To make the caramel sauce:
- Place sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar begins to clump together. Continue cooking until clumps begin to melt and turn amber in color. Stir occasionally until completely melted.
- While stirring, add cubed butter a little at a time, stirring quickly to incorporate. Continue stirring and gradually add cream until incorporated.
- Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, without stirring, for an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla extract.
- Let caramel sauce cool completely before using. Sauce can be made in advance and kept in a sealed container at room temperature.
To make the chocolate cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with Baker’s Joy® baking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, milk, coffee, oil, and vanilla. Mix with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until all ingredients are incorporated. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.
- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip butter with the whisk attachment. Add vanilla and cream; whip until incorporated. Add shortening in large pieces, allowing it to be completely incorporated before adding the next piece. Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Add cocoa powders and one cup of powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until mostly combined, then medium-high speed until completely combined. Repeat with remaining powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
To make the filling:
- Save ½ cup of the caramel sauce to drizzle on the outside of the cake. Place the remaining caramel in a bowl and stir in 1 cup chopped pecans. Set aside.
- To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake plate or stand. Pipe a border of frosting around the top and spread half of the filling inside. Repeat with the second cake layer and second half of the filling.
- Place the third cake layer on top and cover the whole cake with frosting. (If you plan to pipe some frosting around the top of the finished cake, it can be helpful to go ahead and save some in a piping bag so you don’t run out!)
- Using a piping bag or squeeze bottle, add caramel drips around the top edge of the cake. Start just inside the edge of the cake, squeeze the bottle, and let the caramel run over the edge. Continue adding drips around the edge and then drizzle or spread the remaining caramel over the center of the cake.
- Let the caramel set for a few minutes before piping frosting on top of it.
- Store cake in the fridge until ready to serve. You can place the cake in the refrigerator until the frosting firms up (20 to 30 minutes), and then cover loosely with plastic wrap.
- Let the cake come to room temperature when you’re ready to serve!