Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

Happy Fall! Kind of kooky time for me to be sharing a perfectly springy dessert, but this past weekend I did some desserts for a very special woman celebrating her 60th birthday. Kathy, my father-in-law’s wife and my close friend, is very passionate about all things garden. Her family threw her a huge surprise party, and I knew immediately that I would have to explore some sweet garden-themed treats. These potted treats were one of the the ones I was most excited about.

For a very brief moment, I thought I actually invented this concept–what a brilliant cakethrough!  See, I worked at an incredible restaurant in my twenties (so 16 years ago–ouch) where fresh bread was baked and served in full-size terracotta pots alongside whipped butters in an array of flavours. As I remembered this, it dawned on me that it would work for cake too! And it would be darn cute . . . then I realized that it’s been done before (by some woman named Martha, among others). Oh well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I knew Kathy (and hopefully guests) would love them. And I was relieved to see how simple Martha’s version with the mint sprig was, because it was the perfect solution to my needing something a little less time-consuming.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

The potted cakes in these photos are actually the new & improved version since the weekend. There were a few things I wanted to change before I shared the recipe with you, taste-wise, so the girls and I grew a dozen yesterday. So what exactly is a Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cake? It’s a double dose of cupcake batter baked in the pot, but just not quite all the way, then brushed with espresso syrup for starters. Not baking all the way creates a gooey chocolate (slightly muddy) centre and a convenient concave middle perfect for filling with oozing salted caramel, toffee bits and dark chocolate, slightly-salted glaze. Then we cover them with chocolate cookie crumbs and Chocolate Pebbles , then top them with small mint sprigs.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

The inspiration for the flavour combination was lingering in my mind since I made these cupcakes, and I think the textures and taste are exactly what you would want a spoonful of earth to taste like (okay, that was weird). And don’t let the dry-dirt top fool you–underneath there is a rich, deep, gooey, crunchy, caramel-y and possibly religious experience. And cute all the while.

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

You can even cakelet-this-up by skipping the elegant mint sprig and espresso and burying a few gummy worms, a toasted marshmallow and chocolate pebbles (they taste like m&m’s) below the surface. Maybe add a bright green fondant sprout, or pipe a few cheery flowers on top. Wow, that sounds pretty awesome actually. Let’s add that to the week’s bake list!

Potted Espresso Cakes via Sweetapolita

So here’s the recipe just as I did these, but don’t be alarmed by all of the steps and ingredients. Truthfully, these are so easy to do and pretty straight-forward. If you really want to make these on the fly, they’d be pretty great with even the chocolate cakes with your favourite chocolate frosting under all of those crumbs & pebbles. Either way, play around and have fun with it–it’s almost impossible to not smile when you look around and see a roomful of adults eating dirt out of mini flower pots.

Good luck & enjoy!

Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes

Yield: 12 Mini Cakes

Moist gooey chocolate mini cakes brushed with espresso syrup, filled with salted caramel, toffee bits, dark chocolate glaze and topped with cookie crumbs, chocolate pebbles and a mint sprig.


    For the potted cakes:
  • 1-1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups (300 g) white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) dark cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons (6 g) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 2/3 cup (140 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) brewed coffee or espresso, hot
  • 6 tablespoons (90 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • For the espresso syrup:
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) water
  • 2 teaspoons (9 g) instant espresso powder
  • For the salted caramel:
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) fleur de sel
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon (14 g) unsalted butter
  • For the dark chocolate glaze
  • 6 oz (170 g) best bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) light corn syrup
  • pinch fleur de sel
  • For decorating
  • 1 cup (80 g) dark cookie crumbs (for dirt)
  • 1 cup toffee bits
  • Chocolate Pebbles/Stones
  • 12 small mint sprigs


    For the potted cakes:
  1. Wash and dry a dozen 3-inch terracotta pots. Cut out 12 parchment circles the same size as the bottom of the pots. Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush the bottom of each pot with oil, line with the parchment rounds, then brush the circle with more oil, and oil about 2/3 up the sides and dust with cocoa powder. Place all of the pots onto a baking sheet, and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift all dry ingredients.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients to bowl with the dry ingredients and mix for 1 minute on medium speed (you may need the plastic splashguard that comes with mixer) and pour into prepared pots, about 1/2 full (6 tablespoons of batter each). *Batter will be liquidy.
  4. Bake for 17-19 minutes, or until toothpick or skewer comes out gooey. Try not to overbake. Remove the tray from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Cakes will fall in centre, once removed from oven, making room for the filling. Brush with warm espresso syrup while cakes are still hot.
  5. For the espresso syrup:
  6. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring ingredients to a boil and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  7. For the salted caramel:
  8. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice and salt. Brush the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to ensure there are no sugar crystals. Boil (with no stirring) until the mixture turns a medium-dark amber colour, swirling occasionally.
  9. Remove from heat and carefully and swiftly whisk in the heavy cream (be careful--the caramel will steam up abruptly!) until caramel is smooth. Stir in butter until incorporated, and then return to the heat.
  10. Boil until a candy thermometer in the caramel reads 240°F (116°C).
  11. Allow the caramel to cool completely before using. Any remaining caramel can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
  12. For the dark chocolate glaze:
  13. Place the chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and sea salt in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be sure the water in the pot does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture using a rubber spatula until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Mixture will thicken as it cools.
  14. Assembly of the Potted Espresso & Salted Caramel Mud Cakes
  15. After the potted cakes brushed with espresso syrup have cooled, filled each "hole" in the middle with a spoonful of cooled salted caramel. Top with toffee bits, and then a spoonful of dark chocolate glaze.
  16. Sprinkle the cakes with enough cookie crumbs to completely cover the tops. Add a handful of chocolate pebbles.
  17. Right before serving, pierce a small hole in the top of each finished cake and insert a small mint sprig. Potted Cakes can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. (Be sure to add fresh mint sprigs if you don't serve right away.)

Sweetapolita’s Notes:

  • Each potted mini cake is the equivalent to 2 chocolate cupcakes, so can be either 1 or 2 servings.
  • For a fun serving idea, tie 1 or 2 wooden forks to the side of each pot using rustic twine.
  • For a simpler (and quicker) version, you can simply bake the potted cakes and top with your favourite chocolate frosting or glaze, and then finish off with the cookie crumbs, pebbles and mint.
  • For a super-fun kids’ version, hide a few gummy worms in the cake, stuff a toasted marshmallow inside and finish with bright green fondant “sprouts” in place of the mint (or even piped buttercream flowers).
  • Be careful to not add too much chocolate glaze–if there’s too much glaze pressed against the inside edges of the pots, the oil in the butter will start to leave marks on the outside of the pots.
  • For a garden-themed party, serve these cakes on round iron plant stands (they look like cake plates with wheels), or place them in a tray filled with more chocolate pebbles.
  • For a garden-themed party, serve these cakes on round iron plant stands (they look like cake plates with wheels), or place them in a tray filled with more chocolate pebbles.
Good luck & enjoy!

Share the Sweetness!


  1. says

    Oh my gosh, adorable! I am so using this idea! Do the cakes stick to the pots on the sides? Is it worth trying to line the sides of the pots with parchment as well, or does it scoop out okay? I imagine that the terra cotta would mostly absorb the oil you brush up the sides, no? Thank you so much for posting this, the it looks just fantastic!

    • Amirah says

      By oiling the sides and dusting with cocoa powder as written above the cakes won’t stick to the sides. Same as when you make chocolate fondants in ramekins :)

    • says

      Thanks, Katie! When the sides are brushed lightly with oil and dusted with cocoa powder, the cakes don’t stick. They actually come out quite nicely. Served with a fork or spoon it works well, and the cake comes away from the sides. I hope this helps!

  2. Roxy @ www.bakemecakes.blogspot.com says

    These look so cute. I’m definitely craving some chocolate after reading this!

  3. Amirah says

    Beautiful as always! Also happens to be my favourite flavour combination! Chocolate, coffee, caramel. Yum. However I also want to ask if it can be made into a regular cake as I don’t think I can wait to buy the pots to be able to eat them :)

  4. says

    These look so cute! I have a grandmother whose birthday is right around garden planting time. I think I’ll be growing some of these for her in the spring!

  5. says

    Completely in love with how cute these are and also the flavour combinations. The bitterness of the expresso must work so well with the salted caramel and rich chocolate cake. I have a few little pots going spare at the moment so I can’t wait to give these a go!

  6. Cat G says

    Hi Rosie, I just wanted to say that of ALL the websites I love to follow – yours would be the most amazingly inspiring and gorgeous site that has absolutely drool-worthy food/photography! Congrats! I love your take on all of your recipes, they are simply exquisite! And, this is such a cute idea with the little pots. Well done! You are AMAZING!!!!! (And your little girl is adorable!)
    Cat =’.’= from Downunder

    • says

      Thanks, Nancy! In Canada you can find those chocolate pebbles at Bulk Barn, but they are also available on Amazon. Instant espresso powder is found at most grocery stores or “better” food stores. I hope that helps!

  7. ann says

    It looks sooooo yummy!!! I will give this a spin for sure:) Where do you get these pots from?

    BTW: your photos are spectacular!!! You are a real PRO!!!

  8. myra says

    did u bake the cake pot into the oven?or u just put the cake only after bake..im just speechless to see this!its truthly wonderful!!your amazing:)..

  9. Leslie says

    I just made 2 1/2 dozen of these! Love them! First I made 18 for the teachers and staff at my son’s preschool. I was trying to make 2 dozen but overfilled the pots and ended up with exactly the number that I needed to take to the school. It was almost heartbreaking making these knowing that I couldn’t indulge in one immediately. So I had to make another dozen this morning and finally got to enjoy this most incredibly delicious treat! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!! Thank you!

  10. EmilyM says

    Should I be concerned about lead in the clay pots? Are all clay pots food safe or should I buy at a special store? Local garden department or nursery acceptable? You can see I’m worried out giving the little cakeeaters toxic lead. Thanks for your advice. Also, you have a pretty, happy, fun, inspiring, confidence building, informative and smiles-inducing blog :-) Your clear voice makes the daunting doable. Many thanks and a big hug.

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