This post was originally published on May 6, 2010. It has been updated and reposted for readers’ enjoyment.
When was the last time you had a Caramel Layer Cake? It’s one of those old-fashioned recipes that younger cooks don’t bother with much these days.
I always think of caramel layer cake as a uniquely southern dessert. Actually more of a confection than a cake, really. A moist yellow cake layer with a creamy burnt sugar frosting. It’s something that turns up at nearly every family or church gathering in my part of the south. It also makes regular appearances at birthdays and Christmas. It was one of my Daddy’s favorites and it’s on BeeBop’s list of the best cakes.
But, I have to tell you a secret. I’m a cheater. I cheat on the caramel frosting. A genuine caramel frosting requires the cook to “burn” a small amount of sugar in a cast iron pan. The burnt sugar is then incorporated into the remaining sugar, butter and milk to produce a rich caramel frosting. You need some experience to know exactly when the burnt sugar is the right stage. Too much cooking and it will scorch, too little and the frosting is pale and tasteless.
I never could get the burnt sugar to just the right color and incorporated into the other ingredients the right way. I either burned the sugar or the frosting turned out grainy. Neither is a good thing. So I gave up trying to make caramel frosting for a long time and then years ago I saw a recipe in the local newspaper for a caramel frosting that didn’t need the burnt sugar step and that’s the recipe I still use. Trust me that you won’t be able to taste the difference in your finished frosting and no one ever needs to know that you didn’t make this with burnt sugar!
Let me just say one thing before I show you the recipe. If you’re on a diet, you may as well leave now and not look back. This is not diet food. This is the opposite of diet food. But, oh my gosh, is it good! And for the record, when I cooked this recipe, we each had one slice of this cake and the rest went to work with BeeBop. Okay, maybe two, but I promise the majority of it went elsewhere :-)
For the layers: Use your favorite yellow cake layer recipe, or the one included in the print copy of the recipe below.
When your layers are completely cooled, make the frosting. It’s even better if you let the layers rest well-wrapped in the fridge over night.
Sift the confectioner’s sugar and set it aside.
Place the butter, brown sugar and evaporated milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and melt the ingredients, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture begins to bubble allow it to boil for approximately two minutes stirring constantly. Watch carefully to avoid burning the mixture.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
There’s my beloved Albany Drug Co vanilla. Unless you grew up in or around Albany, Georgia, you’ve probably never heard of “Albany Drug Co. Vanilla.” It has to be the best vanilla I’ve ever used. Period. It has a strong vanilla flavor, but there’s something more to it. A sweet, almost smokey (as in cigar kind of smokey) smell. I really don’t know how to describe it. It’s just something you have to experience.
Anyway, Albany Drug Company made this vanilla for years and years. As long as I can remember. Sadly, Albany Drug Company no longer exists, but the vanilla lives! It is still available from U-Save-It Drugs. They’re still making it just like Albany Drug always did. So, if you ever find yourself in southwest Georgia near Albany, run by U-Save-It and get yourself a bottle of the vanilla. You won’t regret it. Now, I have no affiliation whatsoever with Albany Drug Company or U-Save-It Drugs. They have absolutely no idea who I am. I just like their vanilla.
Add the confectioner’s sugar.
Immediately transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until the frosting is smooth and begins to loose its sheen (this may take as much as 20 minutes to achieve). The frosting is ready to spread when it is still barely warm but holds its shape.
Frost the cake layers adding toasted pecans for garnish if you like.
More caramel frosting recipes you might enjoy:
- Southern Caramel Cake from Add A Pinch
- Caramel Icing Made the Old-Fashioned Southern Way from The Cupcake Project
- Apple Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting from A Spicy Perspective
- Real Deal Southern Caramel Cake from Grandbaby Cakes
- Southern Caramel Cake from In a Southern Kitchen