This elegant pecan and caramel cake, also known as Golden Key Cake, is one of the best caramel cake recipes out there! It’s irresistibly delicious, with moist caramel cake layer filled with sweetened condensed milk and pecans and frosted with a fluffy mascarpone caramel whipped cream frosting. This cake is what caramel dreams are made of! My husband isn’t the biggest fan of desserts, but he specifically requests this cake every year for his birthday. It’s that good! The name Golden Key comes from the Russian candy bar that’s the inspiration behind this cake. Both the candy and the cake are hugely popular in Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe! Find another version of this cake in my cake book, The European Cake Cookbook!
My Golden Key Cake Video Tutorial!
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Ingredients for Golden Key Cake
Here are some of the main ingredients you’ll need for this caramel and pecan cake recipe:
- Buttermilk: soured milk makes the cake layers extra moist.
- Dulce de leche: this is cooked, sweetened condensed milk. This thick caramel is perfect for baking and for frostings.
- Sweetened condensed milk: I use this for filling the cake!
- Diced pecans or hazelnuts: finely diced nuts for filling and for garnishing the cake.
- Mascarpone cheese: soften this cheese for about 30 minutes before making the frosting.
- Heavy Cream: make sure to keep the cream extra cold for best results.
Can I use Caramel for This Recipe?
This caramel cake is made with dulce de leche, which is thick caramel made by cooking sweetened condensed milk in the can. I buy mine at Walmart, where it’s readily available. Unfortunately, this cake recipe will not be the same using regular caramel, since it’s much thinner in consistency.
Making the Caramel Cake Layers
This delicious Golden Key Cake is made with the best caramel cake layers, sweetened with dulce de leche and a bit of sugar. I also like to add a touch of coffee flavor to this cake to make it extra special! Dulce de leche is sweetened condensed milk that has been cooked very slowly in the can until it caramelizes. It’s the perfect addition to this recipe.
- First, I combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and dulce de leche in a large mixing bowl and beat the ingredients together until smooth. Next, I add in the oil, buttermilk and dissolved instant coffee.
- Next, I combine all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I always sift in the dry ingredients before mixing them into the batter.
- I used three, 8-inch cake pans lined with parchment paper for this caramel cake. Bake the layers at 350F/177C for about 25 minutes.
- It’s very important to cool the cake layers completely! I remove the layers from the pans immediately and let them cool on a wire rack.
Making the Sweetened Condensed Milk Filling
The original Golden Key Cake recipe is made with hazelnuts but my husband prefers pecans so I make it his way! This filling is super simple, with just three ingredients: dulce de leche, sweetened condensed milk and diced pecans. I just combine the sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche in a bowl and it’s ready to be used. This filling will settle nicely into the nooks and crannies of the cake layers and make the cake even more moist and more flavorful!
How to Make Caramel Mascarpone Frosting
The frosting I use for my Golden Key Caramel Cake is one of my all-time favorites!! It’s just so delicious and irresistible! It’s so light and fluffy and the perfect complement to the cake layers. Traditionally, this cake is made with a buttercream and you can use my French Buttercream recipe for this cake, too. Just add 1 cup dulce de leche to the frosting.
*Soften the mascarpone cheese for about 15 minutes. If it gets too warm, it can separate! Cream cheese will also work great for this recipe.
- First, mix together softened mascarpone with dulce de leche until creamy, then add in sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and dissolved coffee. Mix everything again until the mixture is creamy.
- In a separate bowl, whisk 3 cups of chilled heavy cream to stiff peak stage, then add the mascarpone mixture.
- SUPER IMPORTANT: whisk together the whipped cream and mascarpone caramel mixture for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Do not over mix at this stage or the frosting can separate. If the cream and caramel don’t combine completely, use a spatula to fold the mixtures together.
- I like to refrigerate the frosting for at least an hour, while my cake layers are cooling. The frosting will become more firm and easier to work with. You can re-whisk the frosting again to get fluffy peaks.
- If your frosting is too soft, simply refrigerate for one hour, then whisk again.
Note: You can use 2 to 3 cups of cream depending on how much frosting you like for your cake. This frosting recipe makes quite a bit of frosting! You can also reduce the recipe in half for less frosting.
How to Make the Golden Key Cake
Decorating and assembling cakes is my favorite part of cake baking, besides eating it of course! Before assembling this Golden Key Cake, make sure the cake layers are completely cooled. You can even place them into the refrigerator to cool more quickly. *Note: these are updated instructions; having 6 layers instead of 3 makes the cake more moist.
- First, I level the cake layers with a serrated knife, then split the layers in half, creating six layers total. then
- Next, I use a pastry brush to soak each cake layer generously with the sweetened condensed milk mixture. I spread a generous amount of frosting between each layer, then sprinkle on the pecans or hazelnuts. You can add the nuts onto each layer, or alternate.
- Next, I apply a crumb coat of frosting to the outside of the cake. I recommend refrigerating the caramel cake between the crumb coat and final coat of frosting for about 15 to 30 minutes. Place your bowl of frosting into the fridge as well to keep it chilled.
- Next, I apply the last layer of frosting, garnish with chopped pecans and dollops of cream. Allow the cake to chill for overnight for best results.
Once you have this caramel cake assembled, I highly recommend allowing the cake to chill in the refrigerator overnight, or for 24 hours. This chilling time will make the cake moister and more delicate and it will allow the frosting to set more firmly. As good as this cake is right away, it only gets better after an overnight chill! Keep the cake refrigerated when not enjoying. If you need to transport the cake to another location, keep the cake in the fridge until the last moment and transport in a cooled vehicle.
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Enjoyed this incredible caramel cake recipe? Check out some of my other recipes you’re sure to enjoy!
- Walnut Prune Honey Cake – a traditional Eastern European cake with honey cake layers, walnuts, prunes and sour cream frosting!
- Torte Napoleon – this classic French cake is super popular in Eastern Europe for holidays! Made with 8 flaky pastry layers and homemade pastry cream filling.
- Kyiv Torte – another famous cake in Ukraine, this one made with crunchy meringue, sponge cake and caramel buttercream!
- Almond Roca Almond Cake – this cake is inspired by one of my favorite candies, Almond Roca! With crunchy toffee filling and caramel buttercream!
- Caramel Pecan Pumpkin Cake – if you love pumpkin, you’ll love this decadent pumpkin cake with caramel frosting and crunchy pecans!
Need some supplies to make this recipe? You can get them here (Amazon affiliate links):
- The European Cake Cookbook – find another version of this popular cake in my cake cookbook!
- 8-inch Cake Pans – I love the Fat Daddios brand for quality cake pans.
- Ateco Turn Table – this decorating table is a must for all bakers!
- KitchenAid Hand Mixer – you’ll love this small but powerful mixer for small baking jobs.
- Cake Decorating Tools – I use this cake scrapper, small off-set spatulas, and regular spatulas for assembling this caramel cake.
- Dulce de Leche– get this thick caramel sauce online if you can’t find it in stores!
Golden Key Caramel Cake Recipe (video)
For Caramel Cake Layers:
- 4 large eggs
- ¾ cup dulce de leche
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ¾ cup light cooking oil, such as canola
- 2 tsp instant coffee
- 1 ½ tbsp hot water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ cup dulce de leche
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup finely diced pecans or hazelnuts
For Caramel Whipped Cream Frosting:
- 16 oz mascarpone cheese or cream cheese, softened at room temp
- 1 cup dulce de leche
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp instant coffee
- 2 tsp hot water
- 3 cups heavy cream, extra well chilled
- 1 cup diced pecans or hazelnuts, for garnish
Making the Caramel Cake Layers:
- Preheat the oven to 350F/177C and line three, 8-inch (20-cm) cake pans with parchment paper and spray the sides with a baking spray.
- Prepare the cake layers first: in a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, dulce de leche, vanilla and sugar. Beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Next, add in the buttermilk and oil. In a small ramekin, combine the instant coffee and hot water; stir to dissolve, then add to the batter. Beat the batter for another minute, until it’s smooth.
- In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the cake batter and beat for about 1 minute, just until combined.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between the three pans and level the batter with an off-set spatula. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for about 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake layers from the oven, out of the pans and onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Making the Filling:
- Next, prepare the filling. Combine the sweetened condensed milk and dulce de leche in a small bowl, then whisk until creamy. Set the filling aside until ready to use.
Making the Caramel Frosting:
- For the frosting: This recipe makes quite a bit of frosting. If you typically don’t like a lot of frosting, prepare just half of the recipe. I recommend making this frosting while the cake layers are baking and cooling to allow 1 hour of chill time for the frosting. Do not soften the mascarpone cheese too much; 15 minutes is enough. It will start to separate if it's too warm.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the softened mascarpone with dulce de leche. Mix on medium speed for a couple minutes until the mixture is smooth. Next, add in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. In a small ramekin, combine the instant coffee and hot water; stir to dissolve, then add to the mixture. Mix the frosting for 1 minute, until it’s smooth and uniform.
- Pour the chilled heavy cream into a separate mixer bowl and whisk for about 4 minutes, until stiff peaks form. Start the mixer on low speed, then gradually work up to high speed once the cream thickens. Pour the prepared mascarpone and dulce de leche mixture into the whipped cream. Mix on high speed for just until the two mixtures are combined and fluffy. Overmixing can cause the frosting to separate.
- If your frosting is too soft, simply place it into the refrigerator for about an hour to chill, then whisk again. Keep it chilled when not using.
Assembling the Golden Key Cake: (Updated)
- To assemble the cake, first make sure the cake layers are completely cooled. Use a long, serrated knife to level off the top of each layer, then split each cake layer in half, resulting in 6 layers total. Brush the sweetened condensed milk mixture over each cake layer, allowing it to sink into the cake layer. Next, spread a generous amount of the frosting evenly to the edges, then sprinkle the pecans over the top. You can add the pecans for each layer or alternate.
- Spread a generous amount of the prepared frosting between each cake layer and frost the outside of the cake with a thin layer of crumb coat frosting. Refrigerate the cake for 15 to 30 minutes, then apply the final coat of frosting. Garnish the top and sides of the cake with the diced pecans by gently pressing them into the sides and sprinkling on top. If desired, transfer any remaining cream into a pastry bag and pipe dollops of cream on top; I used Ateco tip #847.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 12 to 24 hours before enjoying. Keep the cake refrigerated when not serving.