Home Desserts Southern Caramel Cake Recipe

Southern Caramel Cake Recipe

This Southern caramel cake is a true showstopper. It boasts layers of moist, tender vanilla sponge enrobed in a decadent, silky-smooth caramel frosting. 

Every forkful is a blissful balance of sweet, buttery flavors and melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Trust me, this cake is worth every ounce of effort! In fact, I’m already dreaming up excuses to bake this beauty again.  

Sweet and buttery homemade southern caramel cake with a portion taken to reveal its filling
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Why You’ll Love This Southern Caramel Cake

I think I’ve died and gone to caramel cake heaven! 

Perfect for special occasions or whenever your sweet tooth calls, this timeless dessert is sure to impress. 

Here’s what makes it so unique:

Old Fashioned Never Goes Out of Style: Southern Caramel Cake is a beloved dessert that’s been passed down for generations. And it’s just as dreamy today as it was when Grandma made it!

Impressive Presentation: With its stacked layers and glossy caramel icing, this cake is perfect for birthdays, anniversaries, and more. 

Irresistible Flavor: The cake itself is an impossibly tender, buttery sponge. But the decadent caramel icing is the real star. It’s what’ll have everyone coming back for seconds (and thirds!).

Ingredients

This labor of love is what Southern baking is all about. And while it’s loaded with incredible flavor, it only calls for pantry staple ingredients.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • All-Purpose Flour: The foundation of the cake’s structure. You can use cake flour, but you’ll need an extra 1/4 cup. 
  • Baking Powder: The leavening agent that helps the cake rise to fluffy perfection. 
  • Salt: The flavor enhancer that balances the sweetness and brings out the best in the other ingredients.
  • Unsalted Butter: Adds richness and a melt-in-your-mouth texture to both the cake and frosting.
  • Granulated Sugar and Dark Brown Sugar: The sweeteners that make this cake irresistible. Dark brown sugar is for the caramel.
  • Large Eggs: The binding agent to hold the cake together. They also add moisture and richness. 
  • Vanilla Extract: Infuses the cake and frosting with a warm, sweet aroma. Use pure extract or vanilla paste for the best flavor.
  • Buttermilk: This acidic ingredient is the key to the tender sponge. 
  • Evaporated Milk: Gives the caramel frosting its creamy consistency and luscious mouthfeel. 
  • Powdered Sugar: Sweetens and thickens the caramel frosting so it’s spreadable. 
A person stirring caramel frosting in a pan, overhead view

How to Make Southern Caramel Cake

Full disclosure: between the tender yellow cake and silky smooth caramel icing, this recipe takes a bit of time to perfect.

But it’s more than worth it in the end!

Here’s how it’s done:

1. PREP. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. CREAM. Beat the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. 

3. COMBINE. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then, gently stir into the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk until just combined. 

4. BAKE. Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Let the pans cool for 10 minutes, then turn them onto wire racks to cool completely.

5. BOIL. While the cakes cool, make the frosting. Bring the brown sugar, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Then, add the evaporated milk, boil and stir for 5-7 minutes or until thickened. 

6. BEAT. Remove from the heat and transfer the hot caramel to a large bowl or a stand mixer. Gradually and carefully beat in the powdered sugar with an electric mixer or paddle until smooth and spreadable. Add the vanilla last.

7. ASSEMBLE. Fill the two cakes with about 1 cup of icing. Spread the rest over the whole cake, then let it sit for at least 2 hours before serving.

A slice of cake with caramel frosting on a white plate ready to be enjoyed

Tips For the Best Southern Caramel Cake

I should warn you that the frosting for this recipe is a bit tricky. It’s nothing crazy, but you need to keep an eye on it and work fast.

With that said, here are my top tips to ensure your cake is perfect:

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  • Alternate the wet and dry. Add 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 the buttermilk, 1/3 flour, buttermilk, then flour again. This technique helps to distribute moisture throughout the batter evenly and prevents overmixing.
  • Don’t overbake. Check the cakes early and remove them from the oven when center springs back, and the edges pull away from the pan.
  • Cool completely. Let the cake layers cool completely on wire racks before attempting to frost.
  • Caramel basics: Let the sugar and butter bubble until the sugar is dissolved. Then, add room-temperature evaporated milk, whisk constantly, and simmer until it’s dark and thick.  
  • Work quickly. Spread the caramel icing on the cake layers immediately after making it, while it’s still warm and pourable. If you wait, it’ll start to set and won’t spread.
  • Fix cracks. If the icing is already setting, use a hot knife to melt the cracked area and smooth it out gently. Or you can place the pot over low heat to soften the remaining frosting.
Whole southern caramel cake completely covered with frosting

How to Store

As mentioned, this is a terrific make-ahead dessert for any occasion. But you need to know how to store it to keep it fresh!

Here’s the low-down:

To Store: Place the whole cake in a cake dome or transfer leftovers to an airtight container. Keep at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the fridge for up to 1 week.

To Freeze: Wrap the chilled cake (whole or in slices) tightly in a couple of layers of plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, and freeze for 2-3 months. 

Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator. Let chilled cake come to room temperature to serve.

More Southern Sweets You’ll Adore

Butter Pecan Pound Cake
Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Southern Pecan Pralines
Banana Pudding Cake

Southern Caramel Cake Recipe

Course: DessertCuisine: American
Servings

12

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

35

minutes
Calories

785

kcal

This Southern caramel cake is a true showstopper. Every forkful is a blissful balance of sweet, buttery flavors and melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Ingredients

  • For the Cake:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (or 3 1/4 cups cake flour)

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

  • For the Caramel Frosting:
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar

  • 1 cup unsalted butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk, room temperature

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or grease and line with parchment. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, followed by the vanilla.
  • With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just incorporated.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning them onto wire racks to cool completely.
  • For the frosting, combine the brown sugar, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Add the room-temperature evaporated milk and continue cooking and stirring for 5-7 minutes until dark and thickened.
  • Remove the caramel from the heat and transfer to a large, heatproof bowl. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until smooth and spreadable. Add the vanilla at the end.
  • Working quickly, place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread about 1 cup of the warm frosting over the surface, then top it with the other cake. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, then set aside to cool for 2 hours.
  • When the frosting is set, slice, serve, and enjoy!

Notes

  • Use 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour for a lighter, more tender crumb.
  • Bring all ingredients to room temperature, especially the evaporated milk.
  • If the frosting becomes too thick, add a little hot water. If it becomes too thin, add more powdered sugar. Then, work quickly to frost the cake before the caramel sets.
Southern Caramel Cake

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author avatar
Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

2 thoughts on “Southern Caramel Cake Recipe”

    • Hi Janis!
      You can totally bake this in a 9×13 pan.

      The cake will be quite thick, so it will need about 30-40 minutes.
      Check it after 25, and spin the pan around in the oven. Then go from there (every oven is different) and bake in 5 minute intervals until done.

      As for the frosting, I’m guessing you’ll only need about half of the recipe, since the amounts listed are to fill and cover a layer cake. But if you want it thick, make it as written and save any extra for another use.

      Let me know how it turns out!

      Reply

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