This dairy-free coconut pecan frosting is just as amazing as the classic dairy-rich version. In fact, some of our friends said it was better! It has that perfect, caramel flavor and consistency, and is generously spiked with chopped pecans and shredded coconut. It’s delicious on my Dairy-Free German Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe, but is also wonderful on other chocolate or vanilla desserts!
The Best Dairy-Free Coconut Pecan Frosting (aka German Chocolate Cake Frosting)
I’ve always found it odd that coconut pecan frosting recipes use evaporated milk. Coconut is literally in the title! Coconut milk pairs so much better in this German chocolate cake classic, and brings it one step closer to being dairy free. I address the type of coconut milk, and the other ingredients, in the FAQs below. It’s followed by some quick troubleshooting tips.
Is this Traditional German Chocolate Cake Frosting?
It is a dairy-free spin on that classic, chunky frosting that’s always slathered on German chocolate cake.
Can I Use this Coconut Pecan Frosting on Other Cakes?
Definitely! It is great as a coconut pecan filling and/or frosting on classic yellow cake or chocolate cake. It’s also delicious as a caramel coconut pecan topper on dairy-free brownies, pound cake, yellow cupcakes, coconut cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate coconut cupcakes, or butterscotch cupcakes, to name a few.
Is there Enough to Frost the Sides of a Cake, too?
German chocolate cake is often filled with the coconut pecan frosting and topped with it. In other words, the tops of both cake layers are covered in the frosting. Recipes either leave the sides bare, cover the sides with chocolate frosting or chocolate buttercream, or cover the sides with more coconut pecan frosting. This recipe would give you a very thin layer if used as a filling and full frosting. I recommend doubling it for full indulgence. If you have some leftover, use it as an apple dip!
What Type of Coconut Milk Should I Use?
Use the regular, full fat coconut milk sold in cans. You can find it in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Brands vary widely in richness, thickness, and ingredients, which is why the cook time varies. But most brands should work fine. I’ve even tested this coconut pecan frosting with a horribly chunky and watery coconut milk (from the gums in the product), and it still came together beautifully. Do not use coconut milk beverage, which is the drinkable type sold in cartons. It’s too watery for this recipe.
Can I Use Almond Milk, Oat Milk, or Soy Milk Instead?
No, do not substitute a non-dairy milk alternative, like almond, oat, or soy milk, for the coconut milk. Coconut milk is rich and high in fat. Drinkable milk alternatives are too thin and won’t add the richness needed for a good coconut pecan filling and frosting.
Can I Use All Brown Sugar or All White Sugar?
Either option will work fine. I just prefer the mix of the two for the perfect flavor balance.
What Butter Alternative Do You Recommend?
I’ve been using Country Crock Plant Butter Sticks for most of my baking this year. They are on the salty side, which works really well in this coconut pecan frosting. If you choose another brand of vegan butter sticks, I would use a salted version, or add a pinch of salt (to taste) if using a lightly salted or unsalted version.
Is that Really a Tablespoon of Vanilla?
Yes, that is a tablespoon, not a teaspoon. I noticed a tablespoon was used in some popular classic recipes, and decided to go for it. It is delicious! If you don’t have enough precious vanilla, you can use just 1 1/2 teaspoons. But I highly recommend using the full tablespoon if you’ve got it. The flavors in this frosting are bold, and the higher amount of vanilla really steps up to the plate. I used the Costco vanilla, which is a great price.
Can I Use Unsweetened Shredded Coconut?
I’ve tested this recipe with unsweetened shredded coconut and sweetened shredded coconut. The latter was much better in my opinion. It melds better into the frosting, both in flavor and texture, and also helps to thicken it slightly. But unsweetened shredded coconut can work in a pinch.
Are the Egg Yolks Required?
For the classic flavor and richness of German chocolate cake frosting, egg yolks are needed. This isn’t a vegan recipe. It’s a dairy-free coconut pecan frosting that’s meant to rival the classic version. For an egg-free version, see this Vegan Coconut Pecan Frosting Recipe.
What Can I Make with the Leftover Egg Whites?
Some classic dairy-free ways to use up those egg whites include meringue cookies, chocolate puffs, coconut macaroons, or meringue frosting. These easy peanut butter cookies are also a delicious option.
Sauce isn’t Thickening – You used full fat coconut milk, not coconut milk beverage, almond milk, or some other milk alternative, right? If so, then be patient. You can cook it at a low boil or simmer for up to 20 minutes, as long as you check in and whisk it often. And keep in mind that it will thicken quite a bit as it cools, and it will thicken a ton if you refrigerate it. I stop cooking when it’s still a caramel sauce consistency, but isn’t too runny. It should thickly coat the back of a spoon.
Sauce is Too Thick – This is an easy fix. Just warm it and add a little more liquid. You can use more coconut milk or just a splash or two of water, as needed.
Egg Bits in the Sauce – It’s very important to use just the egg yolks, whisk the ingredients until smooth, and consistently whisk as the mixture comes to a low boil. After this stage, it should be fine to just whisk the sauce well every minute or so. But if you see an unpleasant bit of cooked egg, just remove it, or strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve. Once you add the coconut and pecans, it will all be seamless.
Special Diet Notes: Coconut Pecan Frosting
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, gluten-free, grain-free, peanut-free, optionally soy-free, and vegetarian. Just be sure to choose the butter alternative that suits your dietary needs.
For an egg-free version, see this Vegan Coconut Pecan Frosting Recipe.
- ¾ cup canned coconut milk (see post above)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½ cup (1 stick) dairy-free butter alternative
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups shredded sweetened coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans (I like to chop them quite small)
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk, sugars, and egg yolks.
- Slice the butter alternative (roughly by the tablespoon) and add the butter chunks to the mixture in your saucepan.
- Place the pan over medium heat, and bring the mixture to a low boil, while whisking continuously. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture for 10 to 20 minutes, stirring or whisking often, until it thickens to more of a somewhat thick caramel sauce. How long it takes can vary by humidity and the richness of your coconut milk. Don't worry, it will thicken more as it cools.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract. Add the coconut and pecans and stir until combined.
- Let the frosting cool completely. It should thicken to a soft but spreadable frosting.
- If you want it to set up more, or are making it ahead, place the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If it sets up too much, just let the frosting soften at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. Stir it just before using.