I know I spent most of January complaining about what an awful month it is. And I still feel that way. But, there is one bright spot in that gray and dreary page of the calendar and that is my birthday! As most long time readers know, I always enjoy baking my own birthday cake. Last year I didn’t have time and then never got around to it. This year I almost passed it up again for no particularly compelling reason, but Caroline absolutely insisted we bake a cake together! I can never resist an opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with her, so we went straight to work.

Most years it takes me ages to narrow down the perfect combination of cake, filling and frosting, but once the idea of this cake entered my mind, I was all set. The little girl who is always trying to steal sips of my iced coffee was pretty excited about it too.

Though this may look fancy and complicated, I did my best to simplify things. The cake layers are caramel with a touch of espresso. I made a single batch of vanilla buttercream but divided it into three portions – part flavored with espresso, part with caramel and some left plain. This helped incorporate all of the flavors I wanted and also helped make the ombre effect I was hoping for in the frosting.

The finished product was even better than I had imagined and a perfect celebratory treat to welcome the next year. I am excited to see what it has in store!


For the cake: 

  • ½ cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp. espresso powder dissolved in 1 tbsp. hot water
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar

For the filling/frosting: 

  • 1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. espresso powder dissolved in 1 tbsp. hot water

To finish: 


  • 01

    To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease and flour the edges of two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix in each addition only just until incorporated. Blend in the espresso mixture.

  • 02

    In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar, then add to the bowl with the batter and mix just until incorporated. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake the cakes just until set and golden brown on top, rotating halfway through the baking time, about 32-35 minutes total. Remove to a wire rack and let cool at least 20-30 minutes before removing from the pans and cooling completely.

  • 03

    To make the filling and frosting, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod (if using) into the bowl and add in the salt.  Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the heavy cream and vanilla on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4-5 minutes.

  • 04

    Divide the frosting into three separate portions (approximately 2/5, 2/5, and 1/5 if you want to be really crazy about it.) Leave one of the larger portions plain vanilla. To the second large portion, add the espresso mixture and stir in until well blended with a spatula. To the smaller portion, add 1-2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce and stir until well blended.

  • 05

    To assemble the cake, level both cake rounds with a sharp serrated knife. Place one of the rounds on an 8-inch cake board. Spread a few tablespoons of the caramel sauce over the bottom layer, then top with a layer of the coffee buttercream for the filling. Place the remaining cake layer on top of the filling. Use a small amount of the vanilla buttercream to make a crumb coat, then chill the cake for at least 30 minutes.

  • 06

    Using a spatula (or pastry bags fitted with large plain tips), make a ring of the coffee buttercream around the bottom third of the circumference of the cake. Make a ring of the caramel buttercream around the middle third of the cake, and a ring of the vanilla buttercream around the top third. Cover the top of the cake in vanilla frosting as well. Use an offset spatula to smooth the frosting over the top and around the sides of the cake, ideally with a rotating cake stand. Once frosted, chill for 30 minutes. Before serving, drizzle with a generous layer of caramel sauce.

  • 07


    • The recipe for the caramel sauce will make more than you need for this cake, but when has extra caramel ever been a bad thing? Never, that’s when.
    • This cake stand has completely upped my cake frosting game, along with this super helpful series from Zoe Bakes.


  • This looks just gorgeous! I love how the colour of the cake looks just like a swirly latte. Can’t wait to have a littleun to bake with too!

  • Helena

    Annie, this looks and sounds perfect! My birthday is still months away (I’m an October gal), but I already have my birthday cake. Thank’s! :-)

  • annieseats

    Thank you so much! That is exactly what I was going for so I was pretty excited that it actually turned out. Sometimes imagination and actual execution aren’t quite the same!

  • Sammie

    Happy Birthday!! This cake looks so beautiful and sounds amazing. Hopefully when I try the recipe it’ll turn out as well as yours.

  • Whoa, this is beyond gorgeous Annie!! I definitely need to save this for a special occasion!

  • Such a pretty cake. Love the ombre frosting too

  • Angela

    Beautiful cake! I love cooking with my daughter too. The minute she sees me in the kitchen she always yells, “I want to help!”. Love it. Hope you had a great birthday.

  • Meg Quinn

    Oh WOW this is a stunning cake. I love coffee flavored cakes so much! I have no special occasions coming up but I’m so taken with it that I might have to turn Saturday into a holiday just to make it.

  • Liz N.

    Just stunning! That ombre effect is awesome. Thank you for pics of the perfectly cake sliced. I know you don’t do that very often so it’s such a treat to see the inside. Your frosting skills are amazing. I’ve watched that video from Zoe Bakes dozens of times and it is one of the best one there. BTW, I have some canvas prints coming to hang in my new kitchen! I’ll share pics with you when they get hung!!

  • Angela

    Your note. I am dying. This cake is beautiful. Happy belated birthday, Annie! I hope your new year is filled with joy, peace, and a lot of caramel.

  • annieseats

    Thanks Rochelle!

  • annieseats

    Thank you Katrina!

  • Tricia Loy Kritikos

    Kate:”That’s a lot of names for just one cake!”

  • Larisa

    yum! my birthday is coming up, and this just made the top of the list, though mine might need to be a caramel mocha cake!

  • this is beautiful and I love the espresso addition the caramel cake. Perfect!

  • Happy Birthday, Annie! I hope it’s/was fabulous!

  • Shaar

    Hi Annie, love the look & flavours of your cake so much I’m going to make it, but I’m in the UK & don’t know how the light brown sugar is sold, could you either give me the package size so I can half it or the actual cup/oz amount used for the cake please? Thank you x

  • I never make a cake for my birthday — or any other dessert but this might just be the exception. It looks wonderful and I can imagine it tastes even better. I know how you feel about cold Indiana weather — that’s why we leave as soon as we can and come back when the daffodils are blooming :-)

  • annieseats

    Brown sugar comes in larger quantities than needed for this recipe. You can Google to find a conversion from US to metric measurements for different ingredients.

  • wow! this cake looks absolutely insane!

  • What a beautiful cake to celebrate your birthday!!! Happy Birthday!! xo

  • Looks so delicious! I’m definitely pinning this, and I want to try it sometimes!

  • Shaar

    Thank you for replying so quickly but I don’t think you have understood my query. Your recipe calls for “½ packed light brown sugar”, half of what please????

  • Looks delicious Annie!

  • annieseats

    Oh, oops! Yeah, that was just a typo. It’s 1/2 cup. Fixed now.

  • SecretsofaYoungWife

    This cake is absolutely beautiful! I would love to celebrate with a cake as lovely as this. Happy Birthday!

  • Kat

    Oh Annie, I had planned to make a Kahlua cheesecake the weekend just gone and then you had to go and post this. I baked it on Saturday and it was incredible. Thank you for changing my plans in such a wonderful way!

    A helpful hint to anyone else out there who want to make this – don’t be lazy and sub instant coffee for espresso powder, as I’ve always done in the past. The espresso powder REALLY makes a difference and I think it’s a significant factor in why this is the nicest coffee-flavoured thing I’ve ever made.

  • annieseats

    Yay! I am so happy to hear you enjoyed it! And I totally agree, espresso powder is the way to go for coffee-flavored things.

  • Kate Herrold

    Annie, you posted this at just the right time. I’ve been trying to decide what to make for myself for my birthday tomorrow and this is it! I’ll be sure to tag you in a picture on Instagram.

    My daughter is 7 months old and while I’m certainly not wishing the time away, I can’t wait until I can share with her the joy that I find in the kitchen!

  • Amber

    The cake looks absolutely stunning, Annie! Happy belated birthday! I don’t think I could ever accomplish the ombre effect like you did (it makes it look just like a latte!), but I may have to make this cake for my birthday as well!

  • My birthday is in February and I will DEFINTIELY be making my own cake! I can’t entrust that task to anyone else. This cake is now officially a contender!!

  • Cady (Feast All Week)

    Vanilla? Check. Caramel? Check. Espresso? Check. This cake may be THE cake.

    It is so nice not only to see three of my favorite flavors in a cake sans chocolate, but also I have really been missing non-salted caramel lately. Its not that salted caramel isn’t amazing, just that it is kind of everywhere. I cannot wait to try making your caramel sauce recipe!

  • Francesca @ Love.Bake.Read

    This here is incredible. Oh my word! I adore vanilla lattes and caramel macchiatos, so this pretty much speaks straight to my heart. I missed making a cake for my birthday a few months ago, so maybe the time is now?! :)

  • Kat

    I made it again tonight for a friend’s birthday (yes, it really is that good) and I can’t seem to get the caramel sauce on the top to look as good as yours! Should it still be slightly warm? When mine runs down the sides ends up looking a bit thick and gloopy.

  • annieseats

    No, it shouldn’t be warm – you would run the risk of it melting the frosting. Mine was at room temperature when I used it. Glad you enjoyed it anyway!

  • GreenFeet88

    I just made this cake for my husbands 28th birthday. AMAZING! I poured the caramel sauce when it was too hot and it caused the buttery frosting to melt. The taste was amazing and every single person (even the non-cake-lovers) were obsessed. So tasty and moist!

  • Adrianne M. Troia

    Made this cake for my dad’s birthday (last year we had your brownie torte cake! and for my mother-in-laws birthday we did the vanilla cherry cake…. you see a trend) and it was FABULOUS! The cake was soooo tender, light, and moist, typical of those with buttermilk — and not too sweet or coffee-y.
    So, when a week later I still had buttermilk in the fridge and nothing to use it for, I re-did this recipe as cupcakes. Baked to perfection in 18 minutes, and I made a half recipe of the frosting with the leftover salted caramel sauce (which also blew my mind. So! Easy!). Just had one for breakfast. Who says you can’t eat your latte? This may be my go-to cake recipe. I’m sometimes a little disappointed by doing a homemade cake, when often boxed cake mix is so much better in moistness and texture, but this one is SPOT ON.

  • annieseats

    Thank you so much for the great feedback! I’m so happy to hear you enjoy this so well.

  • Stefanie

    Hi, I plan on making this beautiful cake over the weekend. I want to make it Saturday to serve Sunday and the instructions mention chilling in fridge thirty minutes before adding the caramel just before serving. Should I just store in fridge overnight and then apply caramel before serving? Also, if we do not eat the entire cake, how well does the cake hold up with the caramel applied? Are leftovers best stored in fridge? Thank you so much for a beautiful recipe!

  • Annie

    Yes, I think adding the caramel just before serving is best. The leftovers can be stored in the fridge and will be just fine after the caramel is applied. Enjoy!

  • Stefanie

    Excellent, thank you for your reply..and one more question, is this cake best served chilled or would you recommend bringing to room temp? Many thanks!

  • Annie

    I usually let cakes come to room temp for about 30 minutes before serving.

  • Jackie

    Hi, I was just about to make this cake, but was confused about the amount of butter to add. It says 1/2 cup (4 oz.). I think 1/2 cup is 8 oz. Should it be 1/2 cup or 4 oz? Thank you for the recipe! I’m excited to try it!

  • Annie

    You may be confusing liquid and weight measures. 1/2 cup of butter =1 stick = 8 tbsp = 4 oz.

    But actually, 1 liquid cup is 8 oz. so 1/2 liquid cup is 4 oz.

    Either way, enjoy!

  • Jackie

    Oh I see my mistake in reading the label wrong. Thanks for the quick reply!