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This easy chocolate Earthquake Cake is loaded with so many delicious flavors and textures! Layers of German chocolate cake, coconut, pecans and chocolate chips are swirled with decadent cream cheese. Whip up this simple dessert in just minutes, because the best Earthquake Cake recipe starts with a box of cake mix!

Side shot of a slice of chocolate earthquake cake with ice cream on top

I first discovered this fun cake when I was flipping through a vintage Amish cookbook. With one look at the ingredients, I instantly knew that the dessert would be a huge hit; however, there were no actual measurements listed and the instructions were very vague. After a little bit of trial and error, I’ve landed on my own easy, crowd-pleasing cake that’s perfect for potlucks, picnics, entertaining, and Sunday night suppers. Nobody can resist this sweet treat!

What is an Earthquake Cake?

A traditional Earthquake Cake starts with a box of German cake mix. The cake mix is layered on top of shredded coconut and chopped pecans, then swirled with a decadent cream cheese mixture and finished with a sprinkling of chocolate chips. It tastes like a cross between a German chocolate cake, an Almond Joy bar, and a chocolate chip cheesecake!

The chocolate cake batter puffs up around the cream cheese as it bakes, so the cake looks like it “cracks open” — hence the name “Earthquake Cake.” With the lumps, bumps, cracks and crevices on top, it’s not necessarily the prettiest cake you’ve ever seen, but it sure is delicious (and easy). You don’t need to ice the top, since the gooey cream cheese layer is like a cream cheese frosting throughout. Feel free to top each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, though!

Overhead shot of a square slice of Duncan Hines Earthquake Cake on a brown and white plate with a fork

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a German chocolate Earthquake cake recipe. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Sweetened shredded coconut: a must-have ingredient with a German chocolate cake! This forms the first layer of the Earthquake cake.
  • Chopped pecans: they get nice and toasty on the bottom of the pan. You can substitute with other nuts like almonds or walnuts, or omit the nuts altogether.
  • German chocolate cake mix: I use Duncan Hines brand, but any similar variety will work. You can even substitute with a box of regular chocolate cake mix. You’ll also need the additional ingredients called for on the package (such as eggs, oil and water).
  • Salted butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar: come together to form that delicious cream cheese swirl that you see throughout the cake.
  • Chocolate chips: for even more chocolate flavor and great texture. I like semi-sweet chocolate chips, but you can use milk chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, or any other variety that you prefer.
Overhead shot of ingredients for Duncan Hines earthquake cake with cream cheese

How to Make Earthquake Cake

This easy dessert is ready for the oven in just 15 minutes, thanks to help from the box of cake mix!

Overhead process shot showing how to make earthquake cake
  1. Spread the coconut and pecans in the bottom of a deep 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  2. Prepare the cake mix according to the package instructions.
  3. Pour the cake batter over the coconut and pecans.
  4. Cream together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla extract. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar and mix until completely incorporated.
  5. Dollop the cream cheese all over the top of the cake batter. Use a knife to gently swirl the cream cheese around.
  6. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
  7. Bake in a 350° F oven for 40-45 minutes, or just until set.
  8. Cool, slice into squares, and serve!
Overhead shot of a baked earthquake cake in a white dish

How to Know When a Chocolate Earthquake Cake is Done

Unlike other cakes, an Earthquake Cake should still be a bit gooey inside when it comes out of the oven. I like to gently press down on the top of the cake with my fingers. If the chocolate cake portion springs back and feels “set,” then I pull it out. There might even still be a little bit of jiggle to the cake. A toothpick test will not work, because the toothpick will not come out clean (even when the cake is ready). You don’t want to overbake the cake or it will be dry and “cake like” inside, rather than a molten delight! The cake will continue to firm up as it cools.

Serving Suggestions

Some folks like to serve the cake while it’s still warm and gooey from the oven. It might be more difficult to slice at this point, but it will definitely taste great! For a cleaner slice (as shown here), wait for the cake to cool before you cut into it.

The decadent chocolate cake doesn’t need any frosting on top, but it’s delicious when served with a cold glass of milk. You can also top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and maybe even a drizzle of chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. Cake and ice cream are a match made in heaven!

Square image of chocolate earthquake cake on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream

Storage

Store the cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can also freeze the Earthquake Cake for up to 2 months. Just make sure that it’s wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Earthquake Cake Variations

  • Use almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts instead of the pecans. If you don’t like nuts, you can omit them altogether.
  • Red Velvet Earthquake Cake: swap out the German chocolate cake mix and use a red velvet cake mix instead. It’s a classic pairing with cream cheese frosting, so the flavors will work well together.
  • Lemon or Strawberry Earthquake Cake: swap out the chocolate cake mix for a lemon cake mix or a strawberry cake mix. Use white chocolate chips on top.
  • Oreo Earthquake Cake: omit the coconut and pecans, and instead arrange a layer of Oreo cookies in the bottom of the dish. Use a regular chocolate cake mix instead of the German chocolate cake mix, and swirl with the same cream cheese mixture. Top with a layer of crushed Oreos before baking.
  • Reese’s Earthquake Cake: beat some peanut butter into the cream cheese mixture, and top the cake with chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Such a classic flavor combination!
Side shot of a slice of german chocolate earthquake cake recipe served on a plate in front of a black background

Tips for the Best Earthquake Cake Recipe

  • Make sure that you’re using a deep 9 x 13-inch pan (at least 2 inches deep, but preferably deeper). If you’re not sure that your dish is deep enough, you can place the dish on top of a rimmed baking sheet. The cake puffs up quite a bit and you don’t want to end up with overflow on the bottom of your oven!
  • Use full-fat block-style cream cheese — do not substitute with a tub of spreadable cream cheese.
  • German chocolate cake is a classic companion for coconut and pecans; however, you can substitute with a box of regular chocolate cake mix, Devil’s Food cake mix, or chocolate fudge cake mix.
  • Don’t overbake the cake. It’s ready to come out of the oven when the cake is set, but still gooey on the inside.
  • Serve it warm if you like it molten and gooey, or wait for the cake to cool completely for clean slices.
  • Top with a scoop of ice cream and chocolate syrup or caramel sauce for a truly decadent dessert!
Side shot of earthquake Almond Joy cake on a plate with ice cream and glasses of milk in the background

More Chocolate Cake Recipes to Try

Side shot of a slice of chocolate earthquake cake with ice cream on top

Earthquake Cake

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 55 minutes
Servings 12 people
Calories 483 kcal
This Earthquake Cake is loaded with layers of German chocolate cake, coconut, pecans and chocolate chips, plus a decadent cream cheese swirl!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 (15.25 ounce) box German chocolate cake mix, plus additional ingredients called for on the package
  • ½ cup salted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 8 ounce block of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips
  • Optional, for serving: whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup or caramel sauce

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a deep 9 x 13-inch baking dish (preferably at least 2 inches deep or more). If you’re not sure that your pan is deep enough, you can place the dish on top of a rimmed baking sheet to catch any accidental overflow from a shallow dish.
  • Spread coconut and pecans in the bottom of the prepared dish.
  • Prepare the cake mix according to package instructions. Pour the cake batter over the coconut and pecans.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter, cream cheese and vanilla extract. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar and mix until incorporated.
  • Dollop the cream cheese mixture on top of the cake batter. Use a knife to swirl the cream cheese mixture around. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.
  • Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until set. A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake will not come out clean, since the inside will still be a little bit gooey. Cool, slice into squares, and serve!

Notes

  • Make sure that you’re using a deep 9 x 13-inch pan (at least 2 inches deep, but preferably deeper). If you’re not sure that your dish is deep enough, you can place the dish on top of a rimmed baking sheet. The cake puffs up quite a bit and you don’t want to end up with overflow on the bottom of your oven!
  • Use full-fat block-style cream cheese — do not substitute with a tub of spreadable cream cheese.
  • German chocolate cake is a classic companion for coconut and pecans; however, you can substitute with a box of regular chocolate cake mix, Devil’s Food cake mix, or chocolate fudge cake mix.
  • Serve it warm if you like it molten and gooey, or wait for the cake to cool completely for clean slices.
  • Top with a scoop of ice cream and chocolate syrup or caramel sauce for a truly decadent dessert!
How to Know when the Cake is Done:
Unlike other cakes, an Earthquake Cake should still be a bit gooey inside when it comes out of the oven. I like to gently press down on the top of the cake with my fingers. If the chocolate cake portion springs back and feels “set,” then I pull it out. There might even still be a little bit of jiggle to the cake. A toothpick test will not work, because the toothpick will not come out clean (even when the cake is ready). You don’t want to overbake the cake or it will be dry and “cake like” inside, rather than a molten delight! The cake will continue to firm up as it cools.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 483kcalCarbohydrates: 50gProtein: 5gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 43mgSodium: 453mgPotassium: 210mgFiber: 2gSugar: 35gVitamin A: 522IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 96mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: chocolate earthquake cake, earthquake cake
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you, Blair, for this great dessert idea! As soon as I saw this, I was ready to go, but I only had a yellow cake mix in the pantry and really did
    not want to drive to the store. So I followed your recipe with all the steps,
    except I substituted Heath toffee bits instead of the chocolate chips. I’m
    usually not one to change a recipe, but the cake came out great! Planning on serving it with ice cream and a drizzle of caramel topping.

    1. That sounds amazing, Stephanie! Thanks for sharing your variation, since I know others will appreciate the tips as well. Have a great week!