Perfect Southern Caramel Cake Recipe (with Salted Caramel Frosting)
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Perfect Southern Caramel Cake – This recipe features tender white cake and thick, luscious layers of the most decadent Salted Caramel Frosting.
There are some restaurant dishes that are so good, you simply have to try making them at home for yourself.
A bit of backstory: We love this little seafood restaurant in Hilton Head called Charlie’s. Although we go for the fresh fish entrees, the Caramel Cake is a MUST at the end of every meal. It includes four layers of a lovely simple white cake, with a dense fudge-like caramel frosting in between each of the four layers.
But because we only get a chance to make the trip to Charlie’s occasionally and I want this cake, all the time, I decided I needed to make my own version of indulgent, satisfying caramel cake…
Trust me when I say that this Southern Caramel Cake recipe is, in a word – perfect. Not only does it make the same restaurant-quality dessert you crave, but you get to lick the spoon straight out of the bowl when you make your own Salted Caramel Frosting from scratch!
Perfect Southern Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting
Southern Caramel Frosting is a truly unique thing. It’s not soft and fluffy like traditional buttercream frosting. Instead, it’s dense and sweet, with an intentional granular texture, similar to soft Mexican caramels. The sweetness of granulated sugar is rounded out by a deep salted-caramel flavor from a generous addition of salt.
This fantastically rich frosting is the perfect balance to a light, airy vanilla cake. Together they create a luscious, decadent dessert that is the perfect finisher to any authentic southern meal. Make it as a special treat to enjoy after a delicious dinner of Southern Shrimp and Grits, Chicken Bog (Rice Pilaf), Chicken and Dumplings, Brown Sugar Baked Ham, or Slow Cooker Smoked Pulled Pork!
Here’s What You Need for Homemade Salted Caramel Cake
To make the fluffiest, the most tender white vanilla cake from scratch you need:
- Cake flour – or all-purpose flour + cornstarch
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter
- Buttermilk – store-bought or homemade
- Vanilla extract
Pro Tip: It’s very important to measure the flour properly. Stir the flour in the bag to lighten it up before spooning the flour into measuring cups. Then be sure to level off the top.
For the caramel frosting you need:
- Granulated sugar
- Unsalted butter
- Baking soda
- Vanilla extract
The Equipment You Need:
- 2 9-inch Cake Pans
- Parchment Paper
- Stand Mixer (or Hand Mixer)
- Rubber Spatula
- Mixing Bowl
- Mixing Pitcher
- Wire Racks (Cooling Rack)
- Serrated Knife
- Plastic Wrap
- Baking Sheets
- 7-8 Quart Sauce Pot
- Candy Thermometer
- Flat Spreading Knife
How to Make the Best Vanilla Cake
An important tip to know before you get started: Because you are slathering dense frosting over a very soft moist cake, the cake layers must be frozen before layering and frosting. This step ensures leveled delicate cake layers, that are nestled between decadent frosting. Freeze, frost, then thaw.
Here’s how to make the fluffiest vanilla white cake that’s perfect for layering with rich salted caramel frosting:
- First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare two 9-inch cake pans by lining with parchment paper, greasing with butter, and flouring.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on high speed, until ultra-light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Then in a separate bowl, mix together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a large measuring pitcher, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, egg white, and vanilla extract.
- Turn the mixer on low and alternate adding in the flour mixture and the buttermilk, until all is combined. Scrape the bowl again with a spatula. Beat again for another few seconds, just until the batter is smooth. Do not over-mix the batter.
- Divide and pour the cake batter equally into the prepared pans and place it on the center rack in the oven. Bake, and then test the cakes by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, remove it from the oven.
Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, and then carefully flip them out onto a cooling rack and peel off the parchment paper. Continue to let the cakes cool.
Once completely cooled, use a serrated knife to cut both cakes in half to create 4 even cake layers.
Carefully wrap each individual cake layer in plastic wrap. Move them onto a baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Freeze the cakes for at least one hour.
How to Make Perfect Salted Caramel Frosting
No caramel cake recipe would be complete without a delicious salted caramel frosting!
Here’s how to make the best, easiest southern-style salted caramel frosting:
Once the cakes have been in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, go ahead and start the frosting.
Set a large saucepot over medium heat, and clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pot. Place all the frosting ingredients, except the vanilla extract, into the saucepot. Bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. The mixture will boil up at first, but will settle down as it starts to caramelize and you continue to stir regularly.
Once the caramel mixture is medium-brown in color and reaches 235 degrees F, remove from heat.
Stir in the vanilla extract and allow the mixture to cool.
Use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer) to beat the caramel frosting until the texture is loose and creamy. The frosting should have a thick, spreadable, mud-like texture.
Assembling the Southern Salted Caramel Cake
Pull the hardened cake layers out of the freezer, and work with one layer at a time. After unwrapping it from the plastic, use a long knife to spread approximately ½ cup of frosting over the cake layer.
Unwrap and set the second cake layer on top. Carefully align and gently press to level the cake.
Then spread another ½ cup of frosting over the next layer of cake. You want to make the multiple frosting layers as even as possible. Continue stacking and frosting the remaining cake’s layers until all four layers are neatly stacked and leveled.
Scoop the remaining salted caramel frosting over the top of the cake. Spread the frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake. Because the frosting is so rich and dense, it can be a little tricky to cover the edges and get smooth coverage. So if needed, dip the spreader in warm water to smooth out the final coating.
I recommend that you chill the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set the frosting before serving.
When ready to serve, let the cake sit out at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to fully thaw, so the interior cake layers are soft and delicate.
Cut into equal portions and serve.
Get the Complete (Printable) Southern Caramel Cake Recipe Below. Enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Will This Cake Keep Fresh?
Loosely cover leftover Southern Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Can I Use 8 Inch Pans Instead?
Sure you can! The baking time will change to 30-35 minutes.
Do I Really Need That Large of a Pot?
The pot in the image is 7.4 quarts. You will want to use a large pot because caramel has a tendency to boil up at first when starts to cook. Molten sugar is not only dangerous, it’s very hard to clean up, so a large pot protects you on both levels.
Why Is My Icing Runny?
Caramel icing will have a strange spreadable consistency until it sets up. (It should be a similar texture to soft mud.) If you cooked it to the right temperature, do not worry about the texture. Just trust, that southern bakers have been making caramel frosting this way for generations, and although it is different than working with classic frosting it will set over time. This odd icing sets into a luscious Mexican caramel-like texture.
Looking for More Decadent Southern Desserts?
- Best Lemon Buttermilk Cake
- Southern Hummingbird Cake Cupcakes
- Kentucky Derby Pie
- Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
- Southern Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
Check the printable recipe below for the nutrition facts on calories, protein, carbohydrates, sodium, cholesterol, and fiber.
Perfect Southern Caramel Cake Recipe (with Salted Caramel Frosting)
For the Vanilla Cake:
- 3 cups cake flour (or 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour + ¼ cup cornstarch)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened (1 ½ sticks)
- 2 large eggs + 1 egg white
- 1 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Caramel Frosting:
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set out two 9-inch cake pans. Trace the bottom of the pans onto parchment paper and cut the circles out to fit the bottom of the pans exactly. Then once the parchment paper is down in the bottom, grease and flour the pans.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on high speed, until ultra light and fluffy. (about 3-5 minutes) Then scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- In a separate bowl, mix the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Pour the buttermilk in a large measuring pitcher. Then whisk in the eggs, egg white, and vanilla extract.
- Turn the mixer on low and alternate adding in the flour mixture and the buttermilk, until all is combined. Scrape the bowl again. Then beat again for 15-30 seconds, just until the batter is smooth. Do not over-mix the batter.
- Divide and pour the cake batter equally in the prepared pans and place on the center rack in the oven. Bake 9-inch pans for 23-27 minutes. Test the cake by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven.
- Cool the cake in the pans for 15 minutes, then carefully flip out onto a cooling rack and peel off the parchment paper. Cool completely.
- Once cooled, use a serrated knife to cut both cakes in half to create 4 even cake layers.
- Carefully wrap each cake layer in plastic. Move them onto a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Freeze the cakes for at least one hour, or until rock-hard. Once the cakes have been in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, start the frosting.
For the Frosting:
- Set a large 7-8 quart sauce pot over medium heat. Clip a candy thermometer into the side of the pot. Place all the frosting ingredients, except the vanilla extract, into the saucepot. Bring to a simmer. The mixture will boil up high at first, but will settle down as it starts to caramelize. Stir regularly.
- Watch the candy thermometer and continue to stir. Once the caramel mixture is medium-brown in color and reaches 235 degrees F, remove from heat. (This can take anywhere from 25-40 minutes depending on your stovetop.)
- Stir in the vanilla extract. Then allow the mixture to cool for at least 15 minutes.
- Use a hand mixer (or pour into a stand mixer) to beat the caramel frosting for 3-5 minutes to loosen the texture. The frosting should have a spreadable mud-like texture.
- Pull the hardened cake layers out of the freezer. Unwrap and set one cake layer on a cake plate. Use a long flat spreading knife to spread approximately ½ cup of frosting over the cake layer. Unwrap and set the second cake layer on top. Press to level the cake, making sure the edges are aligned.
- Spread another ½ cup of frosting over the cake. Continue stacking and frosting the remaining cakes layers until all four cake layers are stacked and leveled.
- Scoop the remaining frosting over the top of the cake. Spread the frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake. Because the frosting is so dense, it can be a little tricky to cover the edges and get smooth coverage. If needed, dip the spreader in warm water to smooth out the final coating.
- Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes to set the frosting.
- When ready to serve, let the cake sit out at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to fully thaw, so the interior cake layers are soft and delicate. Cut and serve.
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I know I can make the cakes ahead of time, but could I also make the frosting a few days ahead?
You can make the entire cake up to several days in advance. However, I would go ahead and assemble it completely. I would not make the frosting ahead is you planned to save it and frost the cake later. It would be too hard to manipulate. Hope this helps!
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I made both the sponge and the caramel exactly as written and both turned out PERFECTLY. Thank you for such a delicious recipe! I made this for my dad’s birthday and everyone said it was the best cake I have ever made (and I make a lot cakes!). Definitely making this again!
The cake in the photo is not the cake in the recipe. I followed this recipe exactly. I cooked the frosting to 235 degrees F. I waited 15 min, and beat the frosting in a stand up mixer. It was still too warm very runny (even on the frozen cakes) and ran down the sides of the frosted cake. It looked terrible (I was bringing this to a party and wanted a pretty cake). My solution: I started over. I made a new cake and a second batch of frosting. When the frosting is done cooking, pour it into your mixing bowl and cool in the fridge for several hours. Take it out and bring it to room temp. Then beat it into a spreadable consistency. Depending on the motor of your mixer, you may have to do this in two batches. The result is creamy, spreadable frosting that you can also pipe if you so desire. I wish I could upload a photo to show it.
I have a friend that want me to make a 8” – 7 layer (thin layers) Carmel cake will this be enough cake batter to do that. Also does the Carmel icing have a cracked look after it sets? That’s what she has asked for.
Yes, this will be enough to cover all the layers. I found this recipe to be more on the runner side. It does not Crack, it does have a smooth texture but it drips down the side of the cake and doesn’t hold shape very well.
White cake has always been my favorite, but this amazing caramel frosting took it over the top! And while the four layers made this cake feel fancy, it was so simple to make. Thanks for a recipe that I can’t wait to make time and time again! :)
This caramel cake is delicious! The cake is so soft and the layers of cream is amazing! The perfect Easter dessert.
My frosting is runny. What did I do wrong??
It will have a strange spreadable consistency until it sets up. (It should be a similar texture to soft mud. LOL!)
Is the butter amount correct?
Hi There! Yes, there is a lot of butter in the caramel frosting. :)
Would it be possible to use 8″ pans instead?
Sure you can! The baking time will change to 30-35 minutes. :)
I’m planning to make this cark for Easter. The part I question is the 7-8 quart sauce pot for the frosting. That’s huge. I would have to use my stock pot. Is it really necessary to use a pot that large? The one in your photo seems smaller.
The pot in the images is 7.4 quarts. You will want to use a large pot because caramel has a tendency to boil up a lot when it first starts to cook. Molten sugar is not only dangerous, it’s very hard to clean up, so a large pot protects you on both levels. :)
There is so much to be said about homemade cakes- better than cake mixes by far! The buttery flavors in this cake are divine!
lovely cake recipe, thank you, another new Southern recipe thank to you, much appreciated!
I love caramel, this is the perfect cake.
This is so good and delish! My kids couldn’t stop eating it!
This cake was a huge success! This cake will be a go to during the holidays from now on!
such a great cake with an even better frosting!