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4.41 from 42 votes

Southern Caramel Cake

Southern caramel cake with homemade caramel icing from butter, sugar, and cream. This is a classic, favorite family recipe.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Total Time1 hr 45 mins
Servings: 15 servings
Calories: 518kcal
Author: Lucy Brewer



  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting cake pans
  • tsp salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup half-and-half, plus a little more when frosting sets up
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla



  • Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour then line with parchment paper in two 9-inch cake pans for thick layers or three 9-inch cake pans for thinner layers.
  • Sift 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour and salt into large bowl. Add sugar and whisk until blended.
  • Combine butter and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and pour over the flour and sugar. Whisk until blended.
  • Add the soda, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended and smooth. Pour batter into greased and floured baking pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, checking cake after about 15. Cake is done when tester comes out clean but be careful not to overcook. Remove pans from oven and allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn layers onto parchment covered racks to cool completely.

Caramel Frosting

  • NOTE: You will have two pots going while making this frosting so have everything ready to go and have a large hot pad.
  • In large saucepan, place 2 1/2 cups sugar, butter, half-and-half, and a dash of salt. Cook on medium until almost to a rolling boil then pour in sugar syrup that you are making in another skillet. You can turn this pot on low while you're melting the sugar in the other skillet.
  • At the same time, in a small skillet, place 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons water and stir. Melt the sugar on medium until it becomes an amber color. You don't stir this sugar after the first time but you will need to shake the skillet and lift it off the burner every few minutes to help distribute the sugar and keep it from scorching. This is the sugar syrup that you will pour into the saucepan.
  • Once you pour the sugar syrup into the milk mixture, cook slowly on medium to medium-high, stirring constantly until soft ball stage or 235-240 on thermometer (thermometers may register differently).
  • Remove pot from heat, pour into a large bowl or the stand mixer bowl, stir in vanilla, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.
  • Whip on medium speed or use hand mixer on low-to-medium and whip until the caramel becomes frosting consistency, can be up to 20 minutes.
  • If frosting sets too quickly or gets too thick or starts to separate, you can add a little additional half-and-half or milk.
  • Pour about 1/2 cup on top of each layer and the rest over the top of the cake. The frosting should run down the sides and you can spread it slightly with an offset spatula (dip in hot water.)


Recipe Tips for Making the Best Southern Caramel Cake:
  • Don't start the icing until your cake is out of the oven. The icing needs your full attention.
  • It's important to have all the ingredients measured out and ready, and have your candy thermometer ready.
  • The caramel cake icing can get quite thick and may need to be thinned with additional milk
  • If you want a lot of frosting, you may want to make this recipe twice. I do not recommend just doubling the ingredients.
  • You can use whole milk instead of half-and-half. You can also use evaporated milk, although it does change the texture slightly—I love this caramel cake icing made with evaporated milk though! It's more of a candy-like icing.