German Chocolate Cake with Caramel-Dipped Pecans

German Chocolate Cake, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with Germany. I won’t get into the history, but if you’re interested you can read about it here. Anyways – German Chocolate Cake is not a simple affair. It’s a very gussied-up, dapper, special occasion cake. It’s got a lot of components, so naturally that means it’s time-consuming. I simplified my version by using my favorite chocolate cake recipe, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake. It’s easy, chocolate-y, and the perfect baseline for chocolate-centered cakes. I utilized Hershey’s Chocolate Frosting and America’s Test Kitchen’s coconut pecan filling because both are easy to make and trustworthy. The candied pecans that I use as decor make this cake an extra fancy affair!

German Chocolate Cake (Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

German Chocolate Coconut Pecan Filling (America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut (7 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, toasted on baking sheet in 350-degree oven until
  • fragrant and browned, about 8 minutes

Chocolate Fudge Frosting (Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candied Pecans

  • 10-20 pecan halves (depending on how many you want for garnish – it also helps to have extras since some may break!)
  • Toothpicks (enough for the amount of pecans you are using)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions:

For the cake: 

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans
  2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
  4. Make the filling while the cake is cooling

For the filling: 

  1. Toast the pecans in a 350 degree oven for 5-8 minutes, until fragrant and browned. The pecans are fully toasted when they snap and no longer have a bitter taste. Set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk yolks in medium saucepan; gradually whisk in evaporated milk.
  3. Add sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.
  4. Transfer mixture to bowl, whisk in vanilla, then stir in coconut. Cool until just warm, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool or cold, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Pecans are stirred in just before cake assembly.)

For the frosting:

  1. Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
  2. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

For the candied pecans:

  1. Line a pan or a large area of counter space with parchment paper.
  2. Prepare an ice bath, storing in the freezer if necessary until ready for use. Be sure that the saucepan you are using will fit into the ice bath.
  3. Gently insert a toothpick into the middle of each pecan. Be careful not to push the tip all the way through the pecan so the tip is visible. You may not be able to work the toothpick out of the pecan if it pushes all the way through. Set aside.
  4. In a medium heavy bodied saucepan, combine the sugar and the water. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once the sugar is dissolved, stop stirring and let the mixture come to a boil. Boil without stirring until the mixture is medium-amber in color. Note: this takes a decent amount of time, anywhere from 8-10 minutes if not a bit longer. You may think it is going to burn or that it’s not hot enough. The mixture will turn so long as you let it boil, and you will see it turn the medium-amber color that is needed.
  6. Dip the bottom of the saucepan into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Let the caramel stand for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Using the inserted toothpick, dip a pecan one at a time into the caramel, lifting the pecan in an upward motion out of the caramel a few inches to create a strand. Cut off the strand with a cutting board or spoon and gently place onto the parchment paper to harden.
  8. Very carefully remove the toothpicks from the pecans so the caramel doesn’t crack.

Assembly:

  1. Stir the toasted pecans into the chilled cake filling.
  2. Using a bread knife, gently cut each cake in half lengthwise to create 4 layers of cake. Use a ruler to measure the halfway point of each cake if you are not confident eyeballing it. Note: There are lots of tutorials on YouTube that show you how to easily do this!
  3. Place the first layer on a cake board or cake stand and begin filling with the coconut pecan filling, repeating until you reach the top layer of your cake. Note: divide the filling into fourths for an even amount of filling since there are four layers. Spread the last layer of filling on the top layer of your cake, ensuring that you do not spread all the way to the edges since frosting will be piped there (leaving about 1/2 inch for frosting).
  4. Set aside about 3/4 cup of fudge frosting for the piped tips. Use the rest to frost the sides of the cake using a frosting spatula for a crumb coat. Allow the crumb coat to chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour. Frost with the remainder of the frosting, using a frosting spatula and smoothing tool to create smooth edges.
  5. Using a piping bag with a tip of choice (I used no tip to just create dollops), pipe the remainder of the 3/4 of frosting around the edges of the cake. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can also use a smaller frosting spatula to create a smooth ring of frosting around the top edge to cover any visible cake.
  6. Gently nestle the candied pecans into the top of the cake so the hardened strings are facing upward, placing them strategically around the top layer.
  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

german chocolate cake slice

Happy Birthday, Dad

German Chocolate Cake, in my opinion, gives me vintage vibes. I couldn’t really tell you why. When I was googling pictures of it for decoration inspiration, a lot of the images were from vintage cookbooks. So maybe that’s why. But come to think of it, a lot more modern-leaning bakeries tend to leave out German Chocolate Cake. At least the ones around here do. I feel like people either love or hate this cake since it has coconut and nuts, which people either love or hate. So maybe that’s why people don’t think about it as much these days.

I made this cake for my dad’s birthday because German Chocolate Cake is his favorite. Really, that’s all there was to this. But I’m glad it happened, because I rediscovered how freakin’ delicious it is. Why are we letting this cake fade away into nostalgia? Even at the grocery store the other day, I saw only one brand of German Chocolate box mix – sitting at the very top in the corner. Not one box missing.

I went with the candied pecans as decor because the amber, glassy look of these play into the vintage vibe. You know what I’m talking about, right? The amber colored glass that was everywhere in homes and kitchen wares in the 1970s? If you don’t, just google “vintage amber glassware”. I’m sure you’ve seen some version of it in your grandma’s house.

And you know what else gives me vintage vibes? My dad. Just kidding, dad. You’re really not that old. You’re vintage! And everyone loves vintage, right?

Happy birthday, dad!

german chocolate cake 2

5 thoughts on “German Chocolate Cake with Caramel-Dipped Pecans

Add yours

  1. I like to make German chocolate cake from scratch because that is the recipe my mother brought home from work in the 1960’s. I don’t remember a mix then for the cake. You had to by the chocolate bar to make it. I think the scratch version is better. Thanks for sharing your pictures and the recipes you used.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the from-scratch German chocolate cakes! These days you can buy everything for it in a box. I suppose it’s good for when you’re in a pinch, but it just doesn’t compare to a homemade German chocolate cake! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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