Calling all caramel lovers, this simplified Southern Caramel Cake features layer after layer of rich vanilla cake smothered in a heavenly caramel buttercream frosting. It’s perfect to bring to a potluck, make birthdays throughout the year, or alongside a cup of coffee on any afternoon.
Caramel cake is one of the many delicious comfort foods originating in the South, but traditional recipes are a labor of love. This delightful cake is inspired by traditional Southern caramel cake but requires less labor and more love. Basically, it’s a much more accessible version of a classic Southern cake.
This easy caramel cake showcases multiple layers of moist, buttery yellow cake slathered with the FLUFFIEST caramel buttercream frosting (no candy thermometer needed). As a trained pastry chef, I appreciate when cakes that are typically tedious to make are scaled back and simplified!
The final touch is an optional but pretty decorative caramel glaze, so there’s no shortage of caramel in this delicious cake. If you’re craving more caramel, you won’t want to miss these caramel cupcakes or this salted caramel cheesecake with homemade bourbon caramel sauce while you’re here, but first, let’s bake a cake!
Don’t worry if you are a new baker, I have a whole post on why cakes sink in the middle to help you feel confident in your cake baking!
WHY YOU SHOULD MAKE THIS RECIPE
- It’s perfect for beginners. The cake is very easy to make from scratch.
- This is a streamlined version of traditional Southern caramel cake, which means NO candy thermometer is needed for the caramel.
- The frosting. It’s AMAZING.
- All-purpose flour – Flour absorbs the wet ingredients, making a stable batter that bakes into a soft, sturdy cake.
- Baking powder & baking soda – This pair of leavening agents creates a reaction that causes the batter to rise into a light and fluffy cake.
- Kosher salt – Brings out all the flavors!
- Unsalted butter – Helps make a moist-tender crumb while adding rich, buttery flavor.
- Granulated sugar & brown sugar – This recipe calls for two types of sugar, each with an essential purpose. Granulated sugar helps make a fluffy texture, while brown sugar adds moisture and deepens the caramel flavor.
- Whole eggs & egg whites – The protein in eggs binds everything into a cohesive cake batter that sets properly as it bakes. Including a couple of the yolks in the batter makes it yellow.
- Vanilla extract – A little bit of vanilla goes a long way.
- Buttermilk – Improves flavor and tenderizes the gluten in the flour, so the cake is extra moist.
- Caramel buttercream – The frosting! You will need butter, powdered sugar, homemade or store-bought caramel sauce, milk, and salt.
- Caramel drizzle – There are two options here. You can melt down these caramel bits– all you need to do is melt them with a splash of water or cream in the microwave for 2 minutes. Or you can make your own easy caramel glaze.
Cake pans to use
I tested this recipe in 3 6″ cake pans that weighed about 575 grams each and they rose quite high but ended up being fine.
You can either bake this cake in the 6″ pans like I did or bake them in 3, 8″ cake pans instead. Baking time in the 8 inch pans is around 30 minutes while baking in 6″ pans is around 45 minutes.
You can also make this recipe into a sheet cake. Check after 35-40 minutes.
HOW TO MAKE CARAMEL CAKE
Prepare for baking: Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray 3, 6” or 3, 8” baking pans with baking spray.
Whisk dry ingredients: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt until combined.
Mix wet ingredients: In a bowl with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar (this will take about 2 minutes). Scrap the bowl, then add the eggs, egg whites, and vanilla. Mix for 1 minute on medium speed.
Combine dry and wet batters: Mix 1/3rd of the dry mixture into the wet batter, followed by half of the buttermilk. Next, add another 1/3rd of the dry mixture, followed by the remaining buttermilk. Finally, add the rest of the dry mixture and mix until just combined.
Pour batter and bake: Divide the batter evenly between the pans (either 6″ or 8″) and bake for 30-35 minutes. If youre baking in 6″ pans it will take closer to 45 minutes to bake through because they are taller pans.
Cool: Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove them and place them on a wire rack to finish cooling while you make the frosting.
My caramel buttercream recipe was such a hit so I made a cake for it to match! You can make this frosting with homemade caramel sauce (like this bourbon caramel sauce) or store-bought; either is fine!
Finish with a caramel glaze if you like. Or melt the caramel bits. All you have to do is melt 6 oz of caramel bits with 1 tbsp water or cream and microwave for two minutes. Then drizzle over the cake!
This cake feeds about 12-15 people depending on how large you cut the slices.
TIPS FOR RECIPE SUCCESS
- Measure the dry ingredients precisely. If you don’t have a scale, spoon (NEVER scoop) the flour from the container into your measuring cup and level it off. If you scoop the flour directly from the container with a measuring cup, you’ll end up with more flour than you need.
- Cold ingredients won’t incorporate evenly, resulting in a dense cake, so it’s important to take the time to set them at room temperature before getting started.
- This cake is finished when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs.
- Be patient with cooling. You don’t want the residual heat to raise the temperature of the cakes, so only allow them to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then, turn the cakes out and finish cooling them on a wire rack before frosting.
STORAGE AND FREEZING
Storage: Once frosted, caramel cake keeps well in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. If the cakes are not frosted, they will be okay to keep at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Freezing: If you plan to freeze the cake layers, do so before frosting. They will keep in the freezer for up to three months. When you’re ready, let the cake rounds thaw overnight in the fridge, then bring them to room temperature before frosting.
Will this cake last if I make it ahead of an event?
Yes. You can bake the base vanilla cake layers up to two days in advance and keep them wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature. Then, on the event day, frost with caramel buttercream and enjoy.
Can I make caramel cupcakes instead?
Yup! Preheat your oven to 350°F. Make the vanilla cake batter and caramel frosting as instructed. Pour the cake batter into cupcake liners ⅔ full, and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out and cooling completely before frosting.
WAYS TO ENJOY
You can reinvent the flavor of this cake by simply using a different buttercream frosting flavor like:
- Classic Vanilla Buttercream
- White Chocolate Buttercream
- Brown Sugar Buttercream
- Coconut Buttercream
- Marshmallow Frosting
Moist 3 Layer Caramel Cake
- 3.5 cups all purpose flour 420g
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup butter unsalted at room temperature, 227g
- 1 cup granulated sugar 200g
- 1 cup brown sugar 190g
- 2 eggs large
- 3 egg whites yolks discarded
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 6 oz caramel bits bits not squares
- 1 Tbsp water or cream
- Preheat the oven to 350F and spray 3, 6” or 3, 8” baking pans with baking spray.
- In a medium size bowl combine the 3 1/2 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp kosher salt. Whisk until combined.
- In the bowl of a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the 1 cup butter with the 1 cup granulated sugar and the 1 cup brown sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes.
- Scrape down the bowl and add the 2 eggs, 3 egg whites and 1 tbsp vanilla extract. Mix for 1 minute on medium speed.
- Add in 1/3rd of the dry ingredients, then half of the buttermilk and alternate, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix only until combined. Do not over mix.
- Pour the batter evenly into the baking pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. If you are using 6 inch cake pans the cakes will take longer around 45 minutes.
- Make the caramel buttercream frosting and fill and frost the cake.
- Make the caramel drizzle by microwaving 6 oz caramel bits with 1 tbsp water or cream for two minutes. Drizzle over the cake. Or make your own easy caramel glaze.