German Chocolate Cake Recipe

There’s an unparalleled charm in making use of items that have been passed down to you. And I have had the pleasure of receiving many great things from both of my great-grandmothers, whom I was fortunate enough to know.   

From a light-pink vintage blazer to a small jewelry dish I admire on my dresser every day, each heirloom acts as a sweet memory. But, best of all are the recipes.   

When I attempt to make the dessert and struggle to read my great-grandma's handwritten recipe or use her own mixing bowls painted with fall leaves, I feel like I’m back in her little kitchen.

Both of my great-grandmas had a knack for baking, unfortunately a skill I did not naturally acquire. And one of my grandmothers, known to me as Nanny, handed down a recipe for one of my favorite guilty-pleasure dishes: German chocolate cake.   

Now, when I attempt to make the dessert and struggle to read her handwritten recipe or use her own mixing bowls painted with fall leaves, I feel like I’m back in her little kitchen.   

Hopefully, through my ancestors’ recipes, I can continue to refine my baking skills. And despite the calories, these nostalgic sweets will inevitably continue to make an appearance in my diet.   

Cake Ingredients 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 and ½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup buttermilk   
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 package (4 ounces) melted chocolate (my family prefers Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate) 

Frosting Ingredients 

  • 2 cups evaporated milk 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 3 lightly beaten egg yolks
  • 1 cup butter (no need to soften or melt) 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 2/3 cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 cups chopped pecans   

Melt chocolate in a small- to medium-size saucepan. As chocolate heats up, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Be careful not to neglect your chocolate and stir frequently to prevent from burning.   

In another, larger mixing bowl, stir butter to soften before adding in buttermilk, vanilla, eggs, flour mixture, and melted chocolate. Blend together all ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula before beating for three minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed. Line three 9-inch layer pans with wax paper and pour mixture evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean after being inserted into the middle.   

Begin making frosting with about five minutes left on the cake bake to give it time to cool. For the coconut and pecan frosting, combine evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla into a medium saucepan. Simmer and stir over medium heat for about 12 minutes until it thickens. (The secret is to heat your mixture until it has a pudding-like consistency.) Lastly, add coconut and chopped pecans. Spread between cake layers and on top while the frosting is still warm.   

Pro Tip

My great-grandma always took the time to make the cake from scratch. However, if you're in a pinch, you can use a German chocolate cake mix as a quick substitute and only hand-make the frosting. (We all know the frosting is the real star of the dish anyway!)


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