In June, for Father’s Day, I posted a photo and some behind-the-scenes stories on my Instagram of a decadent chocolate cake that was under construction. At Ryan’s request, I was busy in the kitchen, excitedly creating a gluten-free German Chocolate Cake. So many of you immediately requested the recipe! I’m thrilled to finally share the how-to for this mouth-watering dessert. It is a layered cake rich in chocolate flavor with an indulgent pecan coconut filling.
I was thrilled when Ryan asked for this cake since I hadn’t tried a paleo version of it before. Growing up, my mom and grandma were always making German Chocolate Cake to celebrate special occasions. It makes me a little nostalgic, even though I’m not a big fan of coconut. A German Chocolate Cake is also one of my father-in-law’s favorites, and since they were spending Father’s Day with us, so I just knew that I had to perfect a grain-free and primal-friendly version (no pressure!).
Is it German?
You may be wondering why the cake has “German” in its name – in pictures, it looks like a classic American cake. My mom’s side of the family is German, so I grew up thinking this cake must be a traditional custom in Germany. Not so much!
It turns out that it did not come from Germany at all. It actually comes from an American chocolate maker named Samuel German. He developed a mildly sweet dark chocolate, under the Baker’s brand, that quickly became a staple in this well-known cake.
The recipe sprang to popularity when it was highlighted as the “recipe of the day” in a Dallas newspaper in 1957. So while it’s retro, it’s definitely not traditionally German. The recipe quickly spread all over the country and was named German Chocolate Cake after Samuel German’s famous chocolate.
Germans do make some phenomenal desserts though. My family spent a week there when I was in middle school and I’ll never forget all of the delicious and creative treats. I still dream of the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cherry-tortes. I created a cupcake back in 2012 to mimic those flavors if you’re more of a chocolate-cherry person than a chocolate-coconut lover.
In this recipe, I used grass-fed butter to achieve the most authentic traditional flavor reminiscent of the classic. I also tested it with sustainable palm shortening to keep it dairy-free, and I am happy to report that the alternative works great! The flavors just aren’t as rich. I didn’t test it with ghee, but I think that would work too. Your frosting just may be a little less thick, but the flavors will be there.
To frost or not to frost
I chose to omit the additional chocolate frosting for this cake. I love the look of a “naked” cake and wanted the rich pecan-coconut filling to speak for itself. If you are interested in adding a chocolate frosting you can use my Chocolate Buttercream recipe on page 160 in my cookbook Celebrations. My chocolate ganache from my first book, Against all Grain, would also be pretty great drizzled over top and down the sides of the cake.
To keep the recipe as close to the original as possible I used Guittard Semi-Sweet Chocolate. I tried it with unsweetened, 100% cacao chocolate, sweetened with maple and it was too dense and had too deep of a chocolate flavor.
After a couple of attempts at the cake, I decided to test a “real” German Chocolate Cake from Food&Wine by Ali Larter (it has 5,800 5-Star reviews!) and subbed in an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend so we could all taste it against my own. I even used all of the regular refined sugar and butter the recipe calls for. All in the name of R&D, for you, my lovely readers. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I had to distribute the rest of that cake to all of our friends and family. Otherwise, I would devour it and pay for it, but the few bites I had were glorious.
I love Guittard chocolate because it uses fair trade practices, is 100% non-GMO, does not contain soy or dairy. It's also a great female-run business right here in the Bay Area. It does contain 100% pure cane sugar though, so if you are looking for something that is cane sugar-free I would recommend using Hu Chocolate baking gems.
Prepping the Cake
You can prep the cake and the pecan coconut filling separately up to 3 days in advance to help save you some time. I would recommend wrapping them tightly and storing the layers in the refrigerator to help keep it fresh and moist. Keep the frosting tightly covered in the refrigerator, but bring it to room temperature before frosting the cake.
I hope you all enjoy this Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cake! I had so much fun recreating it, especially since it carries so many memories from my childhood. It is the perfect cake to make for a special occasion or just for fun during these crazy times.
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Seriously- I’ve made this four times already. It’s SOOOOOO good. And it never survives a night 🤣😂. We all end up eating two pieces and being extremely happy. It’s sooooo good. So chocolatey, and the icing is just 🤤 sooooo good.
I recently made this cake for my daughter’s 4th birthday. It was amazingly rich & moist without being too sweet. We had to freeze half of it to avoid continuing to eat it but look forward to the day I pull it back out of the freezer. I think this cake will be our new favorite.
I made this frosting and it was absolutely perfect! It had just the right amount of sweetness and a lovely crunch. Thank you!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for the review!
What can u use in place of maple sugar can maple syrup be used ?
I wouldn’t sub a solid with a liquid – it would affect the overall texture of the recipe without making adjustments to the other ingredients. If you’re looking to sub the maple sugar, you can try coconut sugar!
I made this frosting and we all loved it! I usually find frosting to be overly sweet but his was just right. Thanks!
Just made this for my hubby’s birthday. He loved it! The man who hates anything that is gluten free. This is a huge win for me. This is now my go to cake for all celebrations. The cake was about 9 inches high so when it was cut the pieces were too long for my dessert plates. Could this be made in 2 – 8″ or 9″ round pans?
Would the batter fit in a 9×13 pan? I don’t have the small pans you recommend. Would a 9” round pan work?
It bakes like a regular cake, so you can use any pan as long as you leave room for it to rise. I’ve seen readers even make this recipe into cupcakes! Enjoy!!
Is the coconut milk in the can or the carton? Is there a difference?
Full fat coconut milk from a can!
This looks amazing! Do you think it would work to sub the almond flour, arrowroot, and coconut flour with an all-purpose gluten free flour? I don’t have to eat grain free and I don’t have coconut or almond flour on hand.
Hi! This looks decadent and I can’t wait to try it. We have a nut allergy in our house, what would you recommend to replace the almond flour? Thanks!
You can try sweet potato flour – I haven’t tested it though, so I can’t guarantee how it will come out. Let us know if you try it that way! It’ll be helpful to other readers who may have that same question.
I sub tigernut (which is a tuber- not nut) for almond in all recipes that call for it and it works great!
This cake was stunning and delicious! I did make 1.5 of the frosting and glad I did. The cake was the right amount of light texture and chocolatey, and the frosting was divine.
This made my 10 yr old on an AI diet so happy. I don’t think I got the icing right. I need to try it again but he loved it even though I did something wrong in the icing. Great excuse to get to make it again soon. He is a super picky eater and he hates his diet so you brought a big smile to his face with this recipe!
Yay! I’m so glad to read that he enjoyed it! I hope you try it again with great results!
I made this over a year ago and it went over very well.. My daughter is graduating this weekend and I asked her about a cake and she requested this one! Thank you for a recipe that I can use for my husband and daughter that they can eat without any terrible side effects!
Wow! This cake is fantastic! I made this today for the first time and made a 1/2 batch and it still made a really cute small cake. Absolutely delicious. No one had any idea it was gluten free. Thanks Danielle for an amazing cake recipe.
Hi – I’m making this now – looks wonderful! The recipe calls for 6 eggs, but the directions indicate egg whites. Am I correct in using 6 egg whites? Thanks!
Never mind! I just needed to read a little further… 😉
Thanks for point that out – I edited the instructions to make that a bit more clear! You are correct; it is 6 egg whites!
I am so excited to make this for a coworker’s birthday! I don’t have Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Can I sub for regular cocoa powder?
Yes – you can sub with regular cocoa powder in this recipe. Enjoy!
For the icing: #11 instruction reads to let the frosting mixture cool overnight after it is transferred to mixing bowl. Overnight at room temperature? This seems odd.
Hi Valerie! The frosting will thicken as it cools. You can either do so by keeping it out at room temp, or cool it overnight in your fridge. Happy Cooking!
This is my son’s birthday cake, every year!!! 2/19… i ate the left overs with coffee this morning. It’s tedious, but worth every second!!!! And 10Xs better than box German chocolate cake with store bought frosting, plus it’s healthy and guilt free!!!! A healthy lifestyle is all about substitutes, and this cake knocks it out of the park!!!!
Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you are all enjoying it.
Can I sub the arrowroot for tapioca flour?
Yes! Enjoy & happy cooking!