Chocolate Caramel Cake

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This chocolate caramel cake is amazingly moist and features the most delicious coconut-flavored caramel frosting. It’s easy to make and spectacular to look at.

Caramel chocolate cake on a plate with coconut caramel frosting and caramel drizzle

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I spotted this chocolate caramel cake in my Instagram feed the other day, and it happened to be my best friend’s birthday. So I decided it was fate!

But to be honest…even in the absence of a birthday, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if I see “chocolate” and “caramel” together in a recipe title, that recipe is going to get made.

I started on this one that very night. I always like to make layer cakes over two days. The process just feels so much more manageable that way. I bake the cake layers on the first day, and on the second day I make the frosting and decorate the cake.

But this time, after I baked the layers, I left them to cool, planning to wrap them up before going to bed. In my typical absent-minded fashion, I forgot about them and they sat on the counter exposed all night!

I debated starting over and baking them again… but after trimming and leveling a layer, it seemed like it was still really moist.

So I took a chance, and guess what! It worked out fine! Actually, better than fine. The yogurt and buttermilk kept it unbelievably moist, and unbelievably delicious. Try this easy chocolate loaf cake for more proof that yogurt is the best chocolate cake ingredient there is!

Closeup of caramel chocolate cake on a plate with coconut caramel frosting and caramel drizzle

This cake is originally from the new Half-Baked Harvest cookbook. Needless to say, that cookbook is now on my birthday list (and thankfully that’s not too far away).

The other remarkable thing about this chocolate caramel cake is the frosting. It’s a basic buttercream mixed with the most delicious caramel sauce I’ve ever made.

There is an option to use heavy cream to make a traditional caramel. Which no one in their right mind would ever complain about. BUT if you really want to surprise and delight your taste buds, you can use coconut cream (or full-fat coconut milk if you can’t find it).

I’m telling you, this was a huge revelation to me. The coconut taste doesn’t overpower at all, but just gives the caramel the most amazing tropical flavor.

Slice of caramel chocolate cake on a plate with coconut caramel frosting and caramel drizzle

I went with a naked style again for the frosting because it’s easy, beautiful, and my new favorite thing! See this spectacular gingerbread layer cake for a few tips on this style of frosting.

Chocolate cake layer with piped frosting dam - how-to for frosting a caramel chocolate cake

I hope you’re staying warm and aren’t feeling the post-holiday letdown too badly! <3

Caramel chocolate cake on a plate with coconut caramel frosting and caramel drizzle

Chocolate Caramel Cake

This chocolate caramel cake is amazingly moist and features the most delicious coconut-flavored caramel frosting. It’s easy to make and spectacular to look at.
4.82 from 54 votes
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Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 16 servings
Calories: 748kcal
Author: Ann Otis

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 3/4 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Caramel Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup cream cheese
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Caramel Sauce

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, coconut cream, or full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Instructions

Chocolate Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 3 8-inch cake pans.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, melted chocolate, oil, and vanilla, and mix on medium speed for about 3-4 minutes. *If your ingredients were cold, adding the chocolate may cause some lumps in the mixture, but this won’t affect the finished product.
  • Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing until combined. Slowly add the coffee, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix until smooth and fully combined.
  • Distribute the cake batter evenly among the three pans. I like to use a scale for this, especially when doing a naked frosting style, so that the layers will be of equal size.
  • Bake layers for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for at least 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto a cooling rack.
  • Frost the cake to a smooth finish. Slowly pour some caramel sauce over the top of the cake, spreading it to the edges with an offset spatula so that it drips down the sides.

Caramel Frosting

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth.
  • Turn the speed down to low and add the sugar, one cup at a time until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add a 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of the cooled caramel, along with vanilla and beat until well combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. *If you add a full 3/4 cup of caramel sauce, you may find that the frosting is a bit too soft at this point. Adding about a half cup of confectioner’s sugar should solve this.

Caramel Sauce

  • Pour the sugar into a large dry, preferably light-colored, skillet, over medium-high heat. After a few minutes, the sugar will begin to melt and turn golden. Whisk occasionally until it is completely melted. Remove from heat.
  • Add the butter, whisking it in one tablespoon at a time. Whisk in the heavy cream or coconut cream until smooth and well combined.
  • Return the pan to medium heat. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until the caramel begins to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and salt.
  • Pour the caramel sauce into a heatproof bowl and let it cool to room temperature before using in the frosting. It will continue to thicken as it cools. The caramel can be put in the refrigerator to speed this up.

Notes

Slightly adapted from the Half Baked Harvest Cookbook via Sweet Style CA

Nutrition

Calories: 748kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 102mg | Sodium: 453mg | Potassium: 269mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 73g | Vitamin A: 840IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 80mg | Iron: 2.8mg
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63 Comments

    1. Standard-size cupcakes will probably take around 20-22 minutes but I’d start checking around 17-18 as it depends on your oven!

  1. 5 stars
    I made this for my husbands 40th. This was the best cake I have ever made. It was simple to make. The cake was moist perfection. The frosting was delicious but the caramel…OMG, so good. Everyone loved it. Not only that but it was visually stunning. Everyone kept walking by it and remarking about how good it looked. I will definitely be making this again. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. The instructions are for a conventional oven, but for convection, just reduce the oven temp to 325 (some do this automatically) and you should be good to go!

  2. I have all of the ingredients for this ….I need to know, is this recipe at all plausible without a stand mixer? I have a hand held mixer, and no paddle. Sold my glorious Kitchenaid stand mixer last year 🙁
    Any help is appreciated!
    Thank you

    1. Absolutely do-able with an electric hand mixer! Just mix it a little longer and make sure everything’s well combined. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. I’m hoping to make this cake and serve it on Sunday night. If I make the layers on Friday, how should they be stored? Should I cover and freeze or refrigerate?

    1. If you wrap the layers well in plastic wrap (I like to double wrap and then put them in an airtight container for extra protection) they will keep fine on the counter at room temperature for 4-5 days! You COULD put them in the fridge but sometimes that can dry them out 🙂

  4. I have tried Carmel cakes in the past, but they never turned out because of the weight of Carmel, will this cake collapse because of the Carmel garnish?

  5. This cake sounds amazing. I would like to make it for a family birthday, we have someone in our family with an egg allergy. In the past I have substituted carbonated water for the eggs. Just curious do you have any thoughts about doing that for this recipe? I see it has a decent amount of liquid already do you think the carbonated water would be too much? And another thought I had could I just leave out the eggs and not add a substitute since it does have the yogurt and milk? What are your thoughts or suggestions? Thank you.

    1. Hi Mishona! Well I will preface this by saying that I have not tried any egg substitutes myself in this cake, so the following advice is just theory, not personal experience! In general, you would want to replace each egg with 1/4 cup of some other liquid or soft ingredient. Since there are 3 eggs in this cake, you’d theoretically need to add 3/4 cup, though this is already a pretty thin batter, so I bet you could get away with 1/2 cup. Possibly even less! I haven’t experimented with carbonated water, but it could work! What you could try is maybe 1/4 cup of carbonated water and an extra 1/4 cup of buttermilk or yogurt (common egg substitutes for cakes). I would be extra careful about greasing and flouring the pans, maybe even line the bottoms with parchment for extra insurance, because cakes made without eggs tend to be more delicate. I hope this helps, and I’d be so curious to hear how it goes! Good luck 🙂

    1. It depends how experienced you are with baking I think :). It’s not the easiest cake I’ve made. But I would say the cake itself is not too complicated if you follow the instructions, but the caramel may be a little trickier if you’ve never made it before. If you watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn you should be fine.

  6. Hi, I was planning on making this cake for my sister’s birthday on Monday, and making the cake layers today (Sunday) and frosting tomorrow, like you said in the introduction. This is my first time using this method, should I save the layers in plastic wrap and leave in the fridge, oron the counter, or in another way? Thank you so much, can’t wait to see how it turns out!!! :^))))

  7. 5 stars
    I love making this recipe! I personally don’t like chocolate cake, but this one is so good. I’ve made it a few times, but this time I want to use 6in pans. Can I? If so, do I still make 3 layers?

    1. I’m so glad you love this cake as much as I do!! If you want to make 3 6-inch layers instead of 3 8-inch layers, you will only need half the batter. If you click on the number of servings in the recipe card, you can change it from 16 to 8 and it will re-calculate the ingredient quantities for you, but some of them will be a little awkward (1.5 eggs for instance). It’s still do-able since this cake is pretty forgiving in my experience, it can handle some slight variations. But you can also make the full recipe and then make some cupcakes on the side. Hope that helps, but let me know if you have other questions!

  8. 2 stars
    Lovely synthesis and idea but TOO MUCH sugar! Almost 8.5 cups of pure sugar in a cake, made me feel sick of it at the end of the preparation. And I don’t mind sugar in general. I definitely have a sweet tooth, but that was way too much.

    1. Caramel is mostly melted sugar, but you shouldn’t need all of it for the cake. That said, it IS a decadent cake, though in my opinion totally worth it! It’s really up to you if you want to splurge 🙂

  9. Why is the frosting so salty? Is it supposed to be? The ingredients for frosting says 1 tsp salt. I put all the ingredients aside before I began and then I threw it in with the vanilla and now it’s so salty. I am not able to serve this tonight. Stupid me just frosted the cake and then tasted the frosting in bottom of bowl after. Wish I tasted it before! Did anyone else have this issue?! I’ll have to buy a store bought cake now, frustrated.

    1. Hmmm I don’t find it unpleasantly salty, personally though there is a bit of salt to enhance the sweetness of the caramel. Is it possible you used regular table salt instead of flaky sea salt? The finer crystals of table salt would give you a much saltier result.

  10. I just realized that I forgot Greek yogurt but I have a sour cream. Can I use sour cream instead of Greek yogurt?

      1. Looking forward to trying this out for my birthday cake this Sunday! Just a question – what kind of dark chocolate do you recommend for the cake? Thanks!

        1. My very favorite chocolate for baking is Callebaut semi-sweet (54.5%), however you’d probably have to order it online as I’ve never seen it in a grocery store. It’s a good value if you bake with chocolate a lot though. If you’re looking for a good grocery store chocolate, Ghirardelli is great, and Baker’s works too 🙂

  11. Can anyone provide advice on making 2 tiers instead? I only have 2 tins.
    Also, any suggestions with needing to do as much as possible 2 days before??
    Thanks in advance! Can’t wait to make this cake! 🙂

    1. I would just keep some batter aside and make the third layer after you’ve un-molded the first two :). The batter will be fine at room temperature for at least an hour or so until you have a free pan. As for making it ahead, the layers can definitely be made at least 2 days before. Just wrap them in plastic wrap to keep them fresh. The frosting can be made a couple of days ahead too, just keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. I would take it out an hour or so before you want to frost the cake and then whip it again briefly in the mixer before using it. The caramel can be made at least a week in advance as well. So all you need to do the day you need the cake is frost and decorate it. Hope that helps!

  12. For the dark chocolate in the cake, do you recommend sweetened or unsweetened chocolate? Thank you!

  13. I foolishly didn’t make any adaptations for altitude! Unfortunately, my cakes fell here in Denver, CO. I assume it’s due to altitude but did anyone else find the mixing time to long or have theirs fall?

    1. Ah yes, the altitude is most likely the issue there. I’ve made this cake many times and never had that issue personally. I think your best bet would be to substitute the baking soda for more baking powder, so 4 teaspoons of baking powder instead of 2 teaspoons plus 2 of baking soda. Then you’d want to use regular milk instead of buttermilk. Check out this page from King Arthur Flour (my source for all things baking science!) for more tips on high altitude baking: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/resources/high-altitude-baking. Hope that helps!

  14. Hi there! Is the frosting ingredients you list (amounts) for the naked or more robust covering? Seems dangerous to have that extra frosting around the house! Cut in half for naked style? Cut by one-third?
    Thank you. Was going to do stacked, but now the idea of tiered intrigues me with caramel dribbling down……
    Thanks again. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    1. It makes a pretty generous amount of frosting, but I personally used it all! I used quite a bit on top and between the layers, so you could use less there and frost the cake in the normal style (not naked) if you like. I also think you could cut the frosting by a third and have enough for a naked style. I bet a tiered version would be GORGEOUS!

  15. Just wondering if this cake would be sturdy for a tiered cake, I’m making a 2-3 tier (9-inch & 6-inch tiers and maybe a 12 inch) cake for my sons birthday and he loves caramel and chocolate and this looks fantastic, I will just be doing something a bit different on the outside but will use the caramel frosting for between the layers.

    1. Yes, it’s moist but definitely sturdy enough for tiers, I’d say! You’ll need dowels of course, like for any tiered cake, especially if you go with 3 tiers, but the crumb is sturdy. Happy birthday to your son, and I’d love to hear how it turns out 🙂

  16. Hi Anne! This cake looks fantastic and I am looking forward to making it this weekend. Just a quick question, would I be able to make the caramel sauce 2-4 days in advance and keep it in the fridge? I would think it would keep fine, but any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Absolutely Melissa! I’ve even kept it in a sealed jar at room temp for longer than a week, but there’s absolutely no harm in refrigerating it either, just take it out a couple of hours before using it since it will thicken a lot in the fridge. Hope you love this cake as much as we do!

  17. Do you bake by weight or volume measurement? I ask because I prefer to bake by weight, and I noticed that there are a few discrepancies between the listed metric and US volume conversions. For example, you say 2 1/4 all purpose flour, but that would equal 270g, whereas you have listed 281.25g….which seems a little too precise. 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar should equal 445.5g, but you list 450g. 3/4 cup Canola oil should be 177ml, give or take. Given that this is an adapted recipe, should I follow the U.S. customary units, or did you modify it and bake using the metric? And if not, how is the conversion on the recipe working?

    (I realize that I’m quibbling over grams, but I’d like to bake this for a very special birthday and I want it to be perfect!)

    1. Hi Jess! I bake by weight as well, but write recipes in volume measurements as I know most people in the US prefer it. My recipe card automatically converts volume measurements to grams and I look it over to make sure it looks ok. If something looks really off, I keep the volume measurement as I think it’s safer. This cake is adapted from someone else’s recipe though, where volume measurements were used, so you can definitely rely on those as they are straight from the original recipe (if you want to be safest, I would go that route). But when I make it myself I weigh the ingredients and consider that 1 cup of flour is 124g to me, 1 cup of sugar is 200g etc. This has worked fine for me for this particular recipe as I think it’s very forgiving. I do find that there is variation with conversions people use, especially when it comes to flour, so I tend to stick with the recipe card conversion unless I think it’s totally off and will yield an unsatisfactory result. Thank you for asking, i hope this makes sense! Please let me know if anything’s unclear 🙂

  18. 5 stars
    Like Christine, I don’t like coffee. But that’s because I’m not a grown up, but 10 years old. No joke! But this was as good as when my grandma made a caramel/condensed milk cake! maybe you could do white chocolate too? And I’m definetely going to ask mom for this recipe to be my birthday cake!

    1. White chocolate caramel cake sounds amazing Alex! I’ll have to get to work on that. I can’t tell you how flattered I am that you like this one as much as your grandma’s!! 🙂

  19. 5 stars
    Hello! I had been looking for a birthday cake to make for my son and stepdaughter. Their birthdays are 3 days apart so we decided to celebrate them together this year. I was looking for something a little different and since they both love chocolate this looked to be the perfect cake, and it sure was! Although the cake is very rich it was moist and delicious. It was my second attempt at making homemade caramel sauce. I thought I ruined it but it came put fine. For those concerned about tasting the coffee, you cannot taste any coffee flavor, but it certainly enhances the chocolate taste of the cake. The frosting was delicious. Honestly, I probably kept tasting an obscene amount of frosting and caramel sauce while making this, but everything about this cake was just that good! Thank you for sharing this recipe. My family loved the cake and my son and stepdaughter were quite impressed with it.

    1. Oh my goodness Janie, thank you so much for this! Yes, making caramel can be a little scary but homemade is so worth it! Really really glad you and your family loved the cake 🙂

  20. This looks amazing, but does it have a coffee flavour? Everything else looks great but I’m not a huge coffee fan.

    1. I don’t personally detect any coffee flavor, coffee just tends to enhance the chocolate flavor. But you can use just hot water instead if you prefer!

    1. Yes, for sure! If you have three 9 inch pans, your layers will be a bit thinner and will probably bake faster. I would test with a toothpick at about 20-25 minutes. If you use only two 9 inch pans, your layers will be thicker and will take a bit more time – 35-40 minutes – to bake. Hope that helps!

  21. 5 stars
    I may have left something on the counter that was meant to be wrapped and refrigerated overnight, but I don’t see it as a character flaw — clearly we’ve just got too much on our minds. This cake looks so dark and rich — but I confess you had me at caramel buttercream. Yes, yes — all day, yes!

    1. I won’t pretend it was the first time I’ve done something like that, but I appreciate the support!! You are right about having too much on our minds 🙂

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