A light and subtly spiced zucchini layer cake with a caramel filling, frosted with cream cheese buttercream and topped with more caramel.
Last week my baby boy turn 1, and it was so bittersweet. It’s been a wonderful year watching James grow and he is such a delight! But I’m sad too as we say goodbye to the baby stage and move into toddlerhood. I going to miss my squishy little baby.
We kept birthday celebrations simple with just our family of four. We had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner followed by cake and champagne (for mom and dad).
I’d been dreaming up this caramel zucchini cake in my head all summer long and it seemed only fitting to make it for my August baby. I baked a three-layered six inch layer cake for us, and a smaller version for James.
I loved how this cake turned out. So delicious! And baby loved it too:
This 6-inch cake was a great size for our small celebration. Plenty for us to enjoy for a few days, but not so much that we had to throw any away. If you don’t have 6-inch cake pans you can by some online, here. Or you can bake the cake in 8-inch pans, just know you’ll end up with a much shorter cake.
There are three components to this cake— zucchini cake layers, homemade caramel sauce, and cream cheese buttercream frosting. It can seem a little time consuming, but if you plan ahead (see tip below!) it’s very simple and doable.
It’s a wonderful late summer dessert!
baking tip:How to Prep Cake Layers in Advance
If you plan ahead and bake cake layers in advance it it cane make the job of assembling a layer cake easier:
After the cake layers are baked let them cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days, or double wrap in plastic and store in the freezer for 1-2 months. Thaw frozen cake layers in their wrappings before frosting.
Zucchini Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 10 tablespoons (145 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups (275 grams) grated zucchini
For the caramel:
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 cups (455 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
- 1-3 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare 3 6-inch cake pans by greasing nonstick cooking spray and lining the bottoms with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the melted butter and sugar for about 1 minute until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add in the vanilla.
- Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk, and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Stir in the grated zucchini.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes back clean, or until the centers of the cake bounce back when gently pressed, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the caramel:
- Put the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium saucepan set over medium high heat. Stir with a spatula just until sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until it turns deep amber in color, about 8-10 minutes. Swirl pan as needed to promote even caramelization.
- Remove caramel from the heat and immediately whisk in the heavy cream (mixture will bubbly and steam). Return caramel to medium heat and cook until caramel is smooth, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and vanilla. Let cool to room temperature.
To make the cream cheese buttercream:
- Beat together the butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on medium high speed until light and creamy. Add the vanilla and enough milk/cream reach a spreadable consistency. Beat until smooth.
To assemble the cake:
- Separate out 1 cup of the cream cheese buttercream. Mix in approximately 1/4 cup of the prepared caramel (not hot), or enough to create a thin but still spreadable filling. It should not be so thin that it'll run down the sides of the cake.
- Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Spread 1/2 of caramel filling on top, leaving an approximate 1/2-inch border. Repeat with remaining cake layers and filling.
- Starting at the top and working your way down the sides, spread the cream cheese frosting all over the cake. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the fridge and pour the caramel sauce on top, using a spatula to gently push it over the edges. You may not need all of the caramel. If the caramel is too thick to pour, warm it in the microwave in 10 second intervals. It should not be hot when you pour it over the cake, or you'll melt the frosting.
- Store cake in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Make-ahead: Store cake layers in fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer (double-wrapped) for 1-2 months. Let thaw completely before assembling. Caramel sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Frosting can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- You can also bake this into a 2-layer 8-inch cake. Increase baking time to 30-35 minutes. For the caramel filling, combine 1/2 cup cream cheese frosting with approximately 2 tablespoons caramel.
Have you tried this recipe?