Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake

This Turtle Chocolate Cake is made with super moist chocolate cake, caramel sauce, chopped pecans and caramel buttercream! It’s like turtle candies in cake form and it’s heavenly!

slice of turtle layer cake and full cake

Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake

This cake has so much going for it. Not only is it made with my favorite Best Chocolate Cake recipe as the base, but it’s full of caramel, chocolate and pecans. What’s not to love?!

If you aren’t familiar with turtle candies, then you might be wondering what in the world a turtle cake is. Surely it has nothing to do with the animal? And you’re right! Turtle candies are actually made to look like the shape of a turtle, hence the name. Pecans are used to kind of look like the little legs and caramel sauce and chocolate make up the body of the turtle. It’s a delicious candy and just might be even better in cake form.

I originally shared a different version of this cake about 5 years ago. While I loved that cake, more people than I’d like had trouble with the caramel sauce and buttercream. So I’m finally sharing an updated version where everything is a little more simplified. Plus, there’s a video this time where I actually show you just how to make the cake! Yay!

slice of cake with jar of caramel in backgroundoverhead of turtle chocolate cake with swirled frosting on top

What’s in a Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake?

  • Moist Chocolate Cake – As I mentioned before, this chocolate cake is my very favorite one. It’s moist for days and could not be more simple to put together. You really just combine your dry ingredients, add your wet ingredients and then bake it! Such a simple cake with amazing results – it doesn’t get any better!
  • Caramel Sauce – The previous version of this recipe used a dry method style caramel sauce, which can be tricky and caused people too many headaches. This one uses my newer caramel sauce, which is a wet method sauce. It’s much more straight forward and works perfectly in this cake.
  • Caramel Buttercream – A classic American-style buttercream with some caramel sauce added it. The main thing with the buttercream is that you want to add enough caramel sauce to it that you get that nice caramel flavor, but not so much that you thin out the frosting a bunch and end up with a frosting that won’t stay in place or hold your cake together.
  • Chocolate Ganache – Because there’s no such thing as too much chocolate. Plus, I love the look of drip cakes.
  • Pecans – An essential part of a Turtle Cake and adds a lovely little crunch. I’m always a fan of toasting pecans when adding them to baked goods. It brings out their flavor and softens them a bit.

slice of turtle chocolate cake with bite takenfull turtle chocolate cake on cake stand

How to make Turtle Chocolate Cake

First up is to make the caramel sauce. It’s made right on the stove and is pretty straightforward. It can actually be made ahead too, which is great. Make the caramel sauce and let it cool to room temperature. If you make it ahead, you can definitely refrigerate it, but I do recommend having it at room temperature when you make the frosting, just so that you know the consistency of the frosting is right. If you use cold caramel, the frosting will seem thicker and then actually thin out as the caramel warms up, which could impact the stability of your cake.

Next, you’ll make the cake layers. I mentioned before just how easy the cake batter is to put together, so that’s a big win. Make those layers and let them cool. This cake is so moist and lovely, you can definitely make it the day before you’re layering the cake. I actually do that most of the time and it works great.

When you’re ready to build the cake, make the caramel buttercream. You’ll beat your butter until smooth, slowly add the powdered sugar and caramel sauce, plus a little salt if you like, and you’re ready to go. As I mentioned before, you just want to pay attention to the consistency of the frosting. Too thin and your cake will end up with bulges between the cake layers where the frosting and caramel sauce don’t stay put. No fun.

From there, you’ll build your cake. Between the cake layers is a layer of caramel buttercream that’s topped with caramel sauce and chopped pecans. You’ve got three layers of cake and two filling layers. After it’s all built, put a quick crumb coat on the cake and let it set up in the fridge or freezer for 30 minutes to an hour. With all that yummy filling in between the cake layers, it’s just nice to let it set a bit before frosting the outside to ensure that things don’t shift around.

Now you’re ready to frost the outside of the cake and add the decor. Drizzle some chocolate ganache around the edges and spread it on top, pipe some buttercream swirls, drizzle on a little more caramel sauce (because there’s never too much caramel) and then add a few pecans. What a masterpiece! Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it. I generally like to serve cake at room temperature, but with the caramel sauce, this one also does well when it’s still a little chilled. I don’t love super cold cake, so I would let it sit out at least a bit before serving. The flavors and textures are just better that way.

If you’re looking for an impressive dessert to serve for an occasion or the holidays, this is it! The flavors and textures are amazing, the cake is super moist and despite looking hard, the parts are all fairly simple to make. It just takes a little time. Fortunately you could do it over a few days, if you wanted. I hope you enjoy it!

slice of turtle chocolate caketurtle chocolate cake on stand closeup

More Great Turtle Inspired Recipes:

Turtle Cheesecake
Chocolate Turtle Poke Cake
Turtle Chocolate Cookie Cups
Turtle Brownie Cheesecake
Chocolate Turtle Cupcakes

Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake Video Tutorial

Read Transcript

For the original Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake recipe, download the PDF.

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turtle chocolate cake on stand closeup

Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake

  • Author: Life, Love and Sugar
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 53 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 38 minutes
  • Yield: 12-14 Slices
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American


Turtle Chocolate Layer Cake is a moist chocolate cake filled with caramel buttercream, pecans & chocolate ganache. It’s delicious and the perfect celebration cake!


Caramel Sauce

  • 2 cups (414g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (112g) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (240ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt

Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups (260g) all purpose flour
  • 2 cups (414g) sugar
  • 3/4 cup (85g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (240ml) milk
  • 1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup (240ml) hot water

Caramel Buttercream

  • 2 1/2 cups (560g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 10 cups (1150g) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup – 3/4 cup caramel sauce, above
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Chocolate Ganache

  • 6 oz (1 cup | 169g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (180ml) heavy whipping cream


To make the caramel sauce:

1. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a medium to large saucier pan. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the butter and let it melt
2. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Stop whisking and don’t whisk at all during this part to help avoid crystallization. Allow to boil until the mixture turns a deep golden copper color, about 15-20 minutes, maybe longer depending on your stove. Keep an eye on it, but do not stir. If needed, you can occasionally tip the pan from side to side to help things cook evenly.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add in the heavy whipping cream in a slow, steady stream. The caramel will bubbly up quite a bit, so be careful with this step. Whisk quickly and well as you add the cream, whisking until well combined.
4. Add the vanilla extract and half a teaspoon of salt and whisk to combine. Add additional salt to your desired saltiness.
5. Set the caramel sauce in the fridge to cool. It will be fairly thin, but will thicken as it cools. You can make this caramel sauce up to a week or so head, if you like.

To make the chocolate cake layers:

6. Prepare three 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom, and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 300°F (148°C).
7. Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl and whisk together.
8. Add eggs, milk and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix well.
9. Add boiling water and vanilla extract and mix well.
10. Divide batter evenly between cakes pans and bake for 30-33 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.
11. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely.

To make the caramel buttercream:

12. Make the buttercream while cakes cool. Add the butter to a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth.
13. Slowly add about half of the powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
14. Add about 1/2 a cup of caramel sauce and mix until well combined and smooth.
15. Slowly add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
16. Add additional caramel sauce to achieve the right flavor and consistency of frosting. You don’t want to thin out the frosting too much or it won’t hold your cake together well.
17. Add salt to taste.

To build the cake:

18. Once the cakes are cool and the frosting is ready, remove the cake domes from the tops of the cakes with a large serrated knife. See my tips on how to level a cake and how to stack a cake.
19. Place first layer of cake on cake plate. Spread about 2/3 cup of frosting on top in an even layer.
20. Pipe a dam around the edge of the cake, on top of the frosting. This is help hold your caramel sauce in place (and is why you don’t want your frosting to be too thin – you want it to hold in place well).
21. Add about 1/2 cup of caramel sauce and gently spread into an even layer. The caramel sauce is easiest to work with when at room temperature, but should be workable when cold as well.
22. Spread about 1/4 cup of chopped pecans evenly over the caramel sauce and level out the frosting dam, if needed, so that everything is level.
23. Add the second layer of cake and add another layer of frosting, caramel and chopped pecans.
24. Add the final layer of cake on top and then add a thin crumb coat to the cake.
25. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes to an hour so that everything firms up a bit, which will help keep everything in place while you frost the cake.
26. Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining caramel frosting. Feel free to use my tutorial for frosting a smooth cake.

To decorate the cake:

22. To make the chocolate ganache, add the chocolate chips to a medium sized bowl (see my tips on making chocolate ganache).
23. Heat the heavy whipping cream just until it begins to boil, then pour it over the chocolate chips. Allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes, then whisk until smooth.
24. Drizzle the chocolate ganache around the edge of the cake, then pour the remainder of the ganache on top of the cake and spread evenly. I like to use a squeeze bottle for drizzling around the edges. See my tips on making a chocolate drip cake.
25. Allow the ganache to firm up a bit, then pipe the remainder of the frosting around the top edge of the cake. You can also finish it off with a drizzle of caramel sauce and some chopped pecans.
26. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Cake is best when stored well covered and eaten within 3-4 days.

Keywords: chocolate cake, turtle cake, celebration cake, caramel, chocolate ganache, pecans dessert


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Recipe rating

  1. Lael

    Hello Lindsay!

    I am going to make this cake for Thanksgiving. I have made it before and it has always gotten rave reviews. I couldn’t find my printed recipe from 2017, but after some searching I finally found it. I noticed that you changed the picture and recipe a bit. From the specified cocoa to use, from buttermilk to just milk, adding vanilla to the caramel, and using considerably more powdered sugar, from 4 cups to 10 cups. I found that the original recipe made more than enough frosting as it was.

    All that said, thank you for a wonderful cake recipe! I think I will stick with the 2017 version, as I know exactly what to expect from it.

    1. Lindsay

      Glad you were able to find it. I’ve also included a downloadable PDF of the original linked just above the recipe card, if you ever need it. I did change the recipe. Sadly it had a number of not so great reviews. Often those that have bad experiences are most likely to comment, which left me feeling as though it might need to be adjusted. That said, part of the reason for the additional powdered sugar is that the original cake was a “naked” cake, therefore it used far less frosting. This one is fully frosted. Glad you enjoy the original! Happy Thanksgiving!

      1. Imaan

        I love this recipe!
        Quick question, what is the approximated height of this cake?
        I only get 2, 8 inch cakes… I’m not sure if I’m overfilling the tins. The height ends up being about 4 inches.

      2. Lindsay

        I use my food scale to divide the batter evenly between 3 pans. You could use two or three pans. But the cake should be about 4 inches tall, so that sounds right.

  2. Joyce Reece

    It takes awhile to make but so worth it. I make my own birthday cakes since I know they’ll be good. And this was a great choice! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Christina

    Hi is there an alternative to the American Buttercream? I was thinking of a Frosting with cream cheese…

  4. Brenda Milcetic

    Hi Lindsay,
    Sent an email a few days ago….wondering if I can make ganache using chopped chocolate instead of baking chips? Thank you

  5. Brenda Milcetic

    Hi Lindsay. Looking to make this cake for my 59th birthday. In making the chocolate ganache can I use chopped semi-sweet chocolate in lieu of chocolate chips? If so, do in use the same measurement ? Thanks Lindsay,

    God Bless,

  6. janet Seath

    I made your turtle chocolate layer cake,it turned out amazing and tastes so good.
    Your video was so easy to follow.
    Well done xx

    A Happy New Year from Bonnie Scotland.

  7. Renee

    In the caramel sauce you ask for 2 cups of sugar and have it weighing 2414g ?? Do you mean 414g? Otherwise that’s a LOT of sugar

  8. Judi

    What a beautiful cake, Lindsay. I have just one question. Did you mean to put 300 degrees F in the directions? I am currently making the cake under the current directions and it’s still relatively soupy at 33 minutes at 300 degrees.

    1. Lindsay

      Yes, it’s correct. I use this cake in many places on my site, including my best chocolate cake. It’s a slow bake cake but it sounds like it’s still off somehow if it’s not really baking. I’d double check the amounts of ingredients you used.

  9. Teri Giese

    Although I am VERY knew to the blogging world, have already felt the love, respect and family feel this group has. So appreciative to have discovered this book of the internet. Blessed to have followed Joan since only March, and enjoyed her recipes, more importantly the smile.Went thru a series of rough times since March. My new “family”has inspired me in the kitchen and the outpouring of love towards Joan and her family has inspired me in my heart. God bless all and comfort you all at this time. Treasure how fortunate you were to know such a huge presence We will miss her,but we will keep that presence alive through her recipes. Made a board on Pinterest. The best of “chocolate”.For Joan. HUGS!!!

  10. Aimee @ ShugarySweets

    Big hug to you Lindsay! I can’t wait to see you next week here in Chicago. Looks like we’ll be having nice weather too 🙂 Joan would have loved this cake!

  11. Tonia from TheGunnySack

    So many great memories! I’m very sorry for your loss and I hope you can enjoy your trip without her because you know that is what she would’ve wanted you to do! And Joan would’ve loved this cake!

  12. Michelle @ My California Kitchen

    I’m so sorry for your loss. This beautiful cake and this lovely post is such a heartwarming tribute to your friend.

  13. Danae @ Recipe Runner

    This is a beautiful cake Lindsay and a wonderful tribute to Joan. I’m sure she would have loved it and loved having a slice with you. 🙂

  14. Mir

    I’m so sorry for your loss. You knew Joan personally, and while I never had the chance to meet her, I have heard so many wonderful stories about her. I loved her blog, and my heart goes out to all her friends and family right now.
    This cake is a beautiful way to show your love for all she did. I’m sure Joan would think it was incredible.

About Lindsay

I'm a wife and mom to twin boys, a baby girl and a sweet black lab with a serious sweets addiction! Bring on the sugar!

Scripture I’m Loving

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12