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Yellow Cake with Caramel Frosting (Southern Caramel Cake)

by on December 29, 2012 · 26 comments

Check out my birthday cake!  It may not look very festive, but it definitely brightened the day because it was my first attempt at a true Southern caramel cake.

Caramel Cake

Caramel cake is a Southern classic, but I’d never even heard of it until I was in my thirties and saw it in The Cake Mix Doctor.  That version was made with a doctored cake mix and a quick confectioners’ sugar and brown sugar frosting which hardened up like a praline after you poured it over the cake.  I was very proud of myself for mastering the quick version of the frosting, but as the years went by I learned that real Southern caramel cake was made with granulated and/or brown sugar and cooked over the stove using a candy thermometer.  The version I’d been making was the “cheat” version, and I knew that one day I’d need to master a more authentic one.

Slice of Caramel Cake

Which brings me back to yesterday.  I had all day long to bake, and decided that my birthday cake would be caramel cake.   Since I didn’t have a Southern grandma around to tell me how to do it, I just used a Southern Living version found via The yellow cake was fantastic.  As for the caramel frosting, it was unusual in that it contained granulated sugar and an egg, whereas most of the other versions called for brown sugar and evaporated milk.  Maybe the egg is what made it easier to work with, because it didn’t harden as fast as the  confectioners’ sugar based icing and didn’t crack quite so much, either.  We loved it, but now that I’ve studied up on caramel cake, I want to try some of the other  versions made with with  brown sugar and/or evaporated milk.  As for the cake, I’m sticking with this this one, though I’ve seen another popular version that calls for self-rising flour.


5.0 from 2 reviews
Caramel Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A scratch yellow cake made with sour cream and topped with a caramel frosting
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 10
  • 2 3/4 cups( 12.4 ounces) aerated and stirred all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup room temperature sour cream
  • 3 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, room temp
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9x2 -inch metal cake pans with flour-added baking spray or grease with butter/shortening and flour.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium high speed until light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice and beating for about 5 minutes or until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and continue beating for another minute or two, scraping sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low and add the milk, then add flour and sour cream alternately. When flour is fully incorporated, divide evenly among the pans.
  4. Bake on center rack for about 35 minutes or until cakes spring back when touched and a pick inserted comes out clean.
  5. To make the frosting, put 2 1/2 cups of the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mash it around until mixture is grainy and moist, then add the egg, milk and salt and stir until relatively smooth. Set aside.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup sugar in 3-4 quart heavy duty saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar melts and syrup is a light golden brown.
  7. Remove from heat and stir the butter mixture into hot caramelized sugar, then return to heat and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 235 on a candy thermometer. Note: When you first put the butter mixture into the caramelized sugar, it will start to harden and clump. Just keep cooking and stirring and it will all melt together, but do keep the heat even. This process should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. When mixture reaches 235, remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
  9. Add the vanilla and beat frosting with a wooden spoon to almost spreading consistency or you can cheat a bit. Pour it into a mixing bowl and beat it with a handheld mixer until it starts to thicken. As soon as it's thick enough to pour, but not too runny, spoon some over the first layer of cake. It should fan out a bit, but eventually set. Stack on the second layer of cake and pour some more caramel carefully over the top. Spread it around the sides the best you can.
If your cake pans are 9x1 1/2 rather than 9x2, you can use them anyway, but leave behind about 1/3 cup of the batter so that the cake won't rise over the top. The frosting came together nicely. I used a thick, nonstick, black saucepan rather than a metal pan, so the sugar took a little longer to melt, but the candy came to 235 at a nice, even pace. The most difficult part of the recipe was knowing just when to pour the caramel onto the cake. I needed to be soft enough to spread out, but cool enough to set.

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Published on December 29, 2012

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy December 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm

whoa! Yum! I grew up on this, but several skinny layers. Will anxiously await your frosting experiments.

karen December 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Wow – that looks like the real deal – your courage paid off! Happy Birthday!

Martha December 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Happy Birthday, Anna! Your southern caramel cake looks delicious. As a cook with a large lazy streak, I love how the cake mix doctor make baking easy and accessible, but usually prefer the taste/texture of from-scratch cakes.

Ela December 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Happy Birthday, Anna!!! You baked my very favorite cake. Cheers!!!

Sue/the view from great island December 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

This looks so good, I’ve been dying to try a recipe for caramel cake since I had some in North Carolina last year, thanks for the inspiration!

Katrina December 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Looks great! I have that same red-bottom (white top, Walmart special?) cake keeper. ;) A couple years ago Parker had a caramel cake for his birthday, but it was a caramel buttercream. He’d probably like this though. He doesn’t like chocolate.

Linda December 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Happy Birthday, Anna!

Sue December 29, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Oh my! That looks wonderful.

beth December 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Happy Birthday and thanks for introducing me to Southern Carmel Cake! Sounds devine.

Kathy December 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Happy Birthday! :)

Amy @ What Jew Wanna Eat December 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Happy birthday, Anna!

Im At Home Baking December 30, 2012 at 1:11 am

Yum!!! Looks very delicious!

Allison W December 30, 2012 at 7:58 am

Happy Birthday!!! That looks divine! Today is my birthday and I’m now contemplating making a cake for myself even though my SO has made me one already!

Anna December 30, 2012 at 9:33 am

My mom saw the cake and said that one of my great grandmothers (the one I never met) used to make it all the time, but that hers was taller and had a darker caramel.

Darlene December 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Happy Birthday. Anna! Hope your day was as special as you are!
Prior to reading ‘The Help’, I had never heard of a Caramel Cake but the frequent reference to Minny’s Caramel Cake made me excited to try it. So happy you found a delicious recipe for us, and that it doesn’t use self-rising flour (which I never have).

Martha in KS December 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Happy Birthday! My mom made caramel icing – guess it’s time I try it.

Carol December 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Happy Birthday! I have been wanting to make this for years and this looks like the perfect recipe to try!

gloria December 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Happy birthday and thanks for your present to us!!! This looks devine!!!

Rebecca December 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Wow, that looks fantastic! I wish my house wasn’t already filled with treats so I could make one. Happy Birthday!

Janice January 2, 2013 at 2:26 am

I say to you…Happy, happy birthday!
…but wait…Anna, is your birthday the 29th? The same day as my baby girl Katie?
Wow, small world then as I was going to ask you for some help as my baby just moved to Austin…downtown Austin!

Dee January 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Looks delicious. Happy Birthday, Anna!

Jennifer January 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

Happy belated birthday! I am behind on my blog reading so missed that.
I’ve never made nor had a caramel cake. It looks delicious but I am a failure at making homemade yellow cake, so that part scares me a little.

Michelle P. January 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm

This cake looks so good! I’ve been wanting to try making a caramel cake. Have you looked at the cookbook “Cake Ladies”. If you haven’t yet, I recommend it. I think you’d love it. It is full of really neat stories about different ladies and then they share a favorite/signature cake. They have a caramel cake in there that I’ve been wanting to try as well.

Berdell July 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm

The cake looks wonderfull.As a girl growing up in central Virginia I remember so well vesting my aunts for Homecoming at our family church or a big Sunday Dinner and a carmel on the back porch on a special shelf made for keeping cakes and pies cool or having a beautiful Carmel cake on the buffet in the Dinning Room.
I have made at least two in the last 4 years for special events and they have been a hit with all who had them.
There is nothing like a caramel cake and I prefer the icing that you cook with sugar and evaporated milk it is divine.
I save the leftover in ajar warm it and serve as a dipping sauce for crisp thin apple slices, my grand children love it. you choose the right B’day cake.

Betsy August 15, 2013 at 9:07 pm

WOW! I can’t believe how easy this recipe was. It is my first successful caramel icing ever! Icing taste marvelous! Next time I will try a lighter batter and thinner layers to get more caramel.

stephanie March 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Have you ever substituted soy milk in a caramel frosting recipe? I have to make a dairy free version and this looks delicious!

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