For example, I baked my cakes and stuck them in the freezer. Then I made the caramel sauce and put that in the refrigerator. (Or you could buy a jar, too, I suppose.) You could even toast your pecans ahead of time, but I did that while I assembled the cake.
Bottom line: looks impressive with relatively little effort and tastes great!
Turtle Layer Cake
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup boiling water
Caramel Sauce and Frosting
1 1/2 cups sugar
9 Tbsp. salted butter, cubed, room temperature
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
2-3 Tbsp. milk
9 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Prepare three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom, and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl, and combine. Add eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla to the dry ingredients, and mix well. Slowly add water, and mix well.
Divide batter evenly between cakes pans, and bake for about 30-33 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. Remove cakes from oven, and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, and then remove to cooling racks to cool completely.
While the oven is warm, place pecans on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While cakes cool, make the caramel sauce and icing by pouring sugar into an even layer in a large saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat, whisking the sugar until melted. The sugar will clump up first but will eventually completely melt. This will take about 10 minutes.
Once the sugar has melted, stop whisking, and allow to cook until the sugar has turned to a little darker amber color. You may notice a nutty aroma. The change in color will happen quickly, so don't let it go too long or get too dark and burn. Remove caramel from the heat.
Add butter, and whisk until combined. The mixture will bubble up, but keep whisking until all the butter has melted and combined. Slowly pour the heavy cream into the caramel, and whisk until incorporated. Cool for about 10-15 minutes before using.
Set aside about 1/3 cup of caramel sauce, and then transfer remaining caramel sauce to a mixing bowl. Slowly add powdered sugar and milk, and mix until smooth. You can add more or less milk to get the right consistency for the icing.
Make the ganache by adding the chocolate chips to a metal or glass bowl. Microwave the heavy whipping cream until boiling, and then pour over the chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, and whisk chocolate until smooth. Microwave in 5-10 second increments as needed, if chocolate isn't fully smooth and melted.
When the cakes are cool, remove the tops of the cakes with a large serrated knife so they are flat. Place the first layer of cake on cake stand. Top with 1 cup of the caramel icing, and spread into an even layer. Top icing with about 1/4 cup of chopped pecans, and then drizzle with some chocolate ganache and caramel sauce.
Add second layer of cake, and add another 1/4 cup of chopped pecans, caramel sauce and chocolate ganache. Top cake with remaining cake layer. Pour remaining ganache over the cake, and allow it to drizzle down the sides of the cake. Refrigerate until the ganache is firm. (Otherwise your frosting will slide right off, not that I had that happen at first.) Pipe caramel icing around the top edges of the cake, then sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans and drizzle with caramel sauce.