A buttery soft vanilla layer cake blanketed with a simple (no candy thermometer needed) caramel icing! This Caramel Cake is a sweet and simple old-fashioned cake recipe that I think you’re going to love. Recipe includes a how-to video!
Oooh, you are going to love this caramel cake. With its layers of tender, buttery vanilla cake that perfectly complements that rich, decadent caramel frosting…
I’m usually more of a chocolate cake person myself, but this recipe has made a convert out of me. Even Zach wanted a second slice, and he hardly has a sweet tooth at all. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet like you might expect. While the icing is definitely super rich, somehow it doesn’t seem overbearingly so when coupled with the cake, which is exactly the balance I was hoping to achieve when I started developing this recipe.
The actual cake layers that I used for this caramel cake recipe are actually adapted from my favorite vanilla cake, only made with the reverse creaming method. Let’s talk a little bit about that, in case you’ve never used this method before…
What is Reverse Creaming?
Reverse creaming simply means that instead of the traditional method of creaming our butter and sugar and other wet ingredients in one bowl and our dry ingredients and another and then combining the two (carefully, of course, so we don’t over-mix), we do things… a little backwards.
We start by combining all of our dry ingredients and sugar in our bowl, then gradually, one tablespoon at a time, beat in the butter until it is incorporated and you have a mixture that looks sandy (see first image, above). We then add our remaining wet ingredients and stir until everything is completely combined. You don’t really have to worry about over-beating our batter the same way we do with traditionally creamed cakes (like the layers in my coconut cake).This method yields a cake with a fine, plush crumb. It was the perfect choice for my caramel cake.
Reverse creaming is not by any stretch my own invention. It’s been around for years and its popularity is mostly attributed to Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible. I’ve tried this reverse creaming method on many of my existing cake recipes and it works well. While I don’t prefer it for all cakes, it’s actually the only way I make my vanilla cupcakes anymore!
The cake layers are of course an important part of the caramel cake, but when all is said and done it’s really just vanilla cake. Soft, tender vanilla cake with a moist crumb and brown sugar in the batter for a hint of caramel taste, but still. What really makes this recipe a caramel cake is that glorious crown of caramel frosting.
It’s rich, sweet (much sweeter than my stand-by favorite cream cheese frosting), and has true caramel flavor because we start on the stovetop with a real caramel base (it starts much the same way as my caramel sauce). Melt together brown sugar, butter, salt, milk, and cream. Cook until the sugar is dissolved and then bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Now you have your caramel base (first photo, above).
Transfer this hot caramel to a large bowl, add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat until you have a spreadable icing consistency (second photo, above). If it’s too thin and dripping off of your cake, just beat it longer. In the video (below the recipe) I was a bit over-ambitious and tried to spread my frosting while it was still just a tad bit too warm, which caused my layers to start sliding a little bit. A little patience goes a long way!
More Recipes You Might Like:
Are you more of a visual learner? Check out my YouTube channel where I show you exactly how I make this cake and frosting step-by-step in my own kitchen.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour 375g (may substitute 3 ⅓ cups cake flour - 375g)
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar (300g)
- ½ cup light brown sugar firmly packed (100g)
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature cut into Tablespoon-sized pieces (170g)
- ¼ cup canola oil may substitute vegetable oil or other neutral oil (60ml)
- 1 ¼ cup whole milk room temperature preferred (295ml)
- 3 large eggs room temperature preferred
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups brown sugar² firmly packed (400g)
- 1 cup unsalted butter cut into pieces (226g)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup whole milk (80ml)
- ⅓ cup heavy cream (80ml)
- 2 cups powdered sugar (250g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and lightly grease and flour the sides and bottoms of two 8” round baking pans¹. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using an electric mixer), stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt until well-combined.
- With mixer on low speed, add butter, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture resembles sandy coarse crumbs.
- Stir in oil until well-combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla extract.
- With mixer on low-speed, gradually pour milk mixture into flour mixture. Once combined, pause to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then gradually increase speed to high and beat for 30 seconds.
- Divide batter evenly into prepared pans and bake on 350F (175C) for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Allow cakes to cool for 15 minutes and then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.
- Prepare caramel icing:
- Combine brown sugar, butter, salt, milk, and heavy cream in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-heat. Stir frequently until brown sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil.
- Once boiling, cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and pour into a large heat-proof bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before proceeding.
- Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and stir with stand mixer or an electric mixer until combined. Increase speed to high and stir until caramel mixture is almost completely cooled and icing reaches a spreadable consistency.
- Spread over cake. If icing is dripping off of cake (especially when icing the sides), let it cool a bit longer before proceeding.
- Allow icing to solidify completely before slicing cake and serving. Enjoy!
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
Made this for my first time today. The icing is delicious! The cake is really good too. Definitely gives you that old-fashioned vibe. Thank you for the recipe. Never heard of caramel cake before I found a recipe card for caramel icing in an antique cookbook. Found your recipe when I googled it.
Is there a way to make the Cararmel icing thicker so it won’t run?
It shouldn’t run if you follow the steps closely. It may need to be whipped longer to finish cooling and help stiffen it up. 🙂
Great recipe! I made the batter into cupcakes. The Carmel frosting is delicious, and easy to boot!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Wonderful! Enjoy, Lynn 🥰
Just realized I don’t have enough unsalted butter for the frosting but salted instead. Think it’ll matter much?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Mark! If you leave the salt out, you will still have 1/4 teaspoon extra from the salted butter (we explain this conversion in our salted vs. unsalted butter post). It shouldn’t be a big issue, especially since salt and caramel go so well together 😊
can I make this cake a day ahead? would I put it in the fridge or leave it covered on the counter?
Yes you can, you could do either (just keep it covered), I would probably leave it covered on the counter as the fridge has the tendency to dry out cakes a bit. Enjoy!
Killer cake! So good! But I always end up with lots of little holes in it. How do I get a more even crumb?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy you like it Joanna! It sounds like you may be mixing your batter just a little too much 🙁
We love the caramel icing. I found your recipe and could not wait to try the icing. Since we didn’t need a cake now, I made cupcakes and iced one dozen and freeze one dozen without the icing. The leftover icing is in the refrigerator. I’m not sure how the icing will work after being refrigerated and that is ok. This was a sample test and it was an easy and wonderful recipe for the cake and icing. I will be make this again a few more times during the holidays. Thank you!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the icing, Paula! Thank you for commenting!