Southern Caramel Icing


Yesterday I shared with you about my Mama’s Chocolate Marble Squares. Well, I had lots of emails and requests for the recipe for the caramel icing to go along with it.

Have I ever told you that you are definitely my kind of people?

You most certainly are! There is nothing like fresh, homemade caramel icing to make the world go ’round.

Cause I really and truly think that it does.

Good caramel icing is an act of love. You truly put your heart and soul into making good southern caramel icing.

My Grandmother Verdie would stand at her stove for what seemed like hours swirling her pan to get the perfect “color” on her sugar. Her hands wrought with arthritis, she held the cast iron dutch oven as tightly as possible as she kept the rhythm of the caramel in her heavy pan. She never used a mixer to make her caramel icing, I always was amazed that she didn’t. The time it had taken her to swirl her pan earlier seemed like seconds compared to watching her beat the icing by hand.

When I married, I learned that my mother-in-law also had a special recipe for a cake topped with southern caramel icing. She’d learned to make it from an aunt of my father-in-law’s when she married into the family. She’d talk about how Aunt T would beat her icing by hand so that it would be just right. While her recipe was slightly different, Aunt T’s  and my Grandmother’s method were still the same.

When Little Buddy turned one, I decided it was high time that I made a caramel cake myself. We were living with my husband’s parents as we were building our house at the time. We’d invited all of our family to a dinner to celebrate the big day. I’d worked for weeks planning the menu, creating the perfect invitations, finding just the right color of light blue placemats to match a speck of blue in my mother-in-law’s rug, and thinking about this cake.

It had to be perfect.

The icing had to taste just like the caramel icing from when I was a little girl carefully watching my Grandmother.

I set out to make the icing all by myself. I was determined not to call Grandmother Verdie to help me. The arthritis had even further ravaged her hands by now, but I knew she wouldn’t let that stop her from trying to make it for me.

After three attempts, I finally had a caramel icing I could spread on Little Buddy’s birthday cake. I felt like I had accomplished the world. I’d repeated the dance I’d watched so many times before, swirl and stir, swirl and stir, swirl and stir until I finally found just the right rhythm.

Here’s how I make it.


3.6 from 17 reviews
Southern Caramel Icing
Cook time
Total time
Southern Caramel Icing goes perfectly with Southern Caramel Cake, cupcakes, brownies, and all sorts of other desserts. A Southern Classic.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup Crisco
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Mix all ingredients in a 3-4 quart cast iron dutch oven.
  2. Swirl pan to keep ingredients moving in the pan.
  3. Cook to softball stage 235º - 245º on a candy thermometer or when tested in a cup of cold water.
  4. Remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy and ready to spread.
  5. This is a perfect icing for Southern Caramel Cake


I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family does.




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  1. 126

    Rachel says

    Perhaps you would be willing to post a video on the preparation of the frosting and even include frosting the cake. I am looking forward to making the cake and the icing.

  2. 127

    Jan says

    I could feel the love you have for your family just reading the caramel cake recipe. That’s the kind of cake I always look for at southern pot luck dinners. Enjoy your family, and remember things don’t always have to be perfect. Love and laugher fills in any imperfection. Thank God!

  3. 129

    Emily says

    Your directions aren’t very clear…what temperature are you supposed to cook the icing at? For approximately how long? Do you let it cool then beat it? Or beat it while it’s still hot? Mine came out okay but it was so thick it broke the cake apart. I used a regular stainless steel pot and cooked it for 50 minutes over medium low heat, it came out good but never got fluffy. I would recommend frosting the cake with the icing slightly warm.

  4. 131

    Gwen Crawford says

    Well update I made another one today and it cam out wonderful next time I will have the long wooden toothpicks to keep cake straight so it will not move or tear apart while icing it thank you for the recipe!

  5. 132

    Gwen Crawford says

    I love this recipe cake so moist. But me and that icing had a time I double the recipe but it nevered form to creamy stage even after constantly twirling, after reading post will try again using shortening. Will post again

  6. 133

    Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets says

    Hi Robyn! This looks great! I was wondering if this icing stays soft on the inside when it cools and sets or if it gets pretty hard and crunchy the way penuche frosting does? Thanks!

  7. 134

    Sheila says

    I made this frosting and I love it. The key here is patience. Swirl the pan the whole time. I think I swirled for 30 minutes at least waiting for it to get to the softball stage. I also used an electric mixer instead of a wooden spoon (sorry grandma!) and the consistency was fantastic. It did begin to harden, but that is to be expected with caramel frostings.

    Anyway, I love this recipe. Great job!

  8. 135

    Kay says

    I also love homemade Carmel, but sometimes I get in a hurry and don’t let it cook long enough or whatever, so my remedy is just add some powered sugar into it, and it turns out wonderful. The taste is still the same and you get that wonderful flavor of cooking and stirring for hours. It does make the Carmel a little lighter depending on how much powered sugar you add but usually you don’t have to add that much. Love the recipe!!

  9. 136


    I tried this cake and icing again! First time I overcooked icing,second time I tried to spread it while too cool, third time I bought caramel icing, fourth time icing was great but I accidentally put 4 cups flour instead of 3 and the cake was awful(lol). Last night I made it again and it was all good.Making another one this morning. Love the recipe , but the cook needs a little practice.

  10. 137

    Velma says

    I tried this yesterday and it is GREAT!!!! Thanks for sharing, would love to share photo with you. It looks and taste good.

  11. 139

    memrie melton says

    TRIED the caramel cake and icing recipe even after reading all the posts about the icing. I cooked my icing a little longer than softball stage as recommended by one of the posts. My icing was grainy. I knew I had cooked it too long. So, I tried abs I n according to original recipe. The icing turned out beautiful and smooth, but I had a terrible time trying to ice cake. It pulled the cake up and had a hard time sticking to cake. Should I have iced cake while icing was still warm?

  12. 140

    Kennesha says

    I followed this recipe exactly. The cake was very moist, but the icing was did not have that nice caramel color; it had the caramel taste, but it turned out an ivory white instead. I’m not sure what I may have done wrong. Thoughts?

  13. 142

    Irena says

    I made your salted caramel frosting and it tasted great! I also want
    To try this recipe but i dont have a dutch oven.can i use a normal pan? And can
    I substitute the buttermilk with sourmilk instead? Thank you!

  14. 143

    Danielle says

    Hi! I tried this recipe and I’m pretty used to making cooked syrup recipes but for this one I was a little confused. I cooked all the ingredients while stirring and swirling alternately and I got a nice color on the syrup, almost like your picture. However, once the caramel started to cool, it started to get hard and grainy. Was I supposed to whip the caramel while it was still hot or did I over-cook the syrup?

  15. 144

    W Wrather says

    I have a better recipe for the icing just boil sum water in a soup/chili pot. Put 2 cans of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk or whatever you have available in your supermarket. Let it boil for like 3/4 hrs let the can rest for 5mins then carefully open them then just spread on your cooled cakes. Way less trouble. Taste just like carmel from the store.

  16. 147

    JANE says

    hi, i tried making this caramel and it tasted really good! but something was wrong woth the texture. it was fine when i checked for softball stage so i removed it from the heat and beat it using a wooden spoon. but the problem was it started to caramelize. where do you think i went wrong?

  17. 148

    xadex says

    Hi, what’s crisco and is it a necessity? I live in the UK and I don’t know what it is.

  18. 150

    Becky says

    I made the southern caramel cake this afternoon/evening.
    The cake part is really good, the icing part is terrible…
    I probably did something wrong, but my frosting separated into oil and lumpy fudgy mess.
    It was unspreadable and basically consisted of crumbs which was extremely annoying after spending so much time on both the cake and the icing… oh well. I’ll be making the cake again but I’ll definitely find another icing recipe to go with it.

    • 151


      Oh no, Becky! I’m sorry the caramel gave you problems. It can be a bear at times. At what point did it separate on you? For it to become crumbly like that, it sounds like it may have gone too far.

  19. 152

    Heather N says

    Found you through Pinterest, made it tonight… Kids likes it but hubby didn’t, I’m torn!!! Icing didn’t get as dark as yours and it was not creamy still was gritty…. Gonna try icing again with a chocolate cake….

  20. 154

    Judy says

    Just tried this for my son’s 12th bday tomorrow. The cakes came out fine. The frosting did not. It’s spreadable, but not at all creamy. It’s smooth and shiny and harder, not fluffy the way it looks in the picture. I took the advice to use an electric mixer. The ingredients are too much to waste it trying over and over again trying to get it right. Sorry it didn’t work for me. In theory, I’m sure it’s a wonderful cake.

  21. 161

    Louise Hargove says

    I just made this Cake and Icing . Cake turned out great . Icing got too thick too fast . Guess I’m just slow . LOL Very tasty though . I couldn’t ice the sides because it thickened too soon . I was gonna tear the cake up . Gonna make dipped candies out of the extra icing .

  22. 163

    Roman says

    Hi, I tried this recipe to bake a birthday cake for my daughter teacher. The caramel sauce is not that hard to make make 100% sure you do the cool water test before takeing it of the fire and creaming it. To test softball stage, simply take a small bowl of cold water and let a teaspoon full of he boiling sauce drop in to the water. If it sinks to the bottom in a caramelized stage and you can shape it with your finger then its ready.

    Best Regards

  23. 164

    Dayxi says

    hello! I did this recipe and I think that is similar to buttercream, my question is: what is the difference between buttercream and this recipe that you show here? thank you and I follow you from Venezuela

  24. 166

    RoRo says

    I tried this recipe and it made a caramel sauce…
    I even let it cook longer due to individuals comments, but that was to no avail.
    Maybe I will try again.

  25. 170


    I was reading up on other posts and I dnt think we let the carmel cook until it was thick enough Maya L… I was supposed to get rlly thick then u beat with the wooden spoon…. I will try again soon. I hope this helps the BOTH of us

    • 172

      Cyndi Steinberger says

      You have to cook til softball stage and then a little longer…..maybe three -five minutes until starts to thicken….I’ve made multiple times and it’s great

  26. 173


    My carmel icing tasted great… It was a runny mess… I beat with my hands then with an electric hand mixer because I got tired. The icing lightend up but didnt get fluffy… I beat for at least 10 min…. What did I do wrong

    • 174

      Maya L says

      mine too! I tried 2 separate batches. one, I beat with a wooden spoon but the recipe calls for “swirling so I tried that (not really knowing what that means) but it turned out the same. great flavor, but more like a melted carmel than a frosting.


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