This decadent dairy free + gluten free German chocolate cake recipe is the best around! Moist, soft gluten free chocolate cake is layered with dairy free chocolate buttercream and the most amazing coconut pecan filling. No one will believe this German chocolate cake is gluten-free.
Dairy Free + Gluten Free German Chocolate Cake Recipe
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One of my best friends is obsessed with this cake (her words, not mine).
After I made it for a mutual friends’ baby shower, she raved about it…for years.
It warmed my heart when she asked me to put it up on this blog. So here it is, Shawna!
German chocolate cake consists of three components.
Chocolate cake, coconut pecan custard filling, and chocolate buttercream frosting.
Because it’s a bit more labor intensive than a two-part cake, I like to do it in stages. I make the cake early and freeze it. Then I just thaw it in the fridge the night before frosting it.
You can make the coconut pecan filling a day or two in advance store it in an air tight container. Bring it to room temp by leaving it on the counter for an hour or two before you’re ready to frost the cake.
I like to make the buttercream the day of, as that just always seems to work the best.
You can make the buttercream in advance and store it in the fridge (in an air tight container), but you have to bring it to room temp and whip it again before using.
There’s nothing like a German chocolate cake from scratch
Let me tell ya! I actually never liked German chocolate cake until I made it myself.
The boxed version just doesn’t do it justice, ya’ll. And if you love the boxed version, just wait until you try this gluten free German chocolate cake recipe from scratch!
I think you’ll love it as much as Shawna.
Note about the ingredients for the gluten free cake
For the best results with this gluten free German chocolate cake recipe, it’s important to use a quality gluten-free flour.
My favorite gluten free flour is this DIY blend. It’s cheap and can be used cup-for-cup in most recipes!
Avoid gluten-free flours that contain garbanzo bean flour. Garbanzo bean flour will make your cake taste “off.”
If you’re using a gluten free flour that already contains xanthan gum, make sure to not add any more. Too much xanthan gum in this recipe will make the cake more dense and gummy (bleh).
If your flour does not contain xanthan gum, you’ll want to add 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum to the dry mix.
In this recipe we’re using unsweetened cocoa powder. The type is completely up to you!
I have been using a dutch-processed cocoa powder for years with great results.
You can also use a dark chocolate cocoa powder if you prefer it.
Hot coffee is my favorite thing about this particular chocolate cake recipe (don’t worry, though, they won’t taste like coffee!).
Coffee brings out the beautiful chocolate notes, without being overly coffee.
You can use regular coffee, decaf coffee, or even instant coffee. If you have left over coffee from yesterday, just reheat it before using.
To omit the coffee, just use hot water instead. It’s that easy.
How to freeze the cakes for later use
These cakes freeze very well! Freezing them in advance makes the assembly much easier, especially since there’s a three step process to the German chocolate cake.
To freeze, wrap each cake individually in cling wrap, and cover with a layer of tin foil. Freeze for up to 2 months.
To use after freezing, allow the cakes to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours. Take them out of the wrapping and set them out on a tray at room temperature for 2 hours. Frost as desired.
Ingredients for the Coconut Pecan Custard Filling
You can use sweetened or unsweetened coconut. I prefer unsweetened, as this cake can become too sweet too quickly with layer after layer of sugary-ness (that’s the scientifc word).
I prefer larger chunks of coconut, so I use large unsweetened coconut flakes.
However, you can use what you like! Shredded or flaked. Sweetened or unsweetened. It’s a very forgiving recipe.
I buy halved pecans and chop them myself either by hand or in a food processor. You can also buy pre-chopped pecans.
You can also use toasted pecans if you enjoy a stronger pecan flavor.
If your pecans do not come toasted, but you want them toasted, simply toss the chopped pecans into a medium saucepan on medium heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
I may or may not have burned two batches of pecans once. After toasting them perfectly and putting this cake together, I personally found I liked it just as much with plain ol, untoasted, easy-peasy pecans.
The coconut cream is the best part about this dairy-free version! The coconut cream replaces the traditional evaporated milk, and boosts the coconut flavor of the cake.
The important thing to note is that you want pure coconut cream. Not the kind that has added water or other ingredients (like Silk brand).
You can find it in a can at most grocery stores.
My all-time favorite coconut cream is Aroy-d. It’s 100% pure coconut cream. Nothing else. And it tastes phenomenal. I buy it here, divide it into freezable containers, and keep it in my freezer for up to 3 months.
If you are not dairy free, you can of course just use evaporated milk.
How to assemble the best gluten-free German chocolate cake
Once the cakes and coconut pecan filling are cool, you can make your buttercream and start assembling the cake!
Begin by putting a smear of the buttercream on the bottom of the cake stand or tray you’ll be using. This will help “glue” the cake down.
After putting the first cake, top side down, add a light layer of the buttercream frosting.
Pour half of the coconut pecan filling on top of the layer of buttercream, spreading it out evenly. Avoid going all the way to the edge of the cake, leave about ½ inch, so that the coconut pecan filling doesn’t spill out.
Place the second cake layer on top, with the top of the cake down. This will ensure you have a nice flat top for your cake.
Using the chocolate buttercream, coat the whole cake thinly.
Add the remaining chocolate buttercream to a piping bag (or sandwich bag with a corner cut off), and pipe a border on the top of the cake. This will help hold in the rest of the coconut pecan filling.
Pour the rest of the coconut pecan custard filling on top of the cake and smooth it out. And of course, add any extra decorations you want.
Now you can be obsessed with this cake, too 😉
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- 2 cups gluten-free flour blend
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 1/4 cups coconut sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk of choice (I love cashew, but any milk will do)
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (ACV)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup oil (grapeseed or avocado are good, neutral-tasting options)
- 1 cup hot coffee or water
Ingredients for the Coconut Pecan Filling
- 1 cup coconut sugar
- 1 stick (½ cup) of butter (vegan or regular)
- ¾ cup coconut cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans (toasted produces a stronger flavor, but it’s not necessary)
Ingredients for Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (dairy-free option)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare 2 8-inch cake pans by lightly greasing and flouring cake pans. You can also turn these into German chocolate cupcakes (this batter will make 24 cupcakes).
In a measuring glass, add 1 cup of milk and stir in 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Set aside for 2-5 minutes. This will create a buttermilk that brings out the best chocolate flavor!
In the bowl of a mixer (or a large mixing bowl if using a hand-held mixer or making it by hand), combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
Add in the eggs, oil, and buttermilk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Try not to over mix. Stop mixing as soon as everything is incorporated.
With the mixer on low, slowly add in the hot coffee or water. You want a very slow and steady stream so that it doesn't cook the eggs. Scrape down the side of the bowl halfway through adding the coffee and then continue until it's all incorporated. Scrape down bowl one last time after adding all of the coffee and mix again. The batter will look fairly runny, but it should be smooth.
Divide your German chocolate cake batter evenly into 2 cake pans.
Bake for 26-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs, but no wet batter.
Allow the cakes to fully cool before frosting.
*These can be wrapped in a layer of cling wrap and then foil and frozen for up to 2 months at this point.
Coconut and pecan filling (dairy-free option)
In a medium saucepan, add the butter (or vegan butter), sugar, and coconut cream and place it over medium heat.
Bring mixture to a low boil, while stirring constantly. Cook until filling starts to thicken and coats the back of the spoon (again, stir it constantly. Don’t walk away during this part...trust me on it ;)). Once the butter is melted, it should only take 4-6 minutes to thicken. I like to stir in a figure 8.
Once the filling is thickened, remove it from heat and mix in the vanilla, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans.
Allow to cool completely before filling the cake. I like to throw it in the fridge to help it cool faster. You could also make it a day or two in advance, storing it in an air tight container in the fridge. Just let it sit at room temperature for an hour before frosting your cake.
Chocolate buttercream frosting (dairy-free option)
In the bowl of a mixer (or large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), add softened butter and whip on high until creamy, about 20 seconds
Add in 1 cup of powdered sugar and cocoa, 2 tablespoons of the milk, and the vanilla. Turn the mixer on slowly to incorporate all the ingredients, scrape the bowl, and then turn mixer to medium to beat the frosting.
Scrape the bowl, and add in the remaining cup of powdered sugar.
Turn mixer on low, scrape the bowl, and then turn to medium-high for 30 seconds.
If needed, add in the last tablespoon of milk, scrape the sides of the bowl, and beat for another 10-20 seconds.