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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.

4.16 from 25 votes

Southern Caramel Icing

Dessert 40 mins

Cook Time 40 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Author Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch
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
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


  • Mix all ingredients in a 3-4 quart cast iron dutch oven and place over medium heat.
  • Swirl pan to keep ingredients moving in the pan.
  • Cook to softball stage 235º - 245º on a candy thermometer or when tested in a cup of cold water.
  • Remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy and ready to spread. If using mixer, once your icing has reached the softball stage, whip the icing until it holds to the whisk when you stop the mixer.
  • This is a perfect icing for Southern Caramel Cake

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Frosting / Icing Recipes

Robyn Stone

..where I share sweet, savory and southern recipes, as well as home and garden tips and tidbits of travel.

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Recipe Review


  1. I tried making this with swan down cake flour it didn’t rise well I made my icing it came out to thick were did I go wrong???

    1. Debrah, you need self-rising flour for this cake. The cake would not rise using cake flour because there is no leavening in the cake flour. It sounds like if the icing was too thick, it cooked too long. It will take about 40 minutes total cooking time when cooked over medium heat. Soft ball stage is when the mixture has thickened and when you drop a small amount of it in a bowl of cold water, it will form a small ball. You will beat it until the frosting is smooth and easy to spread on the cake. I hope this helps.

  2. I made this icing today with a little difficulty. I think I cooked it too long; it’s a darker brown than the picture. After whipping in my stand mixer it turned into a grainy mess and some of the liquid separated (like peanut butter does sometimes). Using a wooden spoon I was able to get it back to a nearly-workable consistency. But, I made it too early and by the time the cakes cooled the icing had become a solid mass like fudge. I warmed it up in a double boiler and was able to ice the cakes, so maybe all is not lost. The icing does taste good. I used a yellow cake mix for the cake.

    One question though: Does a cake with this icing need to be refrigerated?

    1. It does sound like you cooked the icing too long, Bruce. Cook just to softball stage. It is easy to tell when you reach that stage if you have candy thermometer and the temperature reaches 235-245º F. The icing does not require refrigeration, Bruce.

  3. Hi Robyn,
    Firstly can I please say that your BEST EVER CHOCOLATE CAKE is exactly that !!!! So I’ve looked up your recipes to find a caramel cake to cook for our sons birthday on Sunday but we live in Australia and I do not know what crisco is or what to substitute it with ? Please help if possible. Kindest Regards Cherie

    1. Cherie, Crisco is a solid vegetable shortening. I think Copha may be the closest you have to it in Australia. I hope your son has a very happy birthday.

  4. I’ve made this recipe a few times and LOVE it!! I’m in the mood for a maple flavor, have you tried making the frosting with maple syrup? Maybe replace half the sugar with syrup? Will that mess up the consistency?

    1. Jackie, I haven’t tried making this caramel icing with maple syrup and am not sure how it would work. You could try adding maple flavoring with the vanilla if you wish.

  5. Can you tell me what makes this Carmel flavored? The cake just sounds like a yellow cake and does the cooking process make the icing Carmel flavored? Thank you

    1. Donna, when you cook the sugar, butter, and other ingredients in this icing, it becomes caramel flavored. I hope you enjoy!

  6. I used your caramel recipe as a base but tweaked it. I used evaporated milk (as my mom did), added vanilla and only used butter. The 40 minute cook time was just right. Icing came out perfectly. Just let it cool before frosting cake.

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