We Found a Better Frosting for German Chocolate Cake

Buh-bye, sweetened shredded coconut.

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By Heath Goldman for Food Network Kitchen

With its rich but tangy chocolate layers and coconut- and pecan-laden frosting, this iconic American dessert is pretty unmistakable. We’d argue that German Chocolate Cake is always a crowd-pleaser. But for some, the super sweet and sticky frosting is unpalatable. Maybe it’s the sweetened shredded coconut or the sweetened condensed milk gluing it together. Whatever the case, if frosting is the (sweet and) sticking point, we have a favorite alternative frosting for you.

After testing several swaps, we determined that, though there’s no “wrong” answer for best sub-in slather, dulce de leche buttercream is the best alternative frosting. Here’s why:

While the cake layers of German chocolate cake are moist and rich, they’re not super sweet thanks to a hefty amount of tangy buttermilk. Therefore, the cake needs a frosting recipe that’s on the sweeter side. (But there’s no need to hit anyone over the head with a sickly sweet recipe.)

Since traditional German chocolate cake frosting is made with sweetened condensed milk, it tastes distinctly like caramel. That’s because dulce de leche is traditionally made with sweetened condensed milk. Isolating that key flavor component of the German Chocolate Cake frosting lets us transform it into a different type of frosting.

That’s where dulce de leche buttercream comes in. It’s got that distinct caramel flavor, minus the coconut, pecans and gluey texture. Its body has a lot more structure than traditional German chocolate cake frosting, which will make for a much neater looking cake with gorgeous, precise slices.

We combed through the Food Network recipe archives to find a dulce de leche buttercream recipe that would be a good fit, and took inspiration from Tres Leches Coconut Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream.

Here’s how you make the dulce de leche buttercream. While the recipe instructs you to DIY the dulce de leche, we give you permission to shortcut it and buy premade jarred dulce de leche — 14 ounces of it, to be specific.

Start by placing 2 egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl.

Stir 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk in 1/4 cup water and then whisk in the dulce de leche. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat. Gradually whisk the dulce de leche mixture into the 2 egg yolks. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a small bowl and set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, add 14 tablespoons of unsalted room temperature butter to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the cooled dulce de leche mixture. Finally, beat in 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.

This yield will be enough to frost a 9-inch double-layer German chocolate cake. If your recipe has more layers, you might want to consider doubling the dulce de leche buttercream recipe. Use a large knife or offset spatula to smear the frosting onto the cake into a gorgeous swoop pattern. Stash your creation in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Then go ahead, slice up giant pieces and tell everyone that this is the modern, trendy way to make German chocolate cake. Odds are at least one person asks for the recipe.

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