Cafe Latte’s Mabel’s Turtle Cake

This is our “go to” birthday cake, Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake. Now, since my birthday is smack dab in the middle of Christmas preparations, you know any cake I serve has a) got to stand out and b) be relatively simple. This year I’m at the folks and made it for all of us, and I wanted to share it with you, too!

Cafe Latte's Turtle Cake

Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake

If you’re from the Twin Cities, you know about Cafe Latte, down on Grand Avenue. I think their Mabel’s Turtle Cake is the most famous of their desserts. Their photo of this cake is on the front page of their website, and you can see they use the full amount of pecans and a lighter colored caramel sauce. Me, I like my Caramel rich and deep, so I used my home-made salted caramel sauce and just a few pecans to decorate. Any thick, rich caramel will do, and if I don’t make my own, I like Mrs. Richardson’s.

This Turtle Cake is so good, so rich and so scrumptious, if you like chocolate, you’ll fall in love! Be prepared, though: when my son was around seven he was almost overwhelmed by it: “It’s SOOO good but it hurts to eat!” he said. He’d gotten that little zing you get sometimes in the back of the jaw when you imbibe in a super sweet dessert. Plain old vanilla ice-cream is the perfect foil for this cake and helps cut the richness.

Cafe Latte's Turtle Cake

Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake

I originally found this recipe from Minnesota Monthly, published in the early ’90’s, I think. I’d had the cake at the restaurant before, so it was an exciting day when I saw the recipe in their magazine! I nabbed it right away, you betcha, and have been serving it ever since. If you’re googling for Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake, beware: There’s another version of on the internet but the chocolate ganache doesn’t work out quite right. Even on this recipe, be prepared to thin with a little hot coffee if it becomes at all grainy.

Cafe Latte's Turtle Cake

Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake – sometimes I toss a slice in the microwave for a sec – oozy goodness!

Do watch for the sizes on the packages of chocolate chips – sometimes they vary and I’ve always used Nestle’s. I’ve measured the proper amount out, but it will make a difference if you’re measuring chips that are a different size. Also, make sure to have time to refrigerate, especially in hot weather. After the cake has firmed up, it can be brought out ahead of serving but it can slip and slide if it gets too warm and needs a little chill time to firm up.

A final caution: be prepared! If you make this cake, if your family is like mine, you’ll be making it over and over for every birthday, every year. Yeah, it’s really that good! It has always been the most requested birthday cake at my house, from friends and family (except for my son who has now gone rogue and asks for French Silk Pie.) I hope you guys love this and enjoy it as much as we do!

Cafe Latte's Turtle Cake

Cafe Latte’s Turtle Cake

Cafe Latte's Turtle Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  • Turtle Frosting (see recipe, below)
  • 1 1/2 cups of thick caramel sauce like Mrs. Richardon’s or my Salted Caramel Sauce
  • 2 cups toasted pecans (Use your judgement)

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease three 8 inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper; dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Do not use a springform pan. Set pans aside.

In a small bowl, stir together egg, buttermilk and oil; set aside. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

Gradually add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring until combined. Gradually beat in hot coffee. Pour batter into prepared pans. (Layers will appear shallow.)

Bake 30 – 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cakes on a wire racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife between cake and pan sides, then remove cakes from pans. Peel off paper; cool thoroughly.

To assemble:

When the cakes are cool, make the Turtle Frosting. Place 1 cake layer, top-side down, onto a serving plate with a lip. Using an icing spatula or wide knife, work quickly to frost the top of this layer with one-third of the frosting, petaling towards the outside. Arrange one-third of the pecans on top and drizzle with 1/4 cup caramel. Top with the second layer, top-side down. Repeat with frosting, pecans and 1/4 caramel topping. Top with the third layer, right side up. Repeat with remaining frosting, pecans and 1/2 cup caramel topping.

The caramel and frosting will ooze a bit between the layers so try “petalling” the frosting on the top layer by swirling it out from the center leaving a slight lip around the outside edges. Some, but not all, of the caramel will drip down.

Chill cake 1 to 2 hours before serving.


If you don’t have buttermilk on hand when preparing this cake, substitute sour milk in the same amount. For each cup of sour milk needed, place 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar in a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 cup total liquid; stir. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes before using.

If you only have two cake pans, refrigerate 1/3 of the batter while you bake the other two layers. Clean and prepare one of the pans as directed, and bake remaining batter.

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 2 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut up
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons (or more) freshly brewed hot coffee

Place chocolate chips in a medium-sized bowl, set aside. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, milk and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Immediately pour over chips and mix until smooth. Frosting should be thick like fudge but shiny.

If frosting is too thick or grainy, stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons (or more) freshly brewed hot coffee and it should smooth it out and bring it together. If it seems too thin, let stand several minutes before using.

From the kitchen of, adapted from Cafe Latte

Nutrition facts:

Servings Per Recipe 12, carb. (g) 94, Potassium (mg) 274, pro. (g) 8, Trans fatty acid (g) 0, vit. C (mg) 1, vit. A (IU) 243, Riboflavin (mg) 0, sugar (g) 73, Thiamin (mg) 0, fiber (g) 4, Pyridoxine (Vit. B6) (mg) 0, Polyunsaturated fat (g) 7, Niacin (mg) 2, Monounsaturated fat (g) 19, Cobalamin (Vit. B12) (µg) 0, Folate (µg) 44, sat. fat (g) 10, chol. (mg) 35, sodium (mg) 629, Fat, total (g) 36, cal. (kcal) 697, iron (mg) 3, calcium (mg) 101


I’ll be taking this very special cake to the Fiesta Friday 100 anniversary extravaganza, and I’m also co-hosting this event, so a big shout out to Angie from the Novice Gardener and Fiesta Friday for putting the event on and Steffi from Ginger&Bread, Suzanne from APugintheKitchen and Judi from CookingwithAuntJuju for co-hosting, too. Stop by, say hi, visit and mingle and I hope to “see” you there!

Of course, I’ll also be posting to Throwback Thursday, a link party co-hosted by Moi!! Yes, that’s me, yours truly! And Alli, Quinn & Meaghan – you’ll see all their links on Throwback Thursday!

42 thoughts on “Cafe Latte’s Mabel’s Turtle Cake

  1. Jeff

    I moved to Minneapolis in 1997…must have been right around the time this recipe appeared in Minnesota Monthly. I clipped it out and subsequently lost it. I have been looking for it for YEARS. Lo and behold…a simple google search and here it is. Thank You!

  2. Pingback: {Baking Challenge} Chicken a la King Vol au Vents for Fiesta Friday #100 | thenotsocreativecook

  3. You’ve been one busy Hausfrau, Mollie! Wow – what a cake to bring along to our special Fiesta Friday gathering!
    P.s. what a pity that I’ll have to wait for almost 12 months for my birthday…

  4. Happy Birthday during this not so lay back time of year.

    A beautiful cake to serve yourself and 30 of your closest friends. It looks huge and so decadent that a slice would be plenty.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

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