German Chocolate Cake From "Cake Ladies"

Jodi Rhoden of Short Street Cakes has written a super sweet book called "Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition," featuring profiles of cake ladies all over the South. Read more about the book here, or just run and get your mixer out to make this German chocolate cake.

German Chocolate Cake
courtesy of "Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition"

German Chocolate Cake, one of the most popular of Southern cakes, is essentially a light buttermilk chocolate cake iced with a coconut and pecan cooked custard. Despite its name, German Chocolate Cake did not originate in Germany, but in Texas. While the recipe itself dates back to at least the 1920s, the name comes from the chocolate called for in the recipe popularized in the 1950s by the Baker’s Chocolate Company: German’s Sweet Chocolate. Peggy says, “This is one of those cakes you only want to make for very special people. And serve it in slivers — it’s rich like heck.”

PREP TIME: 15 minutes

BAKING TIME: 30 to 40 minutes

COOLING TIME: about 1 hour plus 30 minutes for icing to cool

DECORATING: 20 minutes (includes making the icing and filling the cake)

for the cake

1/2 cup boiling water
4 ounces sweetened baking chocolate
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2 cups sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

for the icing

1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, chopped, and toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F.


Spray the bottom and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans liberally with cooking spray. Place the pans on a sheet of parchment paper and trace three circles the same size as the bottoms of the pans. Cut the circles out and place in the bottoms of the greased pans.


Begin by melting the chocolate: Pour the boiling water over the chocolate, and whisk until fully combined. Set aside and allow the chocolate to cool but not solidify.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1½ cups of the sugar together until light and fluffy. Break up the egg yolks with a fork, and slowly add them into the butter and sugar mixture. Beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. Scrape the bowl down and add the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and scrape the bowl down again. Beat again until the mixture is smooth, light, and creamy.

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together twice. Set aside.

With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, then one-third of the buttermilk. Mix just until incorporated. Continue adding the buttermilk and flour mixture in thirds until it’s all in there. Scrape the bowl well and gently mix again to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated.

In a clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk, whip the egg whites on medium low until frothy. Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the rest of the sugar until combined. Whisk the whites until stiff peaks form, but don’t overbeat. Gently fold egg whites into the chocolate mixture, until just incorporated. Don’t mix too much or the batter will deflate.

Divide the batter evenly among the three pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched, the sides of the cake come away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans on a rack.


Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, yolks, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon for 12 to 15 minutes, until the mixture thickens. When the mixture has thickened, stir in the coconut and pecans. Let the mixture cool and store in the fridge until ready to use.


When the cake layers are completely cool, trim off any uneven areas from the tops with a serrated knife. Invert the first layer onto a cake plate, parchment side up. Carefully peel the parchment off of the cake and throw it away. Spread one-third of the icing on the top surface of the cake with an offset spatula. Place the second cake layer on top of the first, remove the parchment paper, and spread another one-third of the icing—removing the parchment paper and spreading the icing. Repeat with the third layer. (Peggy doesn’t ice the sides of her German Chocolate Cake, she says, “because it makes a mess.” ) Chill the cake for an hour or so until it sets up. Then slice into thin slices and serve, maybe with a little vanilla ice cream.

German Chocolate Cake can be kept at room temperature for several days or refrigerated for up to a week.

Peggy’s Kitchen Wisdom

It’s easier to put this cake together if you chill your layers in the fridge for an hour or so first. You can also wrap them and put them in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Make cupcakes from this recipe, too: Just fill two dozen cupcake pans with the batter and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Reprinted with permission from Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition © 2011 by Jodi Rhoden, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.