutes. Sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder and SLOWLY add to the butter. Add vanilla and heavy cream and mix until well combined. To frost, I sliced each cake in half to form a four-layer cake. Then, using a frosting spatula, frosted each layer cut-side-down then frosted the outside of the entire cake.
- Caramel: To make the caramel sauce, first add the sugar to a small sauce-pan over a medium-high heat, stirring continuously. Be sure to keep an eye on the sugar as it will melt quickly. Once all the clumps have melted and the sugar looks like a syrup, stop stirring and allow to sit over the heat. Once the mixture turns a dark amber color (but before it starts smoking), remove from the heat and immediately add the butter, heavy cream, vanilla and salt. Don't worry if your caramel is looking scary at this point. It just needs stirring! Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- Toasted Coconut: To make the toasted coconut, pre-heat the oven to "Broil". Again, make sure to keep a close eye on the oven because the coconut can go from a beautiful toasted brown, to burnt in seconds. It should only take a few minutes before its ready!
- Ganache: For the chocolate ganache, I simply brought a small pot with about ½ cup of water over a medium-heat to a boil. Once heated, using a heat-proof bowl that can fit on top, add 1 bag of dark chocolate pieces to the bowl. Allow to melt, stirring consistently, until there are a few pieces of unmelted chocolate left. Then, remove from the heat and stir until all of the chocolate has melted.
- To decorate, simply combine all of the components as you see fit!
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