Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make a caramel cake so good that my mom begged for it every year for her birthday. When I was old enough, and we no longer lived in the same town as that grandmother, I got the recipe from her and used to make it every year for my mom's birthday. I can't remember the recipe anymore, but I do remember that the cake took two sticks of butter and the frosting took another two. It wasn't... a diet cake. I liked it, but the star was definitely the caramel frosting, and something about the richness of caramel almost begs to be offset by a lightweight cake with a bitter tang to it- something with coffee and dark chocolate, not unlike this cake.

And this cake, you guys. I've never tasted anything so plush. It's literally the softest cake I've ever tasted, and while I usually equate that with a heavy texture and a lot of moisture, this one is actually really light and fluffy, which is a nice contrast with the heavy frosting. Also, the dark chocolate gives it a deep flavour with a hint of bitterness- perfect to complement the strong coffee (I used espresso) and contrast with the dense frosting topping it all off.

The most difficult part of this recipe is trying to spread incredibly thick icing onto the softest cake imaginable. It's not impossible, but you'll fare better if you plan to go a bit heavy-handed on the icing. I'd also recommend skipping the sides of the cake- the icing is so rich that the sides don't need the frosting, and you'll want the additional amount to help you cover the top of the cake completely.

It's a perfect cake for a celebration- deep, grownup chocolate cake with just enough coffee flavour coming through to persuade even the strongest anti-desserter among you that it's worth it and sweet, rich and buttery frosting to appeal to the sweet tooths in the group... which is why I found myself making it to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of The Recipe Box Project!

While year 2 has been markedly slower paced than year 1 was, I've still radically enjoyed working, reworking and writing up these recipes. There are moments when it feels like Eleanor is in my kitchen cooking along with me and the tiny hints she left behind on her most-used recipes are like little clues to guide me along this project... and then there are other times when it feels like she's sitting next to me yelling at me because I a) used all of the coffee at once instead of splitting it in half or b) measured out white sugar instead of brown or c) forgot to soften my butter or d) screwed up the conversion from imperial to metric before I added the butter to my cake.*

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

Icing-in-progress. Final version was not so sticky.

In two years I've learned that it's easier to keep posting regularly when I hate my job than it is when I actually enjoy my day job and the people I work with. I've learned that my kitchen in Scotland is never, ever going to be warm enough to make bread dough rise and I've learned the exact temperature I need to put the oven at in order to get my dough to rise correctly when I set it in a bowl on top of the oven. I've learned good substitutes for buttermilk, cake flour, instant yeast, Club crackers, zwieback, graham crackers and a host of other things I can't get either in Scotland or, in some instances, in the 21st century. I've also figured out exactly which recipes I can convince Judson to get excited about (anything involving marinades, meat loaf or chili) and which ones he'll whine about enough to make it worth the extra time to cook it when he's away (anything involving canned meat, Jell-O or Spam). I've got a long way to go if I'm going to make it through Eleanor's box, but it took her a lifetime to assemble those recipes, so I figure I've got time on my side.

*All of these, by the way, are mistakes I made on this cake before it was even in the pans, so don't panic next time you're facing a stupid cooking conundrum. Instead, just think of me and know that there is no way I haven't done something stupider.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This cake is awesome. I knocked off a spoon because it's hard to frost and it's so rich that you couldn't have it every week, but it's still perfect for a celebration and I hope you'll give it a try on your next one.

One year ago: Swiss Chocolate Cake (still a favourite!)
NEW! two years ago: Airy, Crustless Cheesecake (not a favourite)

the recipe:

Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting

the directions:

Divide coffee in half and put ½ c in freezer to chill.
Melt chocolate and ½ c coffee in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly.
Add ½ c brown sugar and cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring.
Set aside.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F and line two round cake pans (9”) with paper on the bottom.
Cream butter and remaining 1 c sugar.
Add vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Beat cooled chocolate mixture into butter mixture.
Add dry ingredients alternately with remaining ½ c cold coffee.
Beat until smooth, then pour into prepared pans and cook 20-30 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.


Melt butter on the stove over very low heat.
Add brown sugar and let bubble over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add cream and bring to a gentle boil, continuing to stir.
Remove from heat and, using an electric mixer, beat in powdered sugar and vanilla.
If too thick, add more cream or milk to thin. If too thin, add more powdered sugar until desired consistency.
Allow to cool until lukewarm before frosting cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c very strong coffee, divided
1 ½ c brown sugar, packed and divided
½ c butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 ¾ c cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt


the frosting:

½ c butter
1 c brown sugar, packed
¼ c cream
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla