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German Chocolate Cake with a Black Buttercream

German Chocolate layer cake with pecan and coconut frosting and black buttercream

If you didn’t already know, German Chocolate Cake is not German. The cake was named after Samuel German, a man who created a particular dark chocolate for the Baker’s Chocolate Company in Boston, Massachusetts. The chocolate would later be named Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate in honor of the man who created it. In June of 1975, a homemaker in Texas developed the German Chocolate Cake recipe which used the baker’s chocolate. The recipe spread throughout morning news programs and newspapers and became very popular. The recipe includes a chocolate cake but it’s the unique, custard-like coconut and pecan frosting that makes this cake so special. German Chocolate cake is incredibly sweet and indulgent. Many recipes call for just the coconut and pecan frosting and others incorporate a standard chocolate buttercream between layers or on the outside of the cake.

For this recipe, the cake is quite standard and made with a melted, creamy chocolate. I’ve chosen to add a black buttercream between the cake layers and on top. Who would argue with more chocolate, right? Aside from my love of buttercream, I’ve included this black buttercream to create a balance with the coconut and pecan frosting which is incredibly sweet on its own. For my black buttercream, I’ve used a black cocoa however a darker cocoa or a Dutch-processed cocoa will give you a fantastic result as well. The darker chocolate adds balance and a pretty contrast to the frosting and cake as well.

What makes this recipe so great:


Espresso Powder

Dutch processed cocoa powder

Toasted pecans

The cake itself is made with melted chocolate, buttermilk and a Dutch-processed cocoa which lends to not only a rich chocolate flavor but an incredibly moist cake. The toasted pecans bring out the nutty flavor, complimenting the brown sugar and sweetened condensed milk that makes the frosting. The use of espresso powder is not required but strongly recommended as it enhances the chocolate flavor which is the star of the show with this cake.

About the black buttercream: The black buttercream closely follows my recipe for chocolate buttercream and you can read more about that here. It’s a fine balance of both an unsweetened cocoa powder and a black cocoa powder. Black cocoa powder on its own is amazing and rich in color but can also be a tad bitter. The combination of both cocoas creates the perfect balance.

German Chocolate layer cake slices with pecan and coconut frosting and black buttercream

Let’s make a cake!

Ingredients for the cake:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature.

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa

1 tablespoon espresso powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 ¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons of vegetable or melted coconut oil

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 egg yolk at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk at room temperature

German Chocolate layer cake with pecan and coconut frosting and black buttercream

For the coconut and pecan frosting:

3 ½ cups pecan halves, toasted

2 sticks unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons, at room temperature

28 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 cup light brown sugar

5 egg yolks

3 cups shredded, sweetened coconut

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the black buttercream:

6 cups of powdered sugar

½ cup of cocoa

½ cup Dutch processed cocoa

½ cup black cocoa

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

3 to 4 tablespoons of heavy cream

To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 round, 9-inch cake pans and line them with parchment paper. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove pan from heat. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl over the saucepan and whisk continuously until chocolate is completely melted. Allow to cool until warm.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder and salt into a medium sized bowl. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs and egg yolk, one at a time. Mix in melted chocolate. Beat in vanilla extract. On low speed, slowly add buttermilk and flour mixture in batches, alternating between the two until fully incorporated.

Using a spatula, scrape cake batter into prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, testing the center of the cakes to ensure they are fully baked. Transfer cakes to a cake rack and allow to cool completely. Turn cakes out of the pans and peel away the parchment paper.

To make the frosting:

Toast pecans on baking sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool and chop into coarse pieces. In a large saucepan over low to medium heat, combine butter, condensed milk and brown sugar. Cook until smooth, whisking often. Add the egg yolks, cooking over low heat and whisk continuously until mixture becomes thick (about 8 to 10 minutes). Transfer frosting to a large bowl. Using a spatula, stir in shredded coconut, chopped pecans, vanilla extract and salt; let cool.

German Chocolate layer cake slices with pecan and coconut frosting and black buttercream

To make black buttercream:

Add powdered sugar, cocoa, butter, vanilla extract, and salt to a stand mixer. On low speed, slowly add in the heavy cream until a smooth consistency begins to form. Increase to medium speed, whipping slowly until buttercream begins to form and bring it to a high speed, whipping for about 1 to 2 minutes. Bring speed down to low for 1 more minute to remove any air bubbles.

To assemble:

Using an offset spatula, spread half of black buttercream evenly over first layer. With a second spatula, spread half of the pecan and coconut frosting evenly over black buttercream. Place second cake layer on top. Repeat the process for buttercream and frosting again. Sprinkle top of cake with ½ cup remaining toasted pecans.

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