Real Deal Caramel Cake

There’s a reason why my Real Deal Caramel Cake is sought after by everybody on the web. It’s legit the best, hands down! It’s been the number one caramel cake recipe online for over 10 years, and here’s why! It’s got a moist buttery yellow cake base made from scratch that’s coated in the ultimate caramel icing from my Mississippi bred Aunt Beverly who handed it down to me. The icing is cooked slowly over the stove until it reaches the perfect sticky silky texture. This is about as authentic of a recipe as you will find, plus I have a video to help you along with step by step images. They don’t call it the real deal for nothin!

The absolute best! Ten toes down! Make me feel like I am back down south at my cousin Bert house who kept a caramel cake on her table for every family occasion! – Janel Robinson

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy.

A slice of the best caramel cake recipe on a white plate under a cake server with full caramel cake in the white background

Folks from the South know that an old fashioned caramel cake is a delicacy. It’s a classic that deserves time, love and true skill. It ain’t to be played around with. That’s why Southern folks know that everybody can’t make this recipe. I couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you that’s been in my family for as long as I can remember. The funny thing about caramel cake is a lot of people did not become familiar with it until the movie “The Help” mentioned it. After the movie was released in theaters, I saw tons of replicas of this classic cake online but none of these recipes were as authentic as I thought they should be. Let me show you why they call this one the “real deal”.

The Lowdown on the Best Caramel Cake Recipe

Cuisine Inspiration: Southern Classic Done the Right Way!
Primary Cooking Method: Baking and Simmering
Dietary Info: Contains Dairy and Gluten boos
Key Flavor: Buttery, Moist, Vanilla Vibes with Sweet, Gooey, Rich, Caramel Vibes
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced (this ain’t for the faint of heart!)

  • Moist Cake: If you make this right and don’t overbake, you will have a super tender, slightly dense but light yellow butter cake that is the perfect foundation for that insanely addictive caramel.
  • Caramel Cake Icing: Listen, this icing is the thing that keeps folks coming back asking you how you made it! It takes patience and commitment. While it’s a simple recipe with simple ingredients, you gotta be all in on making it just right.
  • No shortcuts! My southern caramel cake recipe is all from scratch with no shortcuts. We play no games here. If you see one of those recipes online that tell you brown sugar goes in caramel, run don’t walk! That ain’t it boos! This is how you make caramel cake like the Southern old schoolers do.

Ingredients You Will Need To Make Southern Caramel Cake From Scatch

Eggs, sugar, flour, butter, vanilla and other ingredients on a white surface in bowls and measuring spoons to make a Southern caramel cake

For the Moist Caramel Cake Batter

  • Butter: This is gonna give our cake that buttery, tender crumb. And it needs to be room temperature boos. Grab unsalted so you can control the salt content here.
  • Vegetable oil: Truth be told, butter cakes can sometimes dry out if you let them overbake slightly so I give y’all some insurance by adding just a little neutral flavored oil in to keep it moist.
  • Granulated sugar: Creamed with that butter, sugar gives structure and texture as well as the perfect amount of sweetness.
  • Flour: Cake flour is the move here so our cake doesn’t develop too much gluten and get tough. We lighten the texture by sifting it too!
  • Eggs: I know this cake has a lot of eggs but they are necessary. They bind the cake together and give structure while also adding rich flavor and color too! Egg yolks have more moisture than egg whites so we add a couple in.
  • Baking powder and salt: These give our cake some lift so it rises and is fluffy while also providing a bit of flavor. Don’t ever forget to sprinkle a pinch of salt in any dessert you make.
  • Sour cream: This is gonna give this cake so much moisture and a bit of tangy flavor.
  • Vanilla extract: Grab the very best you can find since the quality will dictate how much of that wonderful aromatic vanilla vibe you get in your finished product.

For the Caramel Cake Icing

  • Butter: We use salted here. This is the base of our caramel and nothing adds better richness than real butter.
  • Evaporated Milk: This is gonna give that creaminess and smooth silky texture once that caramel thickens.
  • Granulated Sugar: If it ain’t sticky and sweet, it ain’t caramel. Gotta add that sugar boos!
  • Vanilla extract: Yep, that vanilla has to show up again to enhance that final flavor with some slight aromatic notes.

How to Make Caramel Cake

Step 1: Mix Up the Cake Batter

  1. Cream the butter, oil, and sugar on high until good and mixed up. We are looking for nice, light and fluffy vibes so let the mixer go for about 5-6 minutes.
  2. Turn the mixer to medium speed and mix in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time until they are well incorporated. Next, toss in the vanilla extract and mix again.
  3. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a medium sized bowl then slow the mixer to slow speed. Alternate adding in the dry ingredients with the sour cream then finally end with the rest of the dry ingredients.
A collage of yellow cake batter being made with butter and sugar being creamed and eggs, sour cream and flour being added

At the end of mixing, the batter should be silky and super smooth.

PRO TIP: Don’t overmix. Once you add the flour, it’s time to relax boos. We don’t want to overact the gluten and create a tough cake texture.

A silky yellow butter cake batter in a stand mixer bowl

Step 2: Time to Bake!

  1. Evenly pour batter into the greased up parchment lined cake pans and bake in the oven until fully baked, about 23-30 minutes.
  2. Remove the cake pans from the oven and cool on cooling racks for 10 minutes and then remove them from the pan to continue cooling.

PRO TIP: You don’t want to overbake the cakes. I suggest checking earlier and watching closely in the last 5-10 minutes of baking so you can remove them as soon as they are done. Remember if you are using the toothpick test, a few moist crumbs are fine. It shouldn’t come out completely clean.

A collage of cake batter split between three cake pans before and after baking until golden

Step 3: Make the Caramel Cake Icing

  1. Add the butter, evaporated milk, and sugar to a saucepan over medium heat, mix together after it all melts.
  2. Cook over low to medium heat for about 1 1/2- 2 hours, stirring consistently and watching the entire time to make sure it does not burn. Once it has thickened and the caramel has darkened to a beautiful golden brown, it’s good to go boos.
A collage of real deal caramel cake icing being cooked on stove top until getting golden and bubbly

TOP TIP: Low and slow is the best way to achieve this perfect icing. The color will deepen and it will naturally thicken but it takes time y’all.

TOP TIP: Remember to make sure that the caramel turns the color and thick texture of the photo BELOW before stopping the heat. It should also COMPLETELY coat the back of a spoon and slowly slide off to ensure thickness.

  1. When the correct color is reached, remove the caramel icing from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
  2. Cool the icing for about 15-20 minutes to allow it to thicken before icing the cake.

Step 4: Ice the Cake and Serve It Up!

  1. To assemble, make sure those cake layers have cooled down completely. Melty sliding cake ain’t cute.
  2. This cake bakes up pretty flat so no need to use a cake leveler plus I think classic caramel cakes should look a little rustic. Add a small dollop of icing to the center of your cake plate or stand then place the first layer on top. This will help it stay in place.
  3. Using an offset spatula, spread a 1/4 of the caramel icing over the first layer spreading to the ends. Let it set for about 5 minutes so it can firm up just a bit.
  4. Then carefully add the next layer and center it directly over the first layer. Repeat adding another 1/4 of the icing and spreading over it. Set another 5 minutes.
  5. Finally repeat with the final layer of the cake adding right on top. Spread the remaining caramel cake icing over the top and around the sides of the cake. It ain’t gotta be perfect because it’s homemade ya dig? Let it set for about 30 minutes to set then get ready to serve it up!
A collage of southern caramel icing finished in a pot before icing on yellow cake layers and assembling

How to Serve Old Fashioned Caramel Cake

We owe a debt of gratitude to Aunt Bev. Her caramel icing is the most luscious thing I’ve tasted in years – it’s worth every minute you watch it thicken. And the cake – it’s my new standard for yellow cake. Thank you for sharing this. FIVE stars and more! – Jean Grow

Recipe Substitutions

  • Butter: If you only have unsalted, add in a pinch of salt to the icing. If you only have salted butter, omit the salt in the cake batter.
  • Sour Cream: If ya ain’t got sour cream lying around, sub in buttermilk or even plain greek yogurt. They will both give that wonderful tangy flavor and moisture.
  • Cake Flour: You can make your very own boos! Just grab all-purpose flour and cornstarch and follow these steps on how to make cake flour.
  • Baking Powder: No baking powder? Combine 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to create a great substitute.
An overhead of a homemade caramel cake from scratch with a slice being taken out of the whole on a white cake stand on a server

Recipe Variations and Additions

  • Turtle Vibes: If you love turtle candy, this can give all those vibes too. Drizzle the classic caramel cake with some smooth chocolate ganache and sprinkle on toasted pecans.
  • Salt it Up: Ain’t nothing like salted caramel y’all. Salty and sweet stay winning. Just add some sprinkles of sea salt over the cooled caramel icing to really amp up the salt.
  • Rum: Add a little rum extract to the batter to give a fun boozy note. You can toss a bit into the caramel too.
  • Chocolate: Change the layers to this chocolate birthday cake for a delish chocolate caramel cake that is as indulgent as they come.
  • Give it Fall Vibes: Either change up the cake layers to pumpkin cake layers or add some apple filling to the layers, and it’s ready for Autumn.

Expert Tips and Tricks for the Best Old School Caramel Cake Recipe

  • This cake recipe takes planning boos. Make sure you allow plenty of time to bake this up- at least three hours from start to finish.
  • Is your cake sliding? It’s because the caramel icing recipe is too thin and needs to be thickened u some. 
  • Make sure the cakes are fully cool before icing.
  • After cooling the icing, if you see that it is too warm and still not completely thick enough, cool it in the refrigerator to allow it to thicken more.
  • Want more of a frosting texture? Some people like to take the caramel and whip it in a stand mixer to create more of a frosting rather than an icing. That is totally up to you.
  • Give it time to cool. I like to let it cool at least 30 minutes. It will help with frosting the cake without the icing dripping everywhere and the layers sliding too much.
A slice of old fashioned caramel cake on a white plate with a fork full taken out on a white background

How to Store Classic Caramel Cake

  • Room Temperature: This cake can stay at room temp for up to 3 days due to the high sugar content in the cooked icing. Just add to a cake carrier to keep it protected.
  • Fridge: Wrap your cake loosely with plastic wrap or add to a cake carrier to keep it from drying out. It will last about 4 days.
  • Freezer: Double wrap your iced cake loosely in plastic wrap so it creates a good sealing. Then wrap the plastic wrap with foil for an extra layer of freezer burn protection. It should last about 2 months boos.
  • How to Re-Serve: Bring your slices back to room temperature before serving it up! It will soften the texture and return the caramel icing back to silky glory.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make Southern Caramel Cake ahead?

Yep you sure can. You can make the layers ahead and freeze by wrapping them tightly with plastic wrap so they don’t get any freezer burn. Just let them come back to room temperature before you ice the cake. You can also make the icing ahead of time and pop in an airtight container in the fridge. When you are ready to ice the cake, reheat gently on the stovetop and add a little warm milk to loosen it if necessary.

My caramel cake icing is a little runny. What can I do to fix it?

Remember not to remove your icing from the stove until it is completely thickened and coating the back of a spoon and slowly falling off. If you still ended up not thickening enough, you can stick the caramel in the fridge after you finish it to allow it to thicken more.  Wait for it to solidify some, and then add a little warm milk if you need it to be more spreadable.  

Do I need to sift the flour in this Old Fashioned Caramel Cake recipe?

Yep I suggest that you do boo. It will create a much lighter, airy and smooth texture. However it will still turn out fine if you don’t do it.

Help! My caramel cake icing is too thick! What should I do?

Easy fix y’all! Just loosen it up by adding just a bit of warm milk.

I overbaked my caramel cake layers. What can I do?

If you think your cake may have turned out a bit dry, a little simple syrup will help. You can make it by adding equal parts sugar and water to a pot simmering over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, you can brush this on top of the cake layers.

Your Cake Creations

I love seeing your Real Deal Caramel Cake Recipe Creations!!  Check out some of the amazing photos I have received! After more than 10 years, I must say my southern caramel cake recipe is still one of my top ones!

A collage of Images of readers real deal caramel cake creations.

More of the Best Cake Recipes You’ll Love

Fave Caramel Recipes

*Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating and leave comments below!* Post a photo of how your version of the recipe came out on Instagram (using #grandbabycakes)!!

A slice of old fashioned caramel cake on a white plate with a fork full taken out on a white background

Real Deal Southern Caramel Cake

This is the Best Southern Caramel Cake. It's got a moist buttery yellow cake base topped with scratch caramel icing.
4.31 from 964 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Caramel Icing 2 hours
Total Time 30 minutes
Course: Dessert
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter 2 sticks, room temperature
  • cup vegetable oil
  • 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

For Aunt Bev’s Caramel Icing:

  • 3/4 cups salted butter 1 1/2 sticks
  • 24 oz evaporated milk 2 (12 oz cans)
  • 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions

For the Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together butter, oil and sugar on high speed until fully incorporated and light and fluffy, about 5-6 minutes.
  • Turn mixer to medium speed and mix in eggs and egg yolks one at a time until well incorporated. Use spatula to scrape down the bowl.
  • Add in vanilla extract and mix.
  • Sift cake flour, baking powder and salt into a medium sized bowl.
  • With mixer on slow speed, alternate adding in flour mixture and sour cream ending with flour mixture until mixed through.
  • Do not over mix.
  • Spray three 9 inch round cake pans with baking spray or grease and flour them.
  • Pour batter into individual cake pans evenly.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 23-30 minutes or until fully baked (but DON’T OVERBAKE THESE CAKES- CHECK THEM EARILER SO THEY DON’T DRY OUT).
  • Remove cake pans from oven and cool on cooling racks for 10 minutes.
  • Remove cakes from pans and wait until completely cooled to ice.

For the Caramel Icing:

  • Add butter, evaporated milk, and sugar to saucepan over medium low heat until everything has melted together.
  • Leave over medium low heat stirring consistently for about 1 1/2- 2 hours (watch the entire time to make sure it does not burn until thickened and caramel has darkened to a beautiful golden brown. Note: if it is taking a while, you can turn up the heat a little more to speed up the thickening process but you MUST WATCH CAREFULLY AND STIR FREQUENTLY.
  • Make sure that the caramel turns the color of the photo below before stopping the heat. It should thicken to the texture in the video as well.
  • It should also thickly coat the back of a spoon to ensure thickness. See notes below for additional tips for the caramel.
  • Be careful to watch, adjusting heat temperature to not let it burn.
  • Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
  • Cool for about 15-20 minutes to allow it to thicken before icing the cake. If you see that it is too warm and still not completely thick enough, cool it in the refrigerator and get it thick!
  • P.S. Some people like to take the caramel and whip it in a stand mixer to create more of a frosting texture. That is totally up to you.

To Assemble

  • To assemble, make sure those cake layers have cooled down completely.
  • Add a small dollop of icing to the center of your cake plate or stand then place the first layer on top. This will help it stay in place.
  • Using an offset spatula, spread a 1/4 of the caramel icing over the first layer spreading to the ends. Let it set for about 5 minutes so it can firm up just a bit.
  • Then carefully add the next layer and center it directly over the first layer. Repeat adding another 1/4 of the icing and spreading over it. Set another 5 minutes.
  • Finally repeat with the final layer of the cake adding right on top. Spread the remaining caramel cake icing over the top and around the sides of the cake.Let it set for about 30 minutes to set then get ready to serve it up!

Video

Notes

How To Store Classic Caramel Cake

  • Room Temperature: This cake can stay at room temp for up to 3 days due to the high sugar content in the cooked icing. Just add to a cake carrier to keep it protected.
  • Fridge: Wrap your cake loosely with plastic wrap or add to a cake carrier to keep it from drying out. It will last about 4 days.
  • Freezer: Double wrap your iced cake loosely in plastic wrap so it creates a good sealing. Then wrap the plastic wrap with foil for an extra layer of freezer burn protection. It should last about 2 months boos.
  • How to Re-Serve: Bring your slices back to room temperature before serving it up! It will soften the texture and return the caramel icing back to silky glory.

Nutrition

Calories: 862kcal | Carbohydrates: 104g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Cholesterol: 221mg | Sodium: 316mg | Potassium: 319mg | Sugar: 81g | Vitamin A: 1260IU | Vitamin C: 1.3mg | Calcium: 220mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this Recipe? Tag me Today!Mention @GrandbabyCakes or tag #grandbabycakes!

This post was published in November 2012. It has been updated with new content.

Filed Under:  Cake, Dessert and Baking, Oven, Southern Classics, Thanksgiving

Comments

  1. Is the butter unsalted or salted for Aunt Bev’s icing? I made before, but cannot recall what worked best?!

  2. I’m in the process of making the icing now, it’s been cooking for and hour now. I just went back to re-read instructions and look at the color and realized I added the vanilla during the first step, will this cause issues? Thanks

  3. Hi! I’m excited to try your recipe! Quick question, do you prefer pet milk or carnation? Also, do you use a stainless steel or non stick pot to cook the caramel in?

    1. Stainless is great and I used carnation but any evaporated milk is perfectly fine.

4.31 from 964 votes (668 ratings without comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating