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Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

While I love a good layer cake, sheet cakes have been calling my name lately. That’s where this chocolate caramel poke cake comes in.

image of a chocolate caramel poke cake slice being held up to show it's caramel filling

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 🙂

How to Properly Line a Sheet Cake Pan

Before we dive into how to make this cake, let’s make sure we prepare properly!

To ensure your sheet cake easily pops out of your pan, I highly recommend lining it with parchment paper.

Another trick I love to use when I make sheet cakes is to use flower nails as heating cores.

These are usually used to pipe buttercream flowers, but they work great as heating cores too!

image of a quarter sheet pan with flower nails or heating cores being put into place before being filled with batter

Just flip them upside down and they’ll help conduct heat from the bottom of the pan into the center of the cake.

This helps the sheet cake bake up more evenly and quickly.

I ordered mine on Amazon and a pair of them was $6. They last forever! I’ve had mine for over five years now.

How to Make This Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake Recipe

To make sure this recipe turns out as amazing as possible, let’s walk through each step together! I’ve also included a video tutorial of the process below.

I figured it might be helpful to know what tools I use too, so I’ve shared a list below.

Not all of these are mandatory, but they make the process a lot easier.

If you don’t have all these things on hand, feel free to improvise and work with what you have.

Step 1: Make the Homemade Caramel

Make the caramel first so that it has time to cool before you need to use it.

I know that making caramel 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 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.

image of caramel sauce that's been made and is cooling in a glass bowl

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

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

Step 2: Bake the Chocolate Sheet Cake

Next, make the chocolate cake batter. Preheat oven to 325°F/162°C. Line a 9×13-inch (quarter sheet) pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

Place two flower nails in the center of the pan with the flat side resting flat against the cake pan.

image of a quarter sheet pan with flower nails or heating cores being put into place before being filled with batter

Make sure they are spaced a few inches apart and spray them thoroughly with non-stick spray.

Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan. Reposition the flower nails so that they’re evenly spaced across the pan.

Bake for 50-55 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through to help the cake bake evenly. Place the pan on a wire rack and let it cool fully in the pan.

If you don’t use heating cores, the cake will take 5-10 additional minutes to bake.

If you make this in advance, wrap and freeze the cake at this point. Take it out of the freezer about 20 minutes before you want to frost the cake.

Step 3: Make the Fluffy Caramel Buttercream

Next, we work on the delicious caramel buttercream frosting.

This recipe uses an American buttercream as a base, but it has an unconventional ingredient that gives it an incredible texture- egg whites. Or more specifically, pasteurized egg whites.

Egg whites are commonly used in other types of frosting. However, they’re hardly ever added to American buttercream.

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

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 that ingredient from the frosting.

However, if you have them, do yourself a favor and add them in! 🙂

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

By fluffing the frosting up, it allows you to add a thick layer on top of your sheet cake without it being overpoweringly sweet.

Step 4: Decorate the Poke Cake

Once the cake has cool completed, carefully flip it onto a wire rack and remove the flower nails from the cake.

Use a straw or chopstick to poke holes about 1 1/2 inches apart from each other across the entire top of the cake.

Pour a majority of the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the cake, reserving about 1/3 cup to decorate with later.

Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the caramel over the cake and into the holes.

Spread an even layer of caramel buttercream on top of the cake, making swirls with an offset spatula or spoon.

Drizzle the remaining caramel sauce over the top of the cake and top with chocolate pearls and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

Substitutions and Swaps – Chocolate Sheet Cake

This chocolate sheet cake uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have them all on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.

Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this cake recipe.

  • All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with all-purpose flour, but you can also use gluten free flour blend if needed.
  • Eggs – If you have an egg allergy, I recommend using an egg replacer like this in place of the eggs in this recipe.
  • Cocoa Powder – I like to use regular baking cocoa in this recipe, but you can also use Dutch-processed or black cocoa.
  • Buttermilk – You can use full fat yogurt, additional sour cream, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
  • Sour cream – You can use full fat yogurt, additional buttermilk, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
  • Vegetable Oil – Any flavorless oil would work great in this recipe, like canola or sunflower.

Substitutions and Swaps – Caramel Buttercream Frosting

  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place!
  • Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe too.
  • Vanilla Extract – Other extracts can also be used in place of the vanilla extract.
  • Pasteurized Egg Whites – This ingredient makes the frosting extra fluffy and smooth, but can be omitted if needed.

Key Tip for Making This Caramel: Add the Sugar Gradually

Whenever I make homemade caramel, melting down the sugar can be a little tricky.

I highly recommend adding 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!!

image of granulated sugar gradually being added into a pot to make homemade caramel sauce

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 hardened sugar in your caramel.

Tips for Making the Best Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake:

  • Line your sheet pan with parchment paper to easily remove your cake once it’s baked.
  • Use flower nails to help your sheet cake bake more evenly and quickly.
  • Mix your batter until it’s just combined. Over-mixing your batter can make your sheet cake denser and less tender.
  • Properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure the dry ingredients.
  • This recipe can be used to make about 3 dozen cupcakes. Fill your cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 18-20 minutes in a preheated 350 F/175 C oven.
  • You can also use this recipe to bake a 12×17-inch (half sheet) cake, but the bake time will be shorter. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 325 F/ 162 C.
  • If you want to make a chocolate layer cake, I recommend using my chocolate layer cake recipe to make 3, 8-inch cake layers.

Making This Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake in Advance & Storage Tips

This cake is made with a few different components, but they can be made in stages to break up the work and make it more manageable.

I like to make the caramel ahead of time. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

You can also make the frosting ahead of time, 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.

This sheet cake can also be made in advance and frozen for up to a month if wrapped properly (plastic wrap and foil).

Once this cake is made, it 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.

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you make this chocolate caramel poke cake recipe, I’d love to hear what you think of it! Please leave a rating and comment below.

Or if you share your creations on social media, be sure to tag me @chelsweets so I can see your delicious creations!

Other Post You Might Like:

Yield: 30

Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake

image of a chocolate caramel poke cake slice being held up to show it's caramel filling

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 50 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes

Ingredients

Homemade Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature (85g)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature (60g)
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt (2g)

Chocolate Sheet Cake:

  • 3 cup all-purpose flour (375g)
  • 2 3/4 cup granulated sugar (550g)
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa powder (50g)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (6g)
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda (18g)
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt (2g)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water (360g)
  • 1 Tbsp instant espresso or coffee (6g)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (240g)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (170g)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (128g)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature (168g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4g)

Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (226g)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (4g)
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt (1g)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (375g)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature (60g)
  • 1/3 cup caramel sauce - recipe above
  • 1 Tbsp pasteurized egg whites - optional (15g)

Decorations and Tools:

Instructions

Homemade Caramel Sauce:

  1. Make the caramel first, because it needs time to cool and thicken before it's used to fill and drizzle over the cupcakes. Making caramel from scratch might seem a little intimidating, but I promise it's easier than you'd think!
  2. Turn the stove to a medium heat and place a saucepan over the element.
  3. Once the saucepan has warmed up, pour in 1 cup sugar gradually, adding 1/4 cup at a time. Wait until the sugar is mostly liquified, then add in the next bit of sugar. As the sugar melts it will slowly deepen in color. I try to stir it as little as possible, and let the heat melt it down. If you feel like the sugar is burning, remove the pan from the element and turn down the heat a bit.
  4. Stir as needed until the sugar is fully dissolved and is an amber color. Turn off the heat.
  5. Slowly mix in 6 Tbsp of butter, 2 Tbsp at a time. Stir until each addition of butter is fully incorporated before adding the next bit. Then stir in 1/4 cup of heavy cream and 1/4 tsp salt. The mixture will be very thin but will thicken as it cools.
  6. Pour the caramel into a separate container and set aside to cool.

Chocolate Sheet Cake:

  1. Next, make the chocolate cake batter. Preheat oven to 325°F/162°C. Line a 9x13-inch (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 spaced a few inches apart and spray them thoroughly with non-stick spray.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk 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 together. Set aside.
  4. In a separate, large bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups hot water and 1 Tbsp instant coffee or espresso powder. You can also use 1 1/2 cups of strong, hot coffee.
  5. Add 1 cup buttermilk, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, 3 large eggs, and 1 tsp vanilla into the coffee mixture and whisk together until smooth.
  6. Add half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk together until just combined.
  7. Pour in the rest of the dry ingredients and whisk again until just combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan. Reposition the flower nails so that they’re evenly spaced across the pan.
  9. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through to help the cake bake evenly.
  10. Place the pan on a wire rack and let it cool fully in the pan.

Fluffy Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

  1. While the cake bakes and cools, make the caramel buttercream frosting.
  2. Beat 1 cup of butter on a medium speed for 2 minutes with a whisk attachment until smooth and fluffy. It should become lighter in color.
  3. Add in 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1/4 tsp of salt. Mix on low until combined.
  4. Slowly mix in 3 cups of powdered sugar on a low speed. Add in 1/4 cup of heavy cream halfway through to make the frosting easier to mix.
  5. Mix in 1/3 cup of cooled caramel sauce and 1 Tbsp of pasteurized egg whites (optional) on a low speed.
  6. Beat on low until the ingredients are combined, then increase the speed to medium high and mix for an additional 2 minutes.
  7. The frosting should be super fluffy at this point! Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Chocolate Caramel Poke Cake Decoration:

  1. Once the cake has cool completed, carefully flip it onto a wire rack and 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 entire top of the cake. You can also the the end of a wooden spoon.
  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 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 and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

Notes

Making This Chocolate Sheet Cake in Advance and Storage Tips:

This cake is made with a few different components, but they can be made in stages to break up the work and make it more manageable.

I like to make the caramel ahead of time. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

You can also make the frosting ahead of time, 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.

This sheet cake can also be made in advance and frozen for up to a month if wrapped properly (plastic wrap and foil).

Once this cake is made, it 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 (half sheet) cake, but the bake time will be shorter! Bake for about 25 minutes at 325°F/162°C.

Cupcakes:

This recipe can also be used to make cupcakes. Fill your cupcake liners about 3/4 full and bake for 18-20 minutes in a preheated 350°F/175°C oven. The yield varies based on the size of you muffin pan and liners, but one batch should make about 3 dozen cupcakes!

Nutrition Information

Yield

30

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 359Total Fat 17gSaturated Fat 8gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 9gCholesterol 49mgSodium 347mgCarbohydrates 49gFiber 0gSugar 39gProtein 3g

For a trip down memory lane, here are the original pictures I took for this recipe back in 2018.

image of a chocolate caramel poke cake slice being held up to show it's caramel filling
image of slices of chocolate caramel poke sheet cake stacked on a plate
image of pieces of chocolate caramel poke cake stacked on a plate

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