Two Day Caramel Cake

Like everyone else in the country, I recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  The plot can be found anywhere on the internet, and if you’re really lazy you can just watch the movie, so I’ll spare you the details, but after reading it, I was left with thoughts of a very particular classic Southern food that comes up repeatedly in the book:  the Caramel Cake.

My childhood was not filled with what some would have you believe are the typical Southern Sunday Suppers of macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, but the Caramel Cake does have a special place in my heart.  Beloved by both my grandfathers, this cake was often present at family gatherings, bought at a local French bakery, but distinctly perfectly Southern all the same.

It was out of character for both of my grandmothers, each fabulous cooks in their own right, to purchase a premade good to serve the family, but after making several myself, I can understand why the stress and slight danger of making a caramel cake was best left to the professionals when grandchildren were running around and copious other dishes needed tending.  Particularly when the professionals did such an authentic job.

Still, I have a rule for myself: premade goods and shortcuts are fine, as long as I know that I can do it the old-fashioned way.  Plus, I no longer live in my hometown of Atlanta, and could not purchase the famed Caramel Cake, even if I wanted to.  Not for the faint-of-baking heart, the secret to this cake is the make-you-die-early (a.k.a omg-this-is-delicious) Southern trifecta: butter, sugar, cream.  I am usually not a recipe hound, but this one must be precisely followed in order to yield the desired result.  You cannot rush the frosting on this cake.  REPEAT: You Cannot Rush This Frosting!  The frosting is why this cake takes two days to make, but it is also what makes it so very, very special.  You are essentially making a classic caramel sauce, and then whipping the dickens out of it.

Try the recipe, love the cake, and don’t come crying to me if it doesn’t turn out because you didn’t follow instructions.



  • 2 pounds light brown sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter, sliced into 1 tablespoon pats

Find the heaviest saucepan you have that is at least 6 quarts.  I like to use the bottom part of my pressure cooker.  Stir together the sugar and cream in the cold pan, turn the heat to medium, and bring to a rolling boil ( see picture on the far left from the below photos; there will be lots of bubbles and a sort of lighter foam to go along with them).  Do not stir once the boil has begun.

Boil exactly one minute.  Add baking soda and boil for exactly one more minute. Be careful: the mixture will foam up as in the picture on the right.

Remove from the heat and add the butter, but Do Not stir the butter as it melts.

Once the butter has completely melted, stir the mixture just enough to combine the melted butter, and let it cool to room temperature.  Next, cover the pan and place it in the refrigerator.  Let it sit overnight.

A small note here: it will be ugly.  It will look nothing like the final pictures.  You will be worried.  Trust me, it’s going to be okay.

After the frosting has thoroughly chilled in the refrigerator, beat it using the whisk attachment (if you have one) on your blender.  This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.  If after this time your caramel still hasn’t whipped into a thick frosting, chill it for another hour and beat it again.

Now, it’s cake time!

For the cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 1/3 cups self-rising flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1  cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Grease and flour three 9″ cake pans.  If you’ve never done this before, it’s easy.  Rub the inside of the pan with butter.  Throw a handful of flour in the pan, and shake the pan around like you’re panning for gold, making sure to turn it on its side in order to get the edges and nooks and crannies of the pan.

Beat the butter until it becomes fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until completely combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next.

Mix in 2/3 cup of flour, followed by 1/4 cup of milk, repeating until all flour and milk have been added.

Beat in the vanilla extract.

Pour the batter into the three pans, and bake for 25 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean).


Once the cakes have cooled, place the first layer of your cake on a cake stand or plate, and line the edges of the stand with parchment paper.  This will let you go crazy with frosting without ruining your clean stand.

Spread a layer of frosting on each level of cake, finishing with a thin layer of frosting over the whole cake.  Place the cake in the fridge until the first coat (aka crumb layer) of frosting sets, and then apply the final coat of frosting for a smooth finish.Caramel Cake


  1. Elle says

    I tried to make this recipe for my dad’s birthday. When I took the frosting out of the refrigerator and started to whip it, it literally broke my hand held whipper. Then, I tried using the food processor to whip it, and it broke that too. The frosting is too cold and thick coming out of the refrigerator. I am annoyed because now I am down two kitchen appliances, and one birthday cake from using this stupid recipe. Might want to warn others.

    • basilandbubbly says

      I am so sorry to hear that! I have a big KitchenAid countertop mixer, and it struggled about the same amount as when I make bread dough, but no more. Next time I make the cake I will play around with the frosting and see if I can come up with a different way to stabilize the frosting instead of whipping it while so cold so that no one else has to go through what you did. My apologies, again!

      • Momma Myers says

        Have you tried omitting the butter from the frosting and chilling the caramel, then beating in soft butter? This would be similar to swiss buttercream. Note: my swiss buttercream requires 15 minutes in a stand mixer to come together, it’s easy to beat but pretty ugly until it comes together.

  2. Christopher says

    I was very ambitious and made this cake for Christmas. The cake turned out very well. Everyone loved it. I did a few things differently though, I didn’t have light brown sugar, I used dark brown instead, didn’t have self rising flour only Arcade my own self rising. Everything turned out fine.

      • PTDugan says

        You only need to add some baking powder and salt to make self-rising flour from all-purpose. Baking websites give amounts needed. I haven’t tried this yet but I will. And I thought the boiled custard buttercream icing for original Red Velvet cake was temperamental!

  3. Robbie Simpson says

    My mother -in -law made this cake years ago, And never like this, After you cook the caramel , take it off the stove add the soda, then let it cool a while and spread on cake, I love it, It is my favorite

  4. Marta says

    I follow the instructions of the frosting but found that after whisking it the following day, all of the sugar had not dissolve and it was a little gritty. The flavor overall was awesome though.

    I dont know what I could have done for it not to be gritty.


    • basilandbubbly says

      Caramel is such a finicky thing. I’d be lying if I said it comes out perfectly for me every time. Annoyingly, too little or too much heat can cause the gritty texture. For me, it is usually too much ( my stove is an angry beast at times! ), so lowering the heat a little and scraping down the sides of the pan can help make sure it doesn’t happen for me most of the time. Also, I have heard that corn syrup can help ensure a smooth caramel, but as that is not something I usually keep in my kitchen, I have not tried that trick.

  5. Amy says

    Quick question about adding the baking soda to the caramel. Do you stir it in or just toss it on top and let the boiling liquid do the work? I know that crystals can form in the caramel if bothered too much so that’s why I ask.

    • basilandbubbly says

      I usually give the baking soda one swirl into the caramel ( one go around the pan, if that makes sense ), and that is it. You’re right — disturbing it too much can interfere with the whole process!

  6. Valerie says

    Should the frosting be fluffy like buttercream or like melted caramel? It came together and then started getting liquid-like again.

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