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!!

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Fluffy coconut cake soaked with a coconut simple syrup and adorned with spirals of pastel vanilla bean buttercream.  Instead of weighing down the subtle coconut flavor with thick slabs of frosting or muting it with vibrant tropical flavors, the semi "naked" frosting allows the coconut cake to be the star!

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

There’s a reason why beauty stores sell sea salt spray to create perfectly beachy waves at home.  What I didn’t know until this morning is that you can get some pretty good, natural-looking curls after an evening of beach volleyball in a sand/wind storm.  Had the power not gone off at 9pm when we got home last night I would have certainly washed my hair, but none of this is really even relevant to my story…

Brett and I will have been married 7 years this July.  After knowing each other for nearly a decade and multiple careers, moves, and children later (fur and human), I think he sometimes knows me even better than I know myself – our entire relationship being summed up in one game of recreational volleyball.

Brett and his co-workers signed up for a rec league a couple months back.  Long story short, last night was the playoffs and with my mom in town to babysit, I was invited to play as one third of the females needed in the co-ed division.  Brett knows how at times I crave other adult human interaction, how much I enjoy silly things like rec sports, but also how I get incredibly anxious over new situations.  I’m an adventurous introvert – constantly forcing myself out of my comfort zone while loathing the anticipation of trying something unfamiliar but secretly wanting to be in on all the action. 

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake
Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

All day yesterday he reassured me that yes – it was still okay for me to tag along, that he warned the other players to not set their expectations for me too high (per my request), and that it would be fun.  He humoured me when I asked what to wear (pants you can bend over in, haha) and reminded me to drink water (because he knows I tend to forget). He gave clear instructions, including a pick-up time that was 15 minutes earlier than normal knowing how I am always running a bit behind but also hate being late.  And after 9 years together, I am in no way offended by his anticipation of me running late because he also knows I can respectively hold my own in front of his co-workers in a casual yet competitive setting.

On the other hand, I know him pretty well, too.  Even though I was hesitant at first, I trusted Brett when he said that I would have fun and that there would be nothing for me to worry about (he was right).  I know his own competitive nature and could tell that he was purposefully serving into the wind when we were behind, making it nearly impossible for the opposing team to return the ball (even if nobody else picked up on his strategy).  But Brett is also sensitive and compassionate, so I also knew how bad he felt for the girl who kept leaving a hole open for him to serve into once we were ahead as he tried to quiet his competitive spirit for the sake of the playful nature that this rec league was all about.  I knew that he would still find me beautiful even with sand in my ears, eyes, nose, and everywhere else.  And that he would, without question, let me have the first shower when we got home while he put Everett to bed after missing him all day.  Most importantly, I knew that no matter what position I was in, both in the game and in real life, he always had (and has) my back.

Anyways, it’s not Father’s Day nor is it our anniversary, but I just wanted to share this little slice of our life.  Because, why not?  Things just click right now.  We’ve finally found somewhat of a rhythm between work, family, and play.  And while we still love a spontaneous date-night in or adventure with our son, we can mostly anticipate each other’s moves and thoughts and it really makes for a happy, healthy, and productive situation right now - not in a mundane way, but it a nurturing, intimate, I-know-you-better-than-I-know-myself-sometimes kind of way.  

Coconut Vanilla Bean Layer Cake

Does this all have anything to do with this cake?  No, not really – except that when I told Brett it would take me only an hour to decorate and photograph it, he knew it really meant three.  And knowing how much Brett despises shredded coconut, I intentionally left it out of the cake and only to create the delectable coconut simple syrup.

What goes well with coconut? More coconut! I found that many coconut cake recipes are paired with lemon or vibrant tropical flavors. For this cake, I wanted to make sure that the coconut remained the star and wasn’t weighed down by other overly sweet or tart ingredients. The cake layers themselves are made with creamy coconut milk then brushed with coconut simple syrup. The coconut simple syrup adds great depth to the otherwise subtle cake layers without the use of coconut extract. Trust me, it tastes like heaven! I first considered a coconut cream cheese frosting, but a simple yet pure vanilla bean buttercream ended up being the perfect match.
— Tessa Huff for The Cake Blog

For the full recipe, head on over to The Cake Blog


Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Layers of lightened-up coconut cake have been soaked in tres leches, or "three milks."  Inspired by the Latin American dessert, this layer cake version is frosted in clouds of whipped cream sweetened with condensed milk and then garnished with toasted coconut for added flavor and texture.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Living in California, most everything thing “Spanish” growing up was associated with Mexico.  I remember my high school Spanish teacher giving lessons on Latin and Hispanic culture, beyond just the language and Mexico.  She explained to the very Caucasian, suburban co-eds in my class that in Spain, some Spaniards even have light eyes/hair and could even look like some of us (as she gestured right toward me).  I replied, that in fact, I am part Hispanic.  Puerto Rican, in fact, with roots all the way back to Barcelona and Madrid.   

I’ll be the first to admit that I am pretty pale.  Living in Canada and using a liberal amount of sunscreen doesn’t help, but I’ve spent most of my life with people assuming that I am just white.  To be fair, I look just like my dad (who is 100% German) so it is hard to tell until I talk about my family or you spot me with my mother.  My mom is Filipino and Puerto Rican.  I’ve shared stories about my Filipino family from Hawaii and my island-inspired recipes many times before, but not many from my grandmother's side until now...

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Long ago, my great great grandmother Amelia (my middle-namesake) grew up in Barcelona, but eventually migrated to Puerto Rico where she met and married my great great grandfather from Madrid. Once they started a family, they found themselves in New York before eventually settling down in Arizona, where my grandmother was born.  My grandma used to joke about getting the raw end of the deal and not getting to grow up in Spanish Harlem like most Puerto Rican immigrants at the time – assuming that living in New York City would have been much more fun than working in the agricultural fields of Arizona. 

At one point, my grandma lived with her own grandmother who spoke only Spanish.  In the end, my grandmother was fluent in both Spanish and English and turned this skill into her career.  She taught at the elementary school for years, helping the ESL students learn to read and write in English.  I would love to be fluent in Spanish too, but I remember her teaching me some basics in the car ride down to Southern California to visit great great grandma Amelia when I was a child.  I remember this actually coming in handy with Amelia when hanging out and watching game shows together in her late 90’s.  She would end up living to the age of 103!

The Puerto Rican branch of my family tree is a mixed bag.  I have aunts with red hair and other relatives that are even paler than I am.  Some have darker features, but it really goes to show that you never really know what someone’s background is sometimes.  Take me and my brother - I look just like our dad and my bro a bit more European.  One thing is for sure though, I got my crazy, unruly curls from my Puerto Rican side!

Like I mentioned before, we sadly didn’t celebrate this part of our heritage as much growing up.  However, the parts I do remember were always full of music and dancing.  My grandmother LOVED all types of music.  It must run in the family, as her grandmother was always playing music as does my own mom, typically accompanied by dancing all around the living room.  Without sounding horribly stereotypical, but maybe all Puerto Ricans enjoy music? Perhaps that is why West Side Story and In the Heights are soooo good, hehe. I guess I’ll have to bring Ev down to Salsa Sundays in Robson Square and teach him the merengue.

One piece of our culture that I really wish I knew more about is the food.  We ate paella in Barcelona when we took my grandmother to visit when I was a teenager, but beyond that, I am pretty unfamiliar.  Luckily, that’s where this Coconut Tres Leches comes into play.  Although not necessarily native to Puerto Rico, this creamy, dreamy cake hails from Latin America and is becoming increasingly more popular by all.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Coconut Tres Leches Cake

I made this recipe for The Cake Blog.  Here is a bit more of what I have to say about it:

The Latin American dessert, the Tres Leches Cake, inspired this culinary creation. It gets its name, meaning “three milks,” from the tree different types of milk that the cake is soaked in. This version in particular is of the coconut variety, calling for full-fat coconut milk in the cake and as a replacement for the heavy cream in the milk soak. Top the assembled cake toasted coconut flakes, if desired!

Tres leches is typically baked in a sheet pan, but you know I had to go and give a layer cake twist!  Instead of an airy sponge laden with three types of cream, I used a lightened-up butter cake for a bit more structure but paired it with clouds of freshly whipped cream.  A bit of leftover condensed milk from the soak helps sweeten up and stabilize the cream. 

Find the recipe on The Cake Blog!

Citrus Cake with Cream Cheese and Toasted Coconut

Citrus and olive oil go hand-in-hand in this bright, delightful cake.  Vibrant lime zest and a sprinkle of toasted coconut add instant flavor and texture to each bite.

Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.

We all know how much I love a good layer cake.  Hey, I even wrote a whole book about them!  But sometimes even I can admit that they can be a bit fussy.  For the days when you still want velvety cake but without the hassle, make a bundt cake!

Okay, maybe “hassle” is not the right word choice (especially for someone trying to sell a book about layer cakes – there are several hassle-free recipes including those with just fresh season fruit and sweetened whipped cream), but I think you all know what I mean.  For those of you who don’t make layer cakes with the same frequency as I do, baking a cake, preparing a filling, and making a frosting (plus assembly) might be a bit much when you are just looking to satisfy a Tuesday afternoon cake craving.

A bundt or pound cake however, now that’s something suitable for afternoon snacking and even breakfast.  Who doesn’t love breakfast cake?

Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.
Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.
Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.

This Citrus Cake is my go-to for a more carefree, everyday sweet.  The kind of treat that you bake on Sunday or a casual afternoon and it stays moist all week.  The kind of treat that sits under a cake-keeper on the counter, just waiting for drive-by slices, afternoon tea pairings, or whenever a sweet-tooth needs satisfying.  

Not only does a cake like this eliminate the need to filling and frosting (with the exception of this glaze that takes literally 60-seconds to prepare), the mixing process is also fuss-free!  No mixer needed.  No creaming-of-the-butter necessary.

Instead of the fussy creaming process necessary to make a butter cake, this cake comes together rather quickly.  Using Mazola’s Rightblend Oil, the cake mixes together super easy, while staying moist and flavourful.  The blend of canola and extra virgin olive oil adds an extra depth of flavour the to the cake.  I prefer this blend because the subtle olive oil taste is light and fresh, but does not take away from the bright citrus notes in the cake.   Regular canola or vegetable oil would work too!  

Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.

I know I’ve been boasting about “simple” and “fuss-free” over here, but I promise you that this glaze still falls into those categories.  Instead of a heavy buttercream, this cream cheese glaze mixes together in seconds and is the perfect pair for the Citrus Cake.  Top is all off with toasted coconut, fresh citrus zest, or whatever you’d like!

Citrus Bundt Cake with cream cheese glaze and toasted coconut.

Citrus Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup Mazola Right Blend Oil or Canola Oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs
1/2 cup fresh citrus juice
1 tablespoon citrus zest

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, stir together the milk, oil, and melted butter.  Whisk in the eggs.
  4. Stir in the citrus juice and zest until combined.
  5. In two to three additions, add in the dry ingredients to the wet.  Stir to combine.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
  7. Let cool on a wire rack until the pan is cool enough to handle (about 20 minutes).
  8. Place a cutting board or large platter on top of the pan and carefully invert the cake right-side up.
  9. Continue to cool before serving.

Cream Cheese Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons coconut milk or whole milk

  1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the cream cheese and butter with a wooden spoon until well combined.
  2. Gradually stir in the confectioner’s sugar until incorporated.
  3. Add in the vanilla and milk.  Stir until smooth.  Glaze should be rather thick but still fluid.  Add more milk as needed.

Top with toasted coconut, if desired!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by ACH Foods.  Thank you for supporting the brands that make Style Sweet CA possible!