This easy butterscotch cake recipe uses store bought butterscotch chips (also called butterscotch morsels) as the base for a moist, rich cake that's full of flavor. Topped with a simple butterscotch and chocolate frosting, this homemade cake is sure to impress! Makes two 6-inch cake layers.
When I'm craving some cake for a casual dessert, I tend to reach for the same basic flavors (helloooo, trusty chocolate sheet cake!) But when I'm making a cake recipe that needs to impress, this butterscotch cake is at the top of my list.
This cake packs big, bold flavor thanks to some melted butterscotch morsels and a bit of brown sugar, and the butterscotch + chocolate combo is always a hit. (This is my most-requested cake flavor when I bake for friends and family!)
One note: I wouldn't classify this cake as "quick." It takes several steps, a bit of time and attention (you'll need to melt the butterscotch chips over a double boiler for both the frosting and the cake itself), and a few different mixing bowls. This is a recipe for a special occasion, or a day when you feel like spending some time in the kitchen.
That said - the recipe is still very simple, and it's absolutely worth the few extra steps!
About these butterscotch chips
We're using store bought butterscotch morsels to give this cake its gorgeous yellow color and caramel-y, nutty flavor.
This recipe was developed to use one full bag of butterscotch chips between the cake and the frosting, so you don't need to worry about finding something to do with the leftovers (although they're also excellent in our butterless chocolate chip cookies or sprinkled into some homemade brownies).
Note: Butterscotch baking chips (also called butterscotch morsels) are different from butterscotch hard candies - they are not interchangeable! Please use butterscotch morsels as instructed for best results with this recipe.
Melt butterscotch chips in a double boiler
To incorporate the butterscotch morsels evenly into this cake batter (and later, into the frosting), we first need to melt them down.
We recommend using a double boiler over medium-low heat to melt your butterscotch chips. Melt them slowly, stir frequently, and pull the butterscotch off the heat as soon as it's fully melted.
You don't need a specialty double boiler pot to do this - just a heat-safe bowl (we use a glass or metal mixing bowl) that fits over a small saucepan! We also include a bit of butter here, which helps the butterscotch chips melt more smoothly and makes it easier to incorporate the melted chips into your cake batter and frosting.
Need to melt them in the microwave?
You can melt the butterscotch morsels in the microwave if you really need to (it certainly saves a bit of time and effort to do it this way), but use caution: butterscotch chips are much more prone to burning and separating when melted in the microwave. If you do go this route, use a microwave safe bowl, microwave the butterscotch and butter in 5-10 second increments, stir well in between, and keep a very close eye on them. (We really, really recommend using a double boiler if you can for best results!)
If your butterscotch mixture seizes up and forms large clumps that you can't work out by stirring, or if it goes from "slightly grainy/greasy" to "chunky and sludge-y," it may have gone too far and you may need to start over. This typically only happens when butterscotch chips are microwaved or sit over a double boiler on too-high heat for an extended period of time. You will also notice a burnt, bitter taste to the butterscotch if it's been cooked too long - when in doubt, give it a taste.
The butterscotch mixture will be a bit grainy
Butterscotch morsels don't melt into a smooth, glossy mixture (like chocolate does). It will look a bit grainy, and even a little greasy. That's ok! This is just the flavor base of our cake - once we mix the melted butterscotch chips into the rest of the batter, it will all smooth out and taste great. Don't worry if this mixture looks like it's separating a bit, especially as it sits - just trust the process!
Order of operations
- Melt the butterscotch morsels with a bit of butter in a double boiler.
- While the butterscotch melts, whisk dry ingredients together in one large mixing bowl, then whisk the rest of the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Note: You can also mix this cake batter in a stand mixer on low speed if you don't want to do it by hand!
- Remove melted butterscotch from the double boiler, let it cool for a few minutes so it's easier to handle, then slowly whisk it into the wet ingredients.
- Stir the wet and dry ingredients together, then pour batter into two prepared 6" cake pans (need a different size? keep reading - we've got you covered!) and bake.
- Transfer baked cake layers to a wire cooling rack, let them cool completely, and then make the frosting!
- Frosting: Melt the rest of your butterscotch morsels together with a bit of butter, then mix it up with some cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and heavy whipping cream (and a pinch of salt!) to form a smooth frosting. Frost the cake as soon as the frosting is ready!
How to grease cake pans
To prepare your cake pans, start by spreading softened butter over the inside surface. You can do this with clean hands (I like to use the butter wrapper as a makeshift handle around the butter for less of a mess) or use a silicone pastry brush to smush it (← fancy technical baking term) around the pan.
You can use cooking spray to grease the pans if you prefer, but we find a good layer of room temperature butter helps cake release from pans much more cleanly.
Once the pans are buttered, dust the inside of each pan with a spoonful of flour. Pick the cake pan up and tip it from side to side, tapping each side as you go, to help the flour coat the entire surface, then gently tap any excess flour out into the compost or garbage.
What size cake can I make?
This recipe is easy to adapt for whatever size and shape you'd like!
As written, this recipe makes:
- Two 6-inch cake layers (pictured here!)
- 12-14 standard size cupcakes
- 36-40 mini cupcakes
If you make it as written, this 6" diameter cake will give you between 8-16 generous servings (depending on how thick you like your cake slices!)
If you'd like to make more cake, use the handy 2x and 3x buttons at the top of the recipe card (below) to scale this recipe. If you double (2x) the recipe, you'll have enough batter for two 8-9" cake layers or a larger sheet cake. No matter what size cake you make, make sure to place it on a wire rack after baking to give it some time to cool!
Adjust the baking time for different cake sizes
You'll likely have to adjust the baking time if you experiment with different cake sizes. We recommend doing a first check at the 10-15 minute mark for cupcakes, and the 25-30 minute mark for larger cake sizes. From there, continue checking every 3-5 minutes for doneness. Cake is done when the top of the cake is set and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
PS - Need some help adjusting the size or shape of your cake? Leave a comment below or shoot us an email - we're here to help!
Let's talk about frosting!
This chocolate and butterscotch frosting is sweet, creamy, and full of flavor. It's smooth and spreadable like a buttercream, but as the butterscotch morsels cool the chocolate frosting will set and seize up a bit - almost like fudge.
Wait until the cake is completely cooled to make this frosting. Once the frosting is ready, work quickly to frost the cake - the frosting will set and harden a bit as it cools due to the butterscotch chips here. If the frosting cools too quickly and becomes hard to spread, pop it over the double boiler for a minute or two until it softens up again.
To make the frosting: Melt remaining butterscotch morsels together with a bit of butter, then use a hand mixer to mix in some cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and heavy cream (and a pinch of salt!) to form a smooth, fluffy frosting.
Spread a layer of frosting on top of your first cake layer, then stack the second layer on top and frost the rest of the cake (we love using an offset spatula to make frosting easy).
Pro tip: Add a dollop of frosting to the plate or turntable before you put the first cake layer down. It will act like glue and help the cake stay in place instead of sliding around while you frost it.
Pro tip: Use a kitchen scale
Measuring ingredients by volume (with cups) is notoriously unreliable; we always recommend following our gram (weight) measurements for best results. If you don't have a kitchen scale, measure your dry ingredients (especially flour, which is the most finicky) with the scoop-and-level method for best results.
Making this recipe for a birthday cake or another special occasion? Dress it up with some easy toppings!
- Press extra butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, pecans, or walnuts around the lower half of this cake right after frosting for a bit of pizzaz and texture.
- Drizzle caramel or chocolate ganache around the top edges for an easy drip cake upgrade.
- Pipe frosting swirls around the top or bottom edges of the cake for a festive touch. We love using a second frosting flavor for these decorations to keep things interesting: try a simple chocolate buttercream or caramel buttercream to complement the flavors of this cake!
A few FAQs
This cake will last up to 4 days in an airtight container on the counter, but it's best eaten within a day or two of baking. After 2 days on the counter, the cake will start to dry out and the frosting will start to lose some of its fudge-y texture and melt into the cake.
This is one of the rare cake recipes that we don't recommend freezing. The butterscotch chips make this cake a little bit finicky: it gets dense pretty quickly if you store it in the fridge or freezer. For best results (and the lightest, moistest crumb) we recommend eating this cake as soon as it's baked and storing leftovers on the counter instead of the fridge or freezer.
Yes! Use melted coconut oil in place of butter throughout this recipe, just like we do in our Coconut Oil Cupcakes.
If your cake layers bake with small domes on top, no worries! Just use a long serrated knife to trim the rounded tops off, which makes it easier to add a layer of frosting later (use the cake scraps as a snack!)
This cozy butterscotch cake is perfect for fall!
To prep the cake pans:
- 1-2 Tablespoons softened butter
- 2 Tablespoons flour
For the cake:
- 175 grams butterscotch morsels (1 cup)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (55 grams)
- 210 grams all purpose flour (about 1 ⅔ cups)
- 50 grams brown sugar (¼ cup packed brown sugar)
- 5 grams baking soda (1 teaspoon)
- 2 grams kosher salt (½ teaspoon)
- 240 grams milk (1 cup)
- 12 grams apple cider vinegar (1 Tablespoon)
- 4 grams vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
- 1 egg
For the frosting:
- 140 grams butterscotch chips (¾ cup - just the rest of the bag)
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter (27 grams)
- 300 grams powdered sugar (3 cups)
- 45 grams cocoa powder (½ cup)
- Pinch of salt
- 80 grams heavy cream (⅓ cup)
Prep the cake pans:
- Spread softened butter over the inside of two 6-inch cake pans, then dust the inside of each pan with a spoonful of flour and discard any excess. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
For the Cake:
- Melt butterscotch morsels and butter together over a double boiler, making sure the top bowl is not touching the water below. Keep the double boiler on low heat, stir frequently, and remove the butterscotch as soon as it's fully melted (this should take about 10 minutes). Note: Butterscotch chips won't melt as smoothly as chocolate does - this mixture will look a bit grainy and greasy. This is ok!
- While the butterscotch chips melt, whisk flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate, medium mixing bowl, whisk together milk, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and egg. Set aside.
- When butterscotch is melted, remove it from the double boiler (we like to place the warm bowl on a tea towel on the counter). Let cool 5-10 minutes, then slowly whisk butterscotch mixture into the rest of the wet ingredients (the milk and egg mixture you made before). Note: Set aside the bowl you used to melt the butterscotch - you can re-use it for the frosting later!
- Stir butterscotch mixture into the dry flour mixture until you have a smooth batter.
- Divide batter between prepared cake pans. Bake at 350° F for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let cake cool in the pans for a few minutes, then tip cake out onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before making the frosting.
For the frosting:
- Melt butter and butterscotch morsels together over a double boiler. Remove from double boiler and let cool 5 minutes or so until the bowl is cool enough to handle.
- Add powdered sugar and cocoa powder along with a pinch of salt to the melted butterscotch and stir to combine. The mixture should look quite clumpy right now - that’s ok!
- Use an electric hand mixer to mix frosting together as you add heavy cream a little at a time. Whip until frosting is smooth and fluffy. (You can do this by hand if you like, but we find an electric mixer works best for a light, spreadable frosting).
- Immediately frost cooled cake using an offset spatula. Frosting will stiffen a bit and be harder to spread as the butterscotch cools; work quickly for best results.
A note about butterscotch morsels. We like the Nestle Butterscotch Morsels (they're typically easy to find in the grocery store baking aisle, right next to the chocolate chips) but you can also find versions from Hershey's, Guittard, or the store brands at Aldi and Walmart. Please note: Butterscotch hard candies or caramels won't work as a substitute in this recipe - it's important to use the butterscotch morsels or butterscotch baking chips as listed in the recipe!
Please use a kitchen scale if you have one! Measuring by volume (with cups and teaspoons) is notoriously unreliable - for best results (and the most delicious cake!) we recommend following our weight measurements (listed in grams above). If you don't have a kitchen scale, be sure to measure your dry ingredients (especially flour and cocoa) with the scoop-and-level method for the most accurate results.
How to melt butterscotch chips. We recommend making a double boiler to melt the butterscotch chips in this recipe. If you have a specialty double boiler pan, go ahead and use it - although we typically just fill a small saucepan with an inch or two of water and set a heat-safe glass or metal bowl on top to build our own double boiler at home. If you need to use a microwave to melt your butterscotch chips, microwave the chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl in 5-10 second intervals, stirring well in between, and keep a close eye on them as they're prone to burning and separating in the microwave (but we really recommend using the double boiler for best results!)
If your butterscotch mixture seizes up and forms large clumps that you can't work out by stirring, it's likely been overcooked. If your butterscotch mixture goes from "slightly grainy/greasy" to "chunky and sludge-y," it may have gone too far and you may need to start over. This typically only happens when butterscotch chips are microwaved or sit over a double boiler on too-high heat for an extended period of time. You will also notice a burnt, bitter taste to the butterscotch if it's been cooked too long - when in doubt, give it a taste.
If frosting sets too quickly and becomes hard to spread, stir in another dash of heavy cream or pop it over the double boiler for a minute until it softens back up.
Additions and Substitutions. Use a different frosting if you like - chocolate buttercream, cream cheese frosting, and our chocolate fudge frosting are all good here. White chocolate chips work pretty well in place of butterscotch morsels in a pinch. Use white granulated sugar instead of brown sugar if you like. Use coconut oil in place of the butter if you prefer (be sure to measure the coconut oil by weight for best results). Use white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar (just don't skip the vinegar - this activates the baking soda and helps the cake rise!)
Adjust the size of the cake. This recipe makes two 6-inch cake rounds, 12-16 cupcakes, or one 9-inch cake (in a square or round pan) as written. Double the recipe for two 8-9" cake layers or a large sheet cake. You'll likely have to adjust the baking time for different cake sizes.
Store leftover cake in an airtight container on the counter. It will keep for up to 5 days, but we find the texture is best if eaten within a day or two of baking (after that, the cake will start to dry out and won't be as soft or as moist). We don't recommend storing this cake in the fridge or freezer: cold storage can alter the texture and make the cake pretty dense.
A previous version of this recipe used a chocolate butterscotch ganache instead of this chocolate frosting. To make the original ganache, melt ¾ cup butterscotch chips with 1 Tablespoon butter and 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips over a double boiler until smooth, then pour over the cooled cake.
This recipe was originally posted in 2013. It was updated in 2022 with a streamlined recipe (same great taste, but easier to make!), additional notes and photos, and a new frosting recommendation. Inspired by Rose Levy Beranbaum's White Chocolate Cake Recipe in The Cake Bible.
- Serving Size: One 1.5-inch wide slice
- Calories: 399
- Sugar: 52.4 g
- Sodium: 436.9 mg
- Fat: 12.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 70.6 g
- Protein: 4.9 g
- Cholesterol: 36 mg
Keywords: dessert, holiday, birthday