This unabashedly unfussy chocolate cake is very moist (thanks to a combination of melted butter and vegetable oil in the batter) and very chocolaty, but it’s the frosting that you’ll remember. It’s an American buttercream that has a homemade caramel sauce and espresso concentrate folded in at the last minute, and it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty deliciousness. The caramel sauce is easy to make, but if you’re in a hurry, feel free to substitute 1 cup of canned dulce de leche for it and add a little salt, as needed.

Makes one 9 x 13-inch cake, serving 12


Chocolate Cake:

  • 1 2/3 cups (215 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (334 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (32 grams) natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large (100 grams) eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (121 grams) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup (107 grams) safflower or corn oil
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (192 grams) ice-cold water

Caramel Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (116 grams) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon plus a pinch of fine sea salt

Caramel-Espresso Buttercream

  • 8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (96 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (2 grams) instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water (or use 1 teaspoon coffee extract)
  • Caramel Sauce (from above), cooled and slightly chilled


  • Chocolate-coated espresso beans, coarsely chopped


Make the cake:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper, cut to fit, and lightly spray the paper.
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Gently whisk well to combine and set aside.
  1. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs until blended. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract until blended. Set aside.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the melted butter and oil together at low speed. Add the cold water and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix at medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the egg mixture and mix for another minute until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  1. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool the cake completely.

Make the Caramel Sauce:

  1. Fill a cup with water and place a pastry brush in it (this will be used for washing down the sides of the pan to prevent crystallization).
  1. In a clean, heavy-bottomed small saucepan, stir together the sugar, water and lemon juice. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, occasionally washing down the sides of the pan to wash away sugar crystals, until the mixture starts to color around the edges. Gently swirl the pan to ensure that the sugar caramelizes evenly. Continue to cook until the sugar turns deep amber. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and very slowly and carefully add the cream (the mixture will bubble up furiously), stirring gently with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon until smooth. If there are any hardened bits of caramel sticking to the bottom of the pan, place the pan over medium-low heat and stir until they are dissolved. Add the butter pieces and stir gently until melted. Stir in the vanilla paste or extract and the salt. Transfer the caramel sauce to a heatproof glass measure and set aside to cool. Once cool, place the sauce in the refrigerator until slightly chilled.

Make the Caramel-Espresso Buttercream:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened butter at medium speed until creamy, about a minute. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then scrape down the bowl and paddle and beat at medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using a rubber spatula, stir in the espresso mixture until blended. Gently fold in the Caramel Sauce, just until combined (don’t overmix, or it may become grainy).

Frost the cake:

  1. Spread the frosting evenly over the cake and spread it in decorative swirls using a metal spatula. Garnish with the chopped chocolate-coated espresso beans.

Recommended Equipment

USA Pan Bakeware Rectangular Cake Pan, 9 x 13 inch, Nonstick & Quick Release Coating


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Tish Boyle
Tish Boylehttps://pastryathome.com
Tish Boyle is the Managing Editor of Pastry Arts Magazine, a food writer and cookbook author with expertise in baking, desserts and chocolate. A graduate of Smith College and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine, Tish has written several dessert and baking books including Chocolate Passion, Diner Desserts, The Good Cookie, The Cake Book and Flavorful. Co-writing credits include Payard Desserts and the Grand Finales series of books.
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