Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cake

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!). 

Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cake on a serving dish

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.

German Chocolate Cake in the middle of being frosted as it rests on a white cake stand


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.

slice of Gluten Free German Chocolate Cake on a white plate with a gold colored fork next to it

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.3 layer Gluten Free German Chocolate Cake resting on a cake stand by a window. A glass of milk is next to it.

The Chocolate

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. 

German Chocolate Cake resting on a cake platter and a slice of the cake is on a plate next to it

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.

top vie of a 3 layer Gluten Free German Chocolate Cake. Top layer has shaved chocolate curls.

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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Gluten-Free German Chocolate Cake



Cuisine: American

Category: Dessert

PREP TIME: 25 mins

COOK TIME: 55 mins TOTAL TIME: 80 mins


German Chocolate Cake 


*use sustainable palm shortening for dairy-free


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 6 by 3-inch cake pans with palm shortening and place a round piece of parchment paper at the bottom of each pan.
  2. On two separate trays lined with parchment paper, toast coconut and pecans for the frosting, stirring occasionally, until coconut is deep golden brown and nuts are fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully — coconut and nuts can quickly burn if left in a minute too long. Remove from the oven, roughly chop the pecans, and transfer both coconut and pecans to a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Warm the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate pieces.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using an electric handheld mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Transfer the egg whites to a bowl and set aside.
  5. Cream together the butter, coconut sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  6. Whisk together the arrowroot, almond flour, cocoa powder, coconut flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Alternate adding the dry mixture and the coconut milk-chocolate mixture to the mixer bowl until fully incorporated, mixing after each addition on medium-high speed. Gently fold in the egg whites with a rubber spatula.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
  8. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes on the center rack, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 1 hour, then use a knife to gently release the cakes from the sides of the pans. Flip the pans over to release the cakes and cool overnight right side up before frosting.
  10. While the cakes bake, prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan, bring coconut milk to a boil. Simmer on medium-high heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until it has thickened slightly and reduced by half.
  11. Add the coconut sugar, maple sugar, butter, and salt over medium heat, until the sugar is smooth. Add the egg yolks and cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the frosting to a large bowl and stir in the pecans and the coconut, vanilla, and salt; let cool overnight. The frosting will thicken as it cools.
  12. To assemble the cake, set one layer on a cake stand or plate. Top with 1/3 of the coconut mixture. Repeat two more times, so the top of the cake is covered in coconut.

Did you enjoy this recipe? If you make this and love it, please post a photo on social media and use #daniellewalker and @daniellewalker so I can see it!

Keywords: paleo, gluten free, dessert, chocolate, cake, danielle walker, against all grain, celebrations, birthday, german chocolate cake, dairy free, coconut