These German chocolate cupcakes feature moist chocolate cupcakes topped with both chocolate buttercream and coconut pecan frosting. This recipe boasts the same flavors and textures as the classic cake, but in cupcake form!

Frosted German chocolate cupcakes on a marble serving platter.

These decadent cupcakes taste just like German chocolate cake, but they’re easier to assemble and can be eaten in a few bites.

Rich chocolate cupcakes are the base of this recipe. Buttermilk, oil, and brown sugar keep the cupcakes incredibly moist, while instant espresso powder enhances the chocolate flavor.

In addition to the creamy coconut pecan frosting that’s traditionally used in German chocolate cake recipes, I piped swirls of chocolate buttercream frosting onto the cupcakes as well. The chocolate buttercream is optional, but it makes these cupcakes stand out from the crowd and provides even more rich chocolate flavor.

If you love the classic cake but don’t have the time or desire to assemble a full layer cake, I highly recommend making a batch of these cupcakes! They’re easy to transport and the perfect sweet treat for any occasion.

Recipe Ingredients

This scratch cupcake recipe has three components: the chocolate cupcakes, the German chocolate cake frosting (also known as coconut pecan frosting), and the optional chocolate buttercream. This is just an overview of the key ingredients needed for this recipe (a detailed list of ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the end of this post).

  • Cocoa Powder: You must use natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) for this recipe so it will react properly with the baking soda. If you love learning about the science behind baking, I have a post that explains the difference between natural vs. Dutch process cocoa powder.
  • Evaporated Milk: Not to be confused with sweetened condensed milk! This is an essential ingredient in the frosting, so be sure to purchase the right one.
  • Sugar: I like to use both granulated and brown sugar in the cupcake batter for both sweetness and moisture. Note that you’ll also need powdered sugar for the chocolate buttercream frosting.
  • Eggs: You’ll need three egg yolks for the German chocolate frosting, and one whole egg for the cupcake batter. You can discard the extra egg whites, add them to an omelet, or use them as an excuse to make a batch of my coconut cupcakes.
  • Buttermilk: This keeps the cupcakes moist and super tender! If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make your own buttermilk substitute using just whole milk and lemon juice (or vinegar).
  • Hot Water: You’ll need very hot water for the cupcake batter.
  • Instant Espresso Powder: I promise it does not make the cupcakes taste like coffee, it simply enhances the chocolate flavor and makes them taste extra rich. You may omit it from the recipe, but if you do, make sure to still use the hot water.

How To Make German Chocolate Cupcakes

  1. Prepare the frosting: In a large saucepan, whisk together the evaporated milk, egg yolks, and brown sugar. Add the sliced butter, then place over medium heat and boil until thick and caramel in color.
  2. Stir in the chopped pecans, sweetened shredded coconut, and vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a heat-safe bowl and let it cool completely.
  1. Prepare the chocolate cupcakes: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in the sugars.
  2. To the dry ingredients, add the oil, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
  1. Add the mixture of instant espresso powder and hot water to the cupcake batter. This will thin it out considerably — that’s what you want!
  2. Bake the cupcakes: Divide the batter between 16 muffin cavities that have been lined with cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  1. Add the chocolate buttercream (optional): Pipe a border of chocolate frosting around the edges of each cupcake. The chocolate frosting is completely optional, so feel free to leave it off if you prefer! I’ve provided detailed instructions on how to make it in the recipe card below though.
  2. Add the German chocolate frosting: Scoop roughly 2 tablespoons of the German chocolate frosting into the center of each cupcake. I find that a medium cookie scoop works really well for this step!
A side view of frosted German chocolate cupcakes on a marble cake stand.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the cupcakes be prepared in advance?

Absolutely! You can prepare the entire recipe as written and refrigerate the cupcakes until you’re ready to serve them.

Or, bake the cupcakes and store them in an airtight container at room temperature, then prepare the frostings and store them separately in the refrigerator.

Do the cupcakes need to be refrigerated?

Yes, once the cupcakes have been frosted they should be transferred to an airtight container and stored in the fridge. They’ll last up to four days if stored properly.

Can this recipe be used to make a regular cake?

If you don’t want to make cupcakes, I suggest following my German chocolate cake recipe instead. It’s very similar to this recipe, but scaled up to make a layered cake.

Frosted German chocolate cupcakes on a marble serving platter.

Baking Tips

  • Set a saucepan of water on the stove right before you start making the cupcakes. This will ensure that the hot water required for the cupcake batter will be ready by the time you need it. You can even use a tea kettle or microwave the water instead!
  • Use a heavy-bottomed pot to prepare the frosting and stir it constantly. This will ensure that you have a thick and creamy frosting that doesn’t accidentally burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Both the cupcakes and the frosting must cool to room temperature before the finished cupcakes can be assembled. If you try to frost warm cupcakes with warm frosting, you’ll wind up with a big mess!
  • If you’re new to decorating cupcakes, I suggest reading through my post on how to frost cupcakes. It covers everything you need to know!
Several German Chocolate cupcakes on a marble serving plate.

German Chocolate Cupcakes

Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
These German chocolate cupcakes feature moist chocolate cupcakes topped with both chocolate buttercream and coconut pecan frosting. This recipe boasts the same flavors and textures as the classic cake, but in cupcake form!


Servings: 16 cupcakes

German Chocolate Cake Frosting

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar (200 grams)
  • 1 cup evaporated milk NOT sweetened condensed milk (240 ml)
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature and lightly beaten
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (115 grams; 1 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut (120 grams)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (115 grams)

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour spooned & leveled (125 grams)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder (30 grams)
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar (100 grams)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
  • cup oil (80 ml)
  • ½ cup buttermilk (120 ml)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup hot water (120 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee or instant espresso powder optional, but recommended

Chocolate Buttercream (optional)

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (115 grams; 1 stick)
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (180 grams)
  • ¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder sifted (22 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (30 ml)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Tiny pinch of salt


  • To make the German chocolate cake frosting: Add the brown sugar, evaporated milk, and egg yolks to a large saucepan and whisk until fully combined. Slice the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and add to the saucepan.
  • Place over medium heat, stirring often until the butter completely melts. Continue cooking and stirring constantly with a rubber spatula until the mixture starts to boil, thicken, and turns a very light caramel color.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans.
  • Transfer the frosting to a heat-safe bowl and let it cool completely, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
  • To make the chocolate cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two 12-count muffin pans with 16 cupcake liners and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk in the granulated sugar and brown sugar until well combined.
  • Add the oil, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla extract and mix until just combined. The batter will be thick like brownie batter at this point.
  • Add the instant coffee (or instant espresso powder) to the ½ cup of hot water and mix until fully dissolved. Add to the mixing bowl and mix until everything is just combined. The batter will be thin, this is normal!
  • Evenly distribute the batter between all 16 cupcake liners, making sure to just fill each one a little over halfway full.
  • Bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • To make the chocolate frosting (optional): In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth.
  • Add half of the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until well combined, then mix in the remaining half of the powdered sugar. Add the sifted cocoa powder and mix until well combined.
  • Add the heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract, and salt and mix on low speed until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • To assemble the cupcakes: Pipe a border of chocolate frosting around the top edge of each cupcake.
  • Scoop a large spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) of German chocolate cake frosting into the middle of each cupcake.


Storage Instructions: Cupcakes may be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving, if desired. 
Freezing Instructions: Cupcakes and frosting will freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw to room temperature and mix the frosting well before frosting the cupcakes.
Cuisine: American
Course: Dessert
Author: Danielle Rye
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