Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel layer cake with vanilla bean buttercream

chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel layer cake with vanilla bean buttercream

Remember when I said that homemade vegan caramel sauce was “perfect for drizzling on a cake”, perhaps “a certain cake which you may be seeing in the future”?

Yeah. Well. Here you are.

January is a big birthday month for our family, given that both my parents and I are January babies. So yes, by the time the 22nd rolled around, I’d already made two worthy birthday cakes for my dad and I, and we were all fat and happy from eating so much cake in such a short time. But I still wanted to make a special cake for my mother’s birthday.

Because, as it turns out, my mom is actually fifty years old this year. Crazy, right?

So obviously I had to make a ginormous, over-the-top cake worthy of such a huge birthday. Because, as I took to reminding my mom, you only turn fifty once. You only get to celebrate your half-century of successful life once. Or, I don’t know, I can’t stop you from celebrating it twice, but most normal people only have one fiftieth birthday.

But how to make a cake befitting such an occasion? For inspiration, I turned to Katherine Sabbath, ever the wise cake-baker, and scrolled through her feed until I found something I foolishly thought I could replicate. This cake, featuring “double chocolate brownie filled with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups & cookie dough fudge, decorated in a rustic style vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream & topped with homemade salted caramel, toffee shards, macadamia crumble & caramel meringue kisses”, became the basis for the cake you see here. 

I see no resemblance.

Of course, not being a cake-making genius, I had to simplify the concept a little bit. I used devil’s food cake instead of brownie and filled each layer with peanut butter cup-stuffed peanut butter cookie dough, then frosted the whole shebang with a basic vanilla bean buttercream, drizzled it with a shit-ton of caramel, and topped with crunchy caramel shards and more peanut butter cups. A little more approachable than a tiered, topping-overloaded mega cake, I think.

I definitely have no problem approaching this cake for another slice.

Making this cake was a little stressful, a little more so than making, say, a loaf cake. Maybe it was because I now apparently have issues making chocolate cake. Or maybe because my mom’s birthday coincided with exam week, and god knows baking and AP biology studying do not work well together (don’t worry—I passed with flying colors *pats self on back*). But the end result? SO SO worth it.

Now obsessed with caramel drip cakes.

The peanut butter filling here is like a thick layer of rich, buttery fudge between the dense, intensely chocolaty devil’s food cake. The chunks of homemade peanut butter cups (I used this recipe) don’t hurt either. The crunchy (and, I should warn you, extremely sharp) caramel shards provide welcome textural contrast, as does the super gooey caramel sauce.

I had a little trouble deciding how to decorate the top of the cake, as you can see.

But the most important thing? My mom loved it.

Here’s the recipe.


Chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel layer cake with vanilla bean buttercream


Chocolate cake

Peanut butter cup cookie dough

84 grams • vegan butter, room temperature • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

192 grams • peanut butter • 3/4 cup

75 grams • granulated sugar • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

82 grams • light brown sugar • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

15 grams • nondairy milk • 1 tablespoon

153 grams • all-purpose flour • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons

2 grams • salt • 1/4 teaspoon

4 grams • vanilla extract • 1 teaspoon

12 vegan peanut butter cups, roughly chopped

Vanilla bean buttercream

336 grams • vegan butter, room temperature • 1 1/2 cups

540 grams • powdered sugar • 4 1/2 cups

60 grams • nondairy milk • 1/4 cup

12 grams • vanilla bean paste • 1 tablespoon

3 grams • salt • 1/2 teaspoon

Caramel shards

200 grams • granulated sugar • 1 cup

60 grams • water • 1/4 cup


1 recipe caramel sauce


First, bake the cake layers. Bake according to the recipe here, omitting the raspberry extract. Let cool completely before using.

To make peanut butter cookie dough, start by placing vegan butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer; beat until smooth. Add granulated sugar and light brown sugar and cream until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add milk, flour, salt, and vanilla and mix until the dough comes together. Fold in chopped peanut butter cups.

Divide dough between two 6-inch round baking pans, both lined with parchment. Press dough into the bottom of each pan. Freeze until firm.

To make the frosting, start by placing vegan butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer and beating until smooth. With mixer on low speed, spoon in powdered sugar a little bit at a time. Then slowly pour in milk and mix until incorporated. Add vanilla bean paste and salt. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

To make caramel shards, stir water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Don’t boil until all the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook until it reaches a rich golden color. Remove from heat and pour on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Let cool completely, then break into pieces.

Finally, assemble your cake. Remove one cookie dough layer from the baking pan and place on top of one of the cake layers. Frost with a thin layer of vanilla bean buttercream, then top with another cake layer. Repeat with the other cookie dough layer and remaining cake layer so you have a three-layer cake. Frost the exterior with vanilla bean frosting. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Decorate with caramel shards and peanut butter cups.


Just LOOK at that beast.

For more ginormous layer cakes, check out the links below.

Momofuku-inspired carrot cake. You’ve never seen such over-the-top carrot cake.

Brooklyn blackout cake. Four giant layers of awesomeness.

Meyer lemon crepe cake. If you’ve ever wanted to make a fifteen-layer cake, then here you go.


  1. Wow, June! This cake is all kinds of insane! I love the shards on top, and the fact that it's so tall! I think I'd have trouble eating a whole slice of this. Would definitely be worth it, I imagine. Happy birthday to your mom. :)

  2. This cake is scrumptious! I love love caramel and peanut butter together!! Also, pics are great...... I'm mouthwatering like crazy right now.......

    1. Thank you Marcela! Glad you like the photos :)

  3. Wow! I am loving the caramel shards, I might have to borrow that idea! I recently made a caramel sauce for a recipe -- it's the best thing ever. You've inspired me to get in gear with a caramel cake! Glad your mom loved it :). Happy belated birthday to you and your family!

    1. Honestly, you can't go wrong by just drizzling a whole bunch of caramel on top of a cake. And sticking some caramel shards on there too. Glad you like the cake Olivia! :)