Caramel Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This is a luscious layer cake, a Southern favorite and a perfect cake to share with family and friends. The Caramel Frosting starts with a brown sugar, butter, and cream mixture that is first cooked, and then beaten with confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. The frosting is sweet, but when paired with a yellow butter sour cream cake it is like biting into a piece of sweet heaven. Unlike some brown sugar frostings such as penuche that become dry and sugary, this frosting stays soft and creamy.

I have used caramel sticks to decorate the cake and are completely optional. Caramel sticks are easy to make, and add a fun garnish and crunchy sweetness.
Recipe type: Dessert | Butter Layer Cake | Caramel
Serves: 10 to 12
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • ¼ cup milk, room temperature (preferably whole milk)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
Caramel Frosting:
  • 10 Tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 2½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whipping (heavy) cream, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Caramel Sticks (optional):
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8 inch round layer cake pans; lightly grease the pans with shortening and dust with flour. Tip: to make baked cake easier to remove from pan, lightly grease the pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and then lightly grease the top of the parchment paper and dust the pan with flour.
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; sift or whisk together to mix. Set aside.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, stir the sour cream, milk, and vanilla together. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Tip: To cream, start by placing the butter in the bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed begin by beating the butter about 1 minute until it is smooth and light in color. With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly add the sugar to the butter, either one tablespoon at a time, or in a very slow steady stream, taking from 4 to 8 minutes to add all of the sugar, and beating until the butter and sugar are fully incorporated and the mixture is a light, or pale yellow color, with a fluffy texture. While adding the sugar, stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the mixture off the paddle and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly mixed. Tip: For each egg, crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork to thoroughly break up the egg before adding to the creamed mixture. Start with the mixer on low speed so the liquid from the egg doesn’t splatter, once the egg is partially mixed increase the speed to medium. Each egg should be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next egg, taking about one minute to blend in each egg.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, add about one third of the flour mixture, mix just until the flour is almost completely blended. Scrape the bowl down, and add about one half of the milk mixture, blending just until mixed. Scrape the bowl down again and continue alternating with the flour mixture and milk mixture, ending with the last portion of the flour, and stirring just until blended.
  6. Bake: Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with the back of a large spoon. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a long toothpick, wooden skewer, or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pans on a wire cooling rack to cool for 10 to 15 minutes then remove cake from the pans and place the cake on the wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
Caramel Frosting:
  1. In a medium size heavy-bottomed pan combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Heat on low heat until the butter is melted and sugar dissolves, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat, gradually stir in the whipping cream. Return the pan to the heat; bring back to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand about 5 minutes to let the bubbling subside and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  2. Pour hot sugar mixture into a large bowl of an electric mixer; add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until completely smooth and free of lumps. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the mixture off the paddle and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly. Let stand until cooled and mixture is stiff enough for frosting, 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. To speed the cooling, either place in the refrigerator or set the bowl in a large bowl of ice water.
  3. When frosting is cooled and stiffened, stir again to loosen and make fluffy. If the frosting seems too stiff, stir in a few drops of water; if the frosting seems too soft, stir in a little more confectioners’ sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.
  4. Frosting should be used immediately. Using an offset spatula, spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake. If the frosting seems to stiffen too much while frosting the cake, beat in a few drops of water.
Caramel Sticks (optional):
  1. Line a baking sheet with a non-stick baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan saucepan combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir gently to avoid splashing the mixture onto the sides of the pan. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil, without stirring, until the syrup reaches a temperature of 320 degrees F, a light caramel stage, using a candy or instant read thermometer to gauge the temperature. While the syrup is cooking, wash away any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan by wiping upwards with a damp pastry brush so the sugar crystals don’t fall back into the syrup. Immediately remove pan from the heat. Tip: Lower the heat when the temperature reaches 300 degrees to slow the cooking because at this point it will quickly reach 320 degrees. In addition, remove the pan from the heat just before the syrup reaches 320 degrees to prevent it from going over 320 degrees F.
  3. Let the hot caramel sit and cool to 300 degrees F, about 5 minutes. The caramel should be thick like molasses.
  4. Carefully scoop out the caramel using a teaspoon and pour the caramel off the spoon across the baking sheet, forming thin lines of caramel the length of the baking sheet. The caramel will start to harden immediately. Be careful, the caramel is extremely hot and will burn your skin if you touch it. Repeat with the remaining caramel. When ready to use, the sticks can be left long or broken into smaller lengths. To break them either tap them with a knife or cut with clean kitchen shears.
  5. If the caramel becomes too cool and hardened before you finish making all the sticks, place the pan over low heat to reheat it.
  6. Place caramel sticks around the outside edge of the frosted cake. Do not refrigerate as the caramel sticks will become sticky.
Adapted From: Classic Southern Desserts, Oxmoor House, Iowa, 2010; Baggett, Nancy, The All-American Dessert Book, Houghton Mifflin Co, New York, 2005; Yard, Sherry, The Secrets of Baking, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 2003
Recipe Notes
Pan: Three 8" Round Layers Pan Prep: Greased and Floured Oven Temp: 350° Storage: Covered, Room Temperature

Help: Cake Hints and Tips, Sugar and Caramel Stages

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