Southern Caramel Cake

This delicious Southern Burnt Caramel Cake is a basic homemade butter cake topped with a cooked caramel frosting. The cake and frosting are made with simple ingredients easily found in most pantries—a true southern delight.

I was introduced to this recipe over 30 years ago. My mother-in-law was well known for her Burnt Caramel Cake. She always had some on hand, either fresh or stashed away in the freezer. With my crew around, this cake never makes it to the freezer. It always disappears within days. This is a tried and true recipe and is most definitely the best southern caramel cake around.

Southern Caramel Cake

I made this recipe several times before I finally got the frosting right. The trick is to cook the frosting until it reaches the softball stage. Unfortunately, I didn’t use a candy thermometer the first few times I made this, and it just didn’t turn out quite right. 

Why Make this Caramel Cake Recipe?

Birthday Celebrations: This cake is fabulous to serve for any occasion. My husband grew up eating this cake for holidays and even birthday celebrations. So he requested this cake for his last birthday, and it was a hit. 

Holiday Desserts: This cake would be the talk at your holiday gatherings. This recipe is made for a sheet pan and will certainly feed a crowd. 

Your Family: Everyone likes a good dessert. Make this for your family to enjoy between holidays and special occasions. It makes a lot and is perfect for the freezer.

What Ingredients are in this Recipe?

Picture of Cake Ingredients

For the cake:

butter

sugar

flour

salt

baking powder

eggs

milk

vanilla

For the Burnt Caramel Frosting:

Caramel Frosting Ingredients

sugar

flour

milk

butter

vanilla

Tools Needed:

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Mixer — I used a stand mixer. 

Flour sifter— Not 100% needed, but does help with getting all of the lumps out.

Sheet Cake Pan— I used my mother in laws cake pans. It’s a 12″ x 18″ pan.

Parchment paper (optional)– I would grease and flour a pan. Using parchment paper would keep the cake from sticking, but it makes it harder to cut into slices and get out of the pan.

Iron Skillet— I recommend an iron skillet, but a large heavy bottom pan would work.

Saucepot— Choose a larger than needed pan. This keeps things from boiling over.

Whisk— This is needed to whisk the caramel sauce to perfection.

Wooden Spoon

Spatula for spreading— I used an offset spatula for spreading.

Candy Thermometer— This is needed to get the caramel to the correct temperature.

How to Make this Caramel Cake Recipe

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 12″ x 18″ sheet pan.

In a stand mixer, Cream the butter, then add sugar- Creaming until light and fluffy.

Sift flour with baking powder and salt.

To the creamed butter and sugar mixture, alternate adding flour mixture, eggs (1 at a time), and milk, beating after each addition.

Add vanilla. Mix well.

Pour into a well-greased sheet pan 12″ x 18″. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Perfectly Baked Cake

For the caramel frosting:

Combine the 3 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and milk in a medium saucepot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. As this is coming to a boil, make the browned sugar. I use a medium iron skillet to brown the sugar. 

Browned Sugar: To the iron skillet, add 3/4 cup sugar. Over medium heat and with a wooden spoon, melt the sugar. After 5 minutes, you will notice the sugar begins to clump and melt. Stir and break up any clumps with the back of your spoon. The sugar will start to melt and change color. It will turn light brown then caramel brown. Stir until all sugar has melted and the color is medium brown. Move off the heat when done. 

Melting the sugar
Melting the sugar

Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan with the milk mixture. Slowly add the browned sugar to the boiling milk mixture -stirring fast—Cook to a softball stage on the thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, drop a small amount into a cup of cold water. It should form a soft ball. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla. Cool for about 15 minutes-whisking every 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, begin whisking continuously for 5 minutes, checking for thickness. You are looking for thick and pourable frosting. Pour over the cooled cake and spread evenly. Place the frosted cake into the refrigerator to chill to help the caramel set up on the cake.

Add melted browned sugar to milk mixture
Add Browned sugar
Add a candy thermometer and cook to a softball stage
Add candy thermometer
and cook to softball stage
Pour caramel frosting over cooled cake
Pour caramel over
cooled cake
Spread frosting over cake
Spread frosting
over cake

Cut into squares and serve.

Southern Caramel Cake

Notes: **I test my frosting for thickness by letting it run off a spoon. If it slides off and none sticks to the spoon, then it’s not ready. But if you let it run off of the spoon and some of it clings to the spoon, it’s ready for the cake.

Expert Tips

*Make the cake first and cool completely before starting on the frosting.

*A wooden spoon has always worked best for me when melting sugar. 

*Watch the sugar closely and stir continuously while browning. It will burn if not careful.

*You will need a medium to a large saucepot. Once the browned sugar is added to the boiling liquid, it will foam a bit until it settles back down. You don’t want this boiling over onto your stovetop. 

*Slowly pour the browned sugar into the boiling milk mixture. 

*This frosting is not an easy frosting to make. But with some patience, a candy thermometer, and a little time, you will master this frosting with no problem at all. 

*Make sure your frosting is thick enough to spread but pourable. Cooling the frosting and beating it will thicken it up.

**I test my frosting for thickness by letting it run off a spoon. If it slides off and none sticks to the spoon, then it’s not ready. But if you let it run off of the spoon and some of it clings to the spoon, it’s ready for the cake.

*Place the cake into the refrigerator to allow the frosting to set up faster. *Store the cake in the refrigerator.

Recipe FAQ’s

Burnt sugar is actually not burned at all. Burned sugar is the caramelization of sugar. It is basically melting sugar until it turns a dark brown. You need to stir the sugar while melting to ensure you do not burn it. This method requires your full attention to get this process right the first time. 

If this process is done correctly, then no. Burnt sugar is used in desserts to provide a dark, rich sweetness. The burnt sugar provides flavor and color to the caramel topping in this particular recipe.

I like to slice all leftovers into small squares. I then place them into an airtight container and put them in the refrigerator.

To Freeze: I slice the leftover cake into small squares. Next, I place the cake into a freezer-safe container, separate each layer with parchment paper, and put it in the freezer. The cake will last for several months in the freezer.

southern caramel cake

Southern Caramel Cake

Gina Abernathy
This delicious Southern Burnt Caramel Cake is a basic homemade butter cake topped with a cooked caramel frosting. The cake and frosting are made with simple ingredients easily found in most pantries—a true southern delight.
5 from 13 votes
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 20 servings

Ingredients
  

Cake:

  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups all purpose flour sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Caramel Frosting:

  • 3 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups sugar browned in a skillet
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter softened (not melted)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions
 

Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease and flour a 12" x 18" sheet pan.
  • In a stand mixer, Cream the butter, then add sugar- Creaming until light and fluffy.
  • Sift flour with baking powder and salt.
  • To the creamed butter and sugar mixture, alternate adding flour mixture, eggs (1 at a time), and milk, beating after each addition.
  • Add vanilla. Mix well.
  • Pour into a well-greased sheet pan 12" x 18". Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

  • Combine the 3 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and milk in a medium saucepot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. As this is coming to a boil, make the browned sugar. I use a medium iron skillet to brown the sugar. 
  • Browned Sugar: To the iron skillet, add 3/4 cup sugar. Over medium heat and with a wooden spoon, melt the sugar. After 5 minutes, you will notice the sugar begins to clump and melt. Stir and break up any clumps with the back of your spoon. The sugar will start to melt and change color. It will turn light brown then caramel brown. Stir until all sugar has melted and the color is medium brown. Move off the heat when done. 
  • Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan with the milk mixture. Slowly add the browned sugar to the boiling milk mixture -stirring fast—Cook to a softball stage on the thermometer. If you don't have a candy thermometer, drop a small amount into a cup of cold water. It should form a soft ball. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla. Cool for about 15 minutes-whisking every 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, begin whisking continuously for 5 minutes, checking for thickness. You are looking for thick and pourable frosting. Pour over the cooled cake and spread evenly. Place the frosted cake into the refrigerator to chill to help the caramel set up on the cake.
  • Cut into squares and serve.

Notes

Notes: **I test my frosting for thickness by letting it run off a spoon. If it slides off and none sticks to the spoon, then it’s not ready. But if you let it run off of the spoon and some of it clings to the spoon, it’s ready for the cake.
Keyword Southern Caramel Cake

Are You Craving More Southern Desserts? Be sure to check out the other recipes below.

Carrot Cake

Southern Peach Cobbler

Southern Sweet Potato Pie

Strawberry Cobbler

15 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I agree, using a candy thermometer can make a difference in some recipes. The caramel frosting for this southern caramel cake looks divine. I can see why there aren’t usually any leftovers to store!

  2. 5 stars
    I never heard of southern caramel cake but after reading this recipe I will definitely be making it. I love such wholesome recipes with a few key ingredients. Looks like a perfect cake to have on hand gor the family or visitors.

  3. 5 stars
    You are taking me back to my original baking days when I was a teen using a candy thermometer!! Only half of my fam is gluten free – and the rest would make this on every freaking holiday!

  4. 5 stars
    This cake is simply divine! I love the idea of freezing some and always having it on hand!!! I might need to do that!

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