Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

Classic chocolate cake layers with caramel buttercream and coconut caramel drizzle.  It's like liquid gold!!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

I have a lot of mixed feelings heading into this post.  Mostly feelings of content, but there's a not so happy reason why I am sharing this particular cake on this particular day.  Don't get me wrong, this might be one of the best tasting cakes I've had in a long time (and I eat A LOT of cake).  You might even say it's life-chaging!  But it's not the only thing changing my life right now... 

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream - Tessa Huff
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

Today is a great day, so let's start with the good news: THIS CAKE!!!!  I make so much cake that I tire of it rather quickly.  I test recipes weekly and always have cake in the house, in some form or another.  It takes a really outstanding recipe like this that brings me back for slice after slice instead of just forcing the leftovers on my neighbors or shoving it in the freezer.

This might be one of the tastiest chocolate cakes ever.  It is moist without feeling oily or heavy and full of chocolate flavor.  Thanks to a healthy dose of buttermilk and yogurt keeping it nice and tender, each bite pretty much melts in your mouth.  The one thing that makes this chocolate cake even better?  CARAMEL!!  

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

Two things intriguided me about this caramel sauce.  1) there is an option to use coconut milk instead of cream and 2) it is made using a dry method (which I'd never done before).  I thought it might be like any other salted caramel sauce that I've made, but I was pleasantly surprised!  Terrified yes, but happy with the results.

In my go-to caramel sauce, I use a wet method.  I start by bringing sugar, water, and a little squirt of corn syrup to a boil before adding in butter and cream to make the caramel saucey.  The corn syrup keeps the sugar from crystallizing and you don't even have to stir or use a thermometer.  Just watch as it turns from cloudy to boiling to golden!

With a dry caramel method, you melt white sugar in a dry skillet.  Won't it burn?  Won't it turn into a horrific mess?  I held my breath the entire time, but it worked!  The sugar melts on its on rather than burns.  It turns the same deep amber color as the wet method, before stirring in butter and cream (coconut cream, in this case) and then bringing it back to a boil until thick and glossy and delicious.  I love the addition of the subtle coconut flavor, but you could use heavy cream.  The coconut isn't overbearing, but pairs beautifully with the chocolate layers and just elevates the entire cake.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel
Chocolate Layer Cake with Coconut Caramel

This Chocolate Caramel Cake is from Tieghan Gerard's new cookbook, Half Baked Harvest.  Named after her hugely popular blog, this highly anticipated book has it all!!  From spectacular snack boards and over-the-top desserts to easy weeknight dinners and pics of her family goats, this gorgeous book is packed full of recipes and Tieghan's signature food styling and photography.  I've been following Tieghan's work for years - watching her grow into an Internet super-star with an extensive catalog of delicious, creative recipes to back her up.  She started cooking as a teen for her family of 7(!!!) and blossomed not only into one of the most recognizable young food bloggers but also a charming, mature, and dedicated young woman.  Congrats, girl!  You totally deserve every ounce of success and recognition!

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

I chose today to share this cake because I was supposed to be on a flight to Denver this afternoon.  I was invited by Tieghan and her team to join a small group of food bloggers for a culinary retreat in Colorado to celebrate the release of her book.  I don't ever get out on my own like that and this was one of the first big industry meet-ups that I was asked to attend.  I was thrilled!!!  Brett was equally excited and we made all the necessary arrangements for me to take my first solo trip since Everett was born.  Last week, I unfortunately had to cancel...

As I said in the beginning of this post, I write this with very mixed feelings.  Today I fell great and I am mostly content, but I've been dealing with some recurring health issues... I thought my episode with Mal de Debarquement was a one-time thing last year, but it looks like it might be something that I will have to consider forever.  

What's that fancy french word you ask?  MdDS is similar to land sickness.  Ever get off a long flight or a cruise and still feel a bit wobbly for a few hours?  Now imagine that feeling but it doesn't go away for weeks, months, and sometimes years.  I had my first experience with MdDs last year after flying to California and back.  I wrote about my month stuck in bed in this post.  The syndrome is most easily described as something similar to vertigo, but a feeling of rocking/bobbing/swaying instead of spinning. I was given the rare diagnosis last year after landing myself in the ER.  It felt like I was in a row boat in a hurricane.  Thankfully, symptoms eventually subsided and I went into "remission" about 4 to 6 weeks later...

Since I've pretty much felt fine this past year, aside from the motion sickness and migraines I typically get, I thought it was a one-time thing and had no reservations about traveling again.  With my history of motion sickness and migraines, I guess it's no surprise to learn that this could always come back... After our family vacation to Toronto last month, it came back.  Thankfully symptoms were much much milder, but enough for me to come to a realization that I will always be susceptible to MdDS.  

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Buttercream

For the past few weeks, I've been researching symptoms and treatments all while feeling like I am floating around on a pool raft.  There aren't really any "cures," but only ways to manage symptoms and some preventative tips for when you might encounter a trigger (traveling).  I was terrified at first.  What if it never goes away?  What if it gets worse?  Will I ever travel again?  For the first time, I joined an online support group.  Reading about what other people were going through was equal parts comforting and terrifying.  Some had mild symptoms like me while others were suffering for years and years.  

It was devastating when I canceled this highly anticipated trip to Colorado, but I am determined not to let fear keep me from traveling ever again.  I am learning so much now about triggers and how to manage my symptoms (lots of rest and low-stress, two things that I constantly struggle with on a daily basis).  My family doctor suggested I book another appointment with my neurologist (scary that I have one of those now, but it's for my migraines) to discuss vestibular migraines and a treatment plan for when I do eventually travel again.  Just last night, Brett and I booked our flights home for Christmas.  I'm a little scared of what will happen, but mostly feeling excited and confident that I can overcome this terrible illness and not let it control my life.  I read that it's life-altering, not life-threatening, so I will not let it beat me!  Hopefully optimism wins.  And if not, at least I can drown my sorrows in chocolate cake =) 

Chocolate Caramel Cake
adapted from Half Baked Harvest

For the Chocolate Cake
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup canola oil
4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup hot coffee

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans and set aside. Stir together the dry ingredients (including the sugar) in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, buttermilk, yogurt, oil, melted chocolate, and vanilla on medium speed for about 3 minutes.  With the mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients in two batches.  Mix until combined.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.  With the mixer on low, slowly stream in the coffee and mix until combined.

Evenly distribute the cake batter between the prepared pans.  Bake for 3o to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack fro about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

For the Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 to 4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup caramel sauce, or to taste (recipe to follow)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
splash milk, as needed
pinch salt (optional)

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioner's sugar until incorporated.  Turn the mixer to medium and mix until combined.  Add in the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.  Add more/less caramel, sugar, and milk until desired thickness and sweetness is achieved.  

For the Coconut Caramel Sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups coconut cream, full-fat coconut milk, or heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

In a large, dry skillet, heat the sugar over medium-high heat.  Cook the sugar until it melts into a medium golden color.  Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the butter, a tablespoon at a time.  Whisk in the coconut cream.

Return the skillet to medium heat and cook until thick, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.  Carefully pour into a heat-safe container and cool.  Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Place a cooled cake layer on a cake board or serving plate.  Spread on about 1 cup of buttercream with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.  Top with the next layer of cake and repeat.  Crumb coat the cake with caramel buttercream and chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.

Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream.  Before serving, slightly reheat the caramel so that it flows (should be thicker than honey) and is about room temperature (not too warm or it might melt the buttercream).  Drizzle over the cake (I start by adding drips around the edges, but can you just pour onto the top and then spread around).  The caramel will most likely continue to slowly drip down the cake, so try to not get discouraged - it will still taste amazing!!

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake

Six layers of Classic Chocolate Cake sandwiched with sweet yet tart Raspberry Jam and covered with a lighter-than-cream-cheese-froting Raspberry Cheesecake Buttercream.  Just in time for Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!

Last week, my husband and I had a heated debate over conversation hearts.  Oh yes.  You read that correctly.  Those little pastel hearts with witty cheesey sayings on them that taste like chalk.  It actually wasn’t so much of a debate as a conversation because we were both on the same side.  In the end, the question wasn’t about if they were good or not but more about how much was too ridiculous to spend on shipping.

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!
Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!
Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!

You see, for some odd reason, we’ve only been able to find the sour Sweetarts kind.  Even purchasing the off-brand packages feels like conversation heart roulette – will they be the chalky variety where the yellow tastes like delicious fake banana and the white reminiscent of those old candy cigarettes from when I was a kid or will we be met with the disappointment of yet another fruity, slightly tart bag of heartache?  And don’t get us even started on those large ones that are equivalent to those gorss pumpkins in a sea of delicious candy corn.  No thank you.  The bottom line: we take our conversation hearts seriously in the Huff household.

What’s funny is, even knowing how much my husband loves simple things like convenient store candy and a really good chocolate chip cookie, I still find myself trying to go above and beyond (with little success thus far) when it comes to Valentine’s Day desserts.  We constantly have a partially eaten cake in the fridge at all times and there is usually a container full of sub-par cookies/brownies/pastries on the counter after that week’s recipe testing.  Dessert is something we have nearly every night as it is, so when it comes to birthdays and special occasions where a “normal” person that doesn’t make several cakes a week would bake a special treat, I try to make Brett something new and exciting instead of passing off my workweek’s leftovers.

The problem is, the desserts I’ve attempted to make in the past have been questionable, at best.  Sometimes in trying to come up with something creative and original you just get garbage.  I can recall the year I attempted heart-shaped raspberry s’more macarons (what?), the homemade candy bars with soupy peanut butter mousse filling (such a nightmare), and the disaster that was my first shot at making almond Florentines while tending to a four-week old.  Why do I love to torture myself like this?!?!  LOL.

This year I am committed to just making something that I know Brett already loves – that is, of course, if I can’t track down the right kind of conversation hearts.  He’s so sweet though.  Whenever I do have time to bake for “fun” and make something like chocolate chip cookies, he asks me to just make “regular” ones since, knowing me, he knows I can’t help try to switch up the recipe for no reason.  So, “regular” chocolate chip cookies it will be!  But with an extra pinch of Maldon sea salt, because I still have principals.

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!

It’s no secret that I already made this Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake a few weeks ago for The Cake Blog.  If it wasn’t cookies, then I would make this again.  They stand for the same thing – underrated, unassuming treats that (if done right) are pretty much all you could ever ask for from a dessert.  No fancy flavors.  No frills.  No unnecessary, complicated preparations.  I find that I’m constantly trying to out-do myself with the next best cake or new ingredient or elaborate decoration.  But sometimes, less really is more. 

The weekend I made this cake I also made a simple vanilla cake filled with strawberry jam for one of Everett’s pal’s 2nd birthday.  I was trying to appeal to toddler palettes and surprised even myself how tasty simple yet high-quality ingredients can be.  Or rather reminded myself.  The key was to slice each cake in half horizontally to make six layers that are then spread and sandwiched with sweet, fruity jam.  This way, the jammy goodness is more evenly distributed throughout and almost “melts” into each layer keeping them moist and flavorful.  Each bit was so good that I began questioning every thing I know about layers cakes (which is a lot) and if I should use buttercream as a filling ever again.  Mind blown.

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!
Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with jam and raspberry cheesecake buttercream.  Perfect for Valentine's Day!

Head on over to The Cake Blog for the full recipe (including the Raspberry Cheesecake Buttercream Frosting!!!), and be sure to send in any tips for where one can locate chalky conversations hearts before the 14th <3

Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake

With a texture that is similar to a brownie, this decadent chocolate cake is layered with rosemary buttercream and smothered in dramatic cinnamon-spiced caramel sauce.  Rustic elegance at its finest!

Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake with cinnamon caramel sauce.
Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake with cinnamon caramel sauce.

One day, I dream of hosting a romantic dinner party for the holidays.  A night set under twinkly lights, full of appetizers and good conversation, a homemade feast to feed a crowd, and after-dinner games and laughs.  At the end of the night, I would present this rustic yet elegant semi-naked cake composed of decadent, sophisticated flavors and dramatic floral elements. 

Rewind to Sunday brunch where we hosted a toddler cookie decorating party, and it appears that we might be a few years away from such a lavish event.  We finally have a proper dining table for hosting and even new friends to fill the seats (after moving to a city nearly FOUR years ago!), but said dining table and the glittery centerpiece I created sat untouched.  Instead, the parents took comfort around the living room sitting on large pillows, windowsills, and anywhere else they could fit to watch four toddling boys under the age of 2 toss balloons, decorate gingerbread cookies, and run wild for a couple of hours.  

And even while another mommy and I poked and prodded my breakfast strata trying to figure out if it was done cooking and a couple of the dads helped with a mid-party cookie clean-up, this current reality is pure perfection.  So while I have visions of hosting fancy affairs one day, I’ll gladly take sprinkles ground into the fibres of my carpet and sugar-fuelled toddlers for a few more years first.

Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake with cinnamon caramel sauce.
Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake with cinnamon caramel sauce.

In the meantime, I will settle for a slice of this decadent, nearly sinful cake.  The chocolate cake boarders on brownie territory.  It is rich and fudgy in all of the right ways.  It could probably be served on its own or with a scoop of coffee ice cream, but I’ve layered in with a subtle rosemary buttercream.  The rosemary is familiar but unexpected.  It gets infused into the butter before being whipped up into a silky Swiss meringue buttercream.  Only a semi-naked finish is necessary since the cake is rather rich (you will want to slice this one pretty thin!).  To finish it all off and to round out the flavors, I spiked my regular salted caramel sauce with ground cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Chocolate Brownie Rosemary Cake with cinnamon caramel sauce.

Find the complete recipe on the West Elm Blog.

Winter Chocolate Peppermint Cake

Inside a glittery exterior, rich chocolate cake layers are filled with a whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache before being frosting in a luscious vanilla bean buttercream.

Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.
Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.

Snowflakes, waltzing flowers, Spanish chocolate, and a mouse king all enter a bar… Okay, so I’ve never been very good with jokes.  If you don’t already know what these things have in common, let me tell you.  I’m talking about The Nutcracker!

Within hearing the first few bars of the overture in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, I am instantly flooded with all the feels.  After dancing The Nutcracker a half-dozen times and having seen it performed more times than I can count, I can sing along to the entire score.  The music is as truly magical as the costumes, sets and, of course, the choreography.  Ranking in my Top 3 of Christmas traditions is The Nutcracker.  My mom and I are going on Thursday and I can hardly wait!

Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.
Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.
Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.

I was lucky to grow up with an amazing ballet company in my hometown and the opportunity to see live performances regularly.  The Nutcracker is always a favorite among children, myself included.  Like most companies, The Sacramento Ballet casts hundreds of children to participate in their annual production.  It really is quite an amazing tradition. Each winter, we would get dressed-up and head down to Downtown Sacramento to check out the Christmas decorations at the Capital and see the ballet.  I would later join the cast of the Sacramento Ballet’s The Nutcracker as an angel when I was in high school, but it was when I was about 10 years old that I danced in my first Nutcracker.  It was magical.

The first time I danced in The Nutcracker I was part of the chorus during the Waltz of the Flowers.  I believe I was in the 5th grade.  Earlier that fall, I switched community dance studios to one where they put on their own production of The Nutcracker.  It wasn’t the huge, professional production that I was used to seeing, but for what it was, it was pretty good.  I sewed ribbons on my shoes (or rather my mom did) and donned my purple tulle skirt in anticipation.  Over the next few years, I would later dance the rolls of “Party Girl,” “Marzipan,” “Ribbon Candy,” “Spanish Chocolate,” and my very favorite, “Snowflake.”

As a kid, the Divertissements was always my favorite part.  Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, Chinese tea, The Russian Trepak, Dance of the Reed-Pipes (marzipan), and Mother Ginger (and her children) would each perform in their respective styles, music, and costuming.  I think it was every kid’s favorite.  And the Sugar Plum Fairy, of course.  As I grew older, my taste began to change.  I began to appreciate the different pieces of music.  Where when I was younger the battle scene was my least favorite, but the quick allegro became intriguing and fascinating to me as an adult.  Today, the snow scene is by far my favorite.  I’m not even talking about the pretty Snow Queen.  I mean the flurry that is the snowflakes. 

The snowflakes of a Nutcracker performance show just how strong the corps de ballet can be.  Of course the principal dancers have skill and grace above nearly every other human on this planet, but let us not overlook the strength, talent, and dedication it takes to be a part of the chorus.  In this scene in particular, they are required to perform effortlessly and uniformly at what seems like 386 different tempos.  Their waltzes across the dance floor create snowflake-like patterns on the stage as the music builds and builds into a full-own snowstorm.  And in most cases, it will even snow on stage!  Meaning, these incredible athletes are performing with lightening-speed footwork in point shoes on top of fake snow.  Seriously people!!!  It’s an incredible sight.  At the end of each snow scene I am usually teary-eyed not only because it is the close of Act 1 (meaning the whole thing is almost over), but also because of the pure artistry, talent, and athleticism of the dancers.

Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.
Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.
Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.

Speaking of snow, what about this cake?!?!  At first glance, the crystal-like sanding sugar glitters about in its own gorgeous way.  Inside, rich chocolate cake layers are filled with a whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache before being frosting in a vanilla bean buttercream. Seriously, guys.  How amazing does that sound?!?!  This chocolate mint cake can be found in my book, Layered.  I’ve always been a fan of mint and chocolate together, and I thrilled that others have been equally excited about the combination.

Today, I will be sharing the recipe straight from the book in partnership with Rodelle.  I’ve been using their products for years, including the time I spent recipe testing for the book. Their premium cocoa powders are so lush and rich.  I can truly taste the difference in my chocolate cake recipes!  Real vanilla bean is a game changer, and their beans and extracts bring my baking to a new level.  I’ve used several of their products in this cake alone, and now you can to!  Enter to win a signed copy of Layered as well as baking bundle from Rodelle today!

Classic chocolate cake with whipped white chocolate peppermint ganache and vanilla bean buttercream.

Winter Chocolate Mint Cake
From Layered cookbook

Whipped Fresh Mint White Chocolate Ganache
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup lightly packed fresh mint
7 ounces (by weight) white chocolate, chopped
¼ to ½ teaspoon pure peppermint extract (optional)

In a saucepan, slowly bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat.  Meanwhile, gently muddle the mint.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the mint.

Let it steep for about 10 minutes.  Keeping the mint with the cream, transfer the mixture to a container and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Strain the cream through a mesh sieve and discard the mint.  Measure out 90 ml (3 liquid ounces) cream and place it back in the saucepan.  Slowly bring the cream back up to a simmer.

Meanwhile, place the white chocolate in a heat-safe bowl.

Once the cream is hot, pour over the chocolate.  Let stand for 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth.  Set aside for about 2 hours until completely cool and thickened.

In the bowl of a stand mixed fitter with the whisk attachement (or using an hand-mixer), whip the ganche until light, fluffy, and pale in color.  Add the peppermint extract and whisk to combine.

Do not over-mix or the ganache may split or become grainy.

Classic Chocolate Cake
1 ¾ cup + 2 tabelspoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1 cup hot coffee (may sub hot water)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 6-inch baking pans and set aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the oil and sugar.  While mixing on medium-low speed, add in the extracts and eggs, one at a time.

In alternating batches start and ending with the dry ingredients, gradually mix in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

With the mixer on low, stream in the hot coffee and mix just until combined.

Evenly distribute the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack 10 to 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Vanilla Mint Buttercream
1 small recipe Swiss meringue buttercream
seeds of ½ vanilla bean
¾ teaspoon peppermint extract, or to taste

Add in the vanilla bean and peppermint.  Mix until smooth.

1 cup white sanding sugar
Fresh rosemary (optional)