Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

While I love me a good layer cake, sheet cakes have been calling my name lately. They’re so much quicker to make, and there’s something about them that reminds me of being a kid. And while my childhood didn’t include scratch made chocolate caramel poke cake, it still feels so comforting.

The best part of this cake? The hidden pockets of homemade caramel! With almost every bite, you get a delicious tunnel of the buttery caramel. It’s enough to have you coming back for seconds…and thirds!

There’s a reason I call this my most irresistible sheet cake recipe 🙂

image of chocolate caramel poke cake slice

The Star of the Show: The Homemade Caramel

I know that making caramel sauce from scratch can seem intimidating if you’ve never tried it before.

I was convinced it was some complicated process that must require all kinds of special equipment. But the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

I make my caramel without a thermometer using just four ingredients, and a batch comes together in about 5 minutes. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

If you’re short on time you can use store-bought caramel, but I think it’s worth making the caramel from scratch.

Once you make it, it gets used in pretty much every aspect of the cake.

image of slices of caramel chocolate sheet cake, stacked on a plate

It’s spread on top of the sheet cake, added into the frosting, and used to decorate the top of the cake.

My Tip: Add The Sugar Gradually

The only part of making homemade caramel that can be a little scary is melting down the sugar.

My biggest tip when doing this is to add the sugar in gradually. I add about a quarter of a cup at a time.

This helps the granulated sugar liquify more quickly and minimizes clumping. It makes a world of a difference!!

I didn’t know to do that when I first started making caramel, and used to just dump it all in at once.

The caramel will still turn out if you add all the sugar at once, but it takes a lot longer to melt down. It can also leave you with little lumps of sugar in your caramel.

My Secret Ingredient to Make the Fluffiest Caramel Buttercream

While the caramel in this buttercream gives it an amazing flavor, there’s one unconventional ingredient that gives it an incredible texture! Egg whites are commonly used in other types of frosting, but they’re hardly ever added to American buttercream.

But I swear, adding a tablespoon of pasteurized egg whites (the type that come in a carton) and mixing your frosting on a high speed at the end makes the FLUFFIEST frosting. It also creates a silky smooth mouth feel.

image of a batch of super smooth air bubble free frosting that has been stirred by hand

By using egg whites that have been pasteurized (heat-treated), they’re safe to add into your frosting without cooking them.

If the idea of adding egg whites into your frosting seems too crazy or you don’t have pasteurized egg whites on hand, you can omit them for your frosting. But if you have them, do yourself a favor and add them in! 🙂

This chocolate sheet cake bakes up pretty thick, so you need a relatively thick layer of frosting to get the cake to frosting ratio just right.

By fluffing this frosting up, you’re able to add a thick layer on top of your sheet cake without it being overpoweringly sweet.

Tips for Making The Best Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake:

  • Mix your batter until it’s just barely combined!! Over-mixing your batter can make your sheet cake denser and less tender
  • Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients
  • Use flower nails/heating cores to help your sheet cake bake more evenly and quickly.
  • This recipe can be used to make about 24 cupcakes. Fill your cupcake liners about half way and bake for about 18 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F oven.
  • You can also use this recipe to bake a 12x17in sheet cake, but the bake time will be shorter! Bake for about 25 minutes at 325 degrees F.
  • If you want to make a chocolate layer cake, use my chocolate layer cake recipe to make 3, 8-inch cake layers.

Making This Sheet Cake in Advance and Storage Tips:

  • Make your caramel ahead of time!! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
  • Make your sheet cake in advance and freeze it. This breaks the process up and make it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • In an airtight container, this cake can sit out at room temp for a day, in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to a month.
image of chocolate caramel poke cake slice held in hand to show homemade caramel sauce oozing out

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you make this chocolate caramel poke cake recipe, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please leave a rating, and let me know your thoughts by sharing a comment.

Or if you share your creations on social media, be sure to tag me @chelsweets!

Yield: 30

Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

image of chocolate caramel poke cake slice

This chocolate caramel poke cake is incredibly fluffy and moist, and it's packed with delicious pockets of delicious homemade caramel!!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

Homemade Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature (85 grams)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature (76 grams)
  • 1/4 tsp table salt (1 gram)

Chocolate Sheet Cake:

  • 3 cup all-purpose flour (390 grams)
  • 2 3/4 cup granulated sugar (550 grams)
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa powder (50 grams)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (6 grams)
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda (18 grams)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (2 grams)
  • 1 1/2 cup hot water (356 grams)
  • 1 Tbsp instant espresso or coffee (6 grams)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature (115 grams)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (228 grams)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (170 grams)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature (168 grams)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4 grams)

Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 cup (or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (226 grams)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (1 gram)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (3 grams)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (340 grams)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature (60 grams)
  • 1/3 cup caramel sauce - recipe above
  • 1 Tbsp pasteurized egg whites - optional (15 grams)

Decorations and Tools:

Instructions

Homemade Caramel Sauce

  1. Turn stove on medium heat, and place a pot over element.
  2. Pour in sugar gradually, adding 1/4 cup at a time. Wait until the sugar is mostly liquified, then add in the next bit of sugar.
  3. As the sugar melts, it will gradually deepen in color.
  4. Stir occasionally until the sugar is fully dissolved, and is an amber color.
  5. Turn off the heat.
  6. Mix in butter slowly (2 Tbsp at a time), then stir in cream and salt.
  7. The mixture will be very thin, but will thicken as it cools.
  8. Pour into a separate container, then place in fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Chocolate Sheet Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9x13 (quarter sheet) pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.
  2. Place two flower nails in the center of the pan, with the flat side resting flat against the cake pan. Make sure they are a few inches apart and spray thoroughly with non-stick spray too.
  3. In a large bowl, add 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 Tbsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups hot water and 1 Tbsp instant coffee or espresso powder.
  5. Add 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 cup buttermilk, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 3 large eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla extract into the coffee mixture and whisk together until smooth.
  6. Add 1/2 of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together until just combined.
  7. Pour in the rest of the wet mixture, and whisk again until just combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan.
  9. Reposition the flower nails so that they’re event spaced across the pan.
  10. Bang the pan on your counter to remove any air bubbles, then bake for 50-55 minutes.
  11. Rotate your pan halfway through to help the cake bake evenly.
  12. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then carefully remove it from the pan to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Fluffy Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

  1. Beat the butter on a medium speed for 2 minutes with a whisk attachment, until smooth and fluffy. 
  2. Add in the salt and vanilla extract, and mix on low until fully incorporated.
  3. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream.
  4. Mix in the cooled caramel sauce and pasteurized egg whites on a low speed.
  5. Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated, then increase the speed to medium high and mix for an additional 2 minutes.
  6. The frosting should be super fluffy at this point! Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cake Decoration:

  1. Allow the cake to cool completed, then remove the flower nails from the cake.
  2. Use a straw or chopstick to poke holes about 1 1/2 inches apart from each other across the cake.
  3. Pour a majority of the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the cake, reserving about 1/3 cup to decorate with later.
  4. Use an offset spatula spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the caramel over the cake and into the holes.
  5. Spread an even layer of caramel buttercream on top of the cake, making swirls with an offset spatula or spoon.
  6. Drizzle the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the cake, and top with chocolate pearls or chocolate chips and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Notes

Making This Sheet Cake in Advance and Storage Tips:

  • Make your caramel ahead of time!! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
  • Make your sheet cake in advance and freeze it: This breaks the process up and make it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too, or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • In an airtight container, this cake can sit out at room temp for a day, in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Different Sized Sheet Pan:

You can also use this recipe to bake a 12x17 in sheet cake, but the bake time will be shorter! Bake for about 25 minutes at 325 degrees F.


Cupcakes:

This recipe can be used to make cupcakes. Fill your cupcake liners about half way and bake for about 18 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F oven. The yield varies based on pan and liner size, but one batch makes about 2 dozen cupcakes!

Nutrition Information

Yield

30

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 313Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 7gCholesterol 34mgSodium 349mgCarbohydrates 50gFiber 1gSugar 39gProtein 3g

23 thoughts on “Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

  1. Good Morning! How thick does the caramel sauce get once it is cooled? I have been looking for a good caramel sauce recipe that could also be used for dipping apples, etc. Unfortunately we have lost the recipe we always made growing up:( Thanks! I love reading the recipes and looking at the pictures on your blog!

    1. Hi Rachel,

      So sorry to hear that! This caramel does thicken as it cools, but never really firms up. I think the consistency would be great to dip apple slices into it. Hope that helps, happy baking!!

    1. Hi My-Lan,

      You can omit the instant coffee/instant espresso powder if you’re not a fan of the flavor. I like the depth of flavor it adds, but the recipe will still bake up great without it. Hope that helps, happy baking!

    1. Hi Amy,

      You can totally halve this recipe! If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use full fat yogurt or sour cream in place of the buttermilk this recipe calls for.

      Or if you want to make your own buttermilk, you can use whole milk plus a bit of vinegar or lemon juice! The ratio is 1 Tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice for each cup of whole milk. Hope that helps, happy baking!

  2. I can not get this caramel sauce, when I add the butter, a little at a time, the butter just separates from the sugar that just clumps into one ball and I can’t get it to incorporate. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi Kristen,

      The butter will melt on the surface of the sugar, but it should incorporate with a bit of stirring. Is your butter at room temperature?? If it’s cold, it can cause your caramelized sugar to harden!

  3. This is the first time I have ever made a cake that wasn’t in a box and let me tell you it was so fun to make. My entire family plus friends loved it and now my dad wants one for his birthday. I can’t wait to try out more of your recipes.

    1. Hi Kylie,

      So sorry for the delayed response! You can either do that, or just add a touch more salt to the caramel or frosting until you’re happy with it’s flavor. Hope that helps, happy baking!

  4. i was wondering if you don’t wanna make Carmel would your still be good if you get some from the store ? I’m just 12 but I love your recipes and my family loves eating the food 🙂 !

  5. Hi Chelsea! I think I did something wrong with my caramel. Once I removed it from the heat, it already appeared to be thickening up, so I was afraid to put it in the fridge. I just left it out at room temp to cool. Once my cake came out, I noticed that I could barely stir it. So, to salvage it, I poked holes in the warm cake and spread it over the top (instead of letting it cool). Hopefully i don’t regret that decision. I plan on trying the caramel in the frosting–we’ll see if it is too stiff. But I will definitely not drizzle on top. Any tips are appreciated!

    1. Hi Brandi,

      I think that as long as you can drizzle it onto the cake it should work out! It sounds like you may let the sugar caramelize a bit too long! I’d recommend letting it brown/melt for a shorter period of time next time you make it <3

  6. Hi Chelsea! My sister and I made the cake for Mother’s Day and it went over very well! Our family is going to add this to our rep of cakes we love. This was the first time we’d ever made caramel, and while we had to soften it with some boiling water so we could drizzle it when making the cake, the flavor was fantastic. We also loved how your buttercream recipe gave us the perfect amount for the cake! Thank you so much!!

  7. Hi, Chelsea! Thank you for the recipe. I am not a total novice when it comes to baking but am pretty inexperienced with cakes. I am trying to build my cake skills for my children’s birthday parties and am considering making this for my son’s second birthday party next month. I am having a hard time visualizing the presentation of the final product. I see in the instructions that you remove the cake and the flour nails from the pan, but then frost only the top. Is it supposed to go back in the pan for frosting, slicing, and serving (it looks like it’s in the pan in the picture at the top of this post)? Would it keep its shape to serve it as a sheet cake on a piece of cardboard (or other serving device) with the sides frosted as well as the top? My thought was to make the pokes and then chill the cake, trim the sides and add caramel and crumb coat, chill again, and then add final frosting coat. Do you think this would work well?

    As a separate question, I am really itching to try my hand at layered round cakes. I am concerned though that a 7-9 inch round layered cake would not be enough to feed a sizeable birthday party. How would you recommend a novice (as in, tiers probably aren’t going to bode well for me, also doing large numbers of layers) scales up to feed 30+ people? I guess I could make a second cake for serving that isn’t presented as nicely like at a wedding. I am wondering if you have any creative ideas to tackle this? Or is this simply the reason sheet cakes and not layered round cakes are typical fare of kids’ birthday parties?

    Thank you!

  8. OMG. I love love love your recipe for Caramel sauce!! I have just melted and thinned Kraft caramels in the past bc I’ve been too afraid to try and make it myself, but are right. It IS EASY and oh my, delish!! Thank you for posting. I am a Amazon Prime member so I going to go to Food Network and download that app and join your Food Network baking series. Congrats on that btw!!

Let me know what you think!