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.


Southern Caramel Icing

Southern Caramel Icing goes perfectly with Southern Caramel Cake, cupcakes, brownies, and all sorts of other desserts. A Southern Classic.
3.88 from 25 votes

Review Recipe

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Cook Time40 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Author: Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch


  • 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.
  • This is a perfect icing for Southern Caramel Cake
Have you made this recipe?Tag @addapinch on Instagram or hashtag it #addapinch


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



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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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192 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Made this over the weekend for a birthday-it was a huge hit. The little bit of extra effort for the icing is so worth it and really it is not that much extra

    1. How long would you say you cook for and how long should I stir for? I don’t have a candy thermometer and not sure what soft ball stage is. Making for aunt in law birthday on Thanksgiving so nervous 🙂

      1. 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. Hope you enjoy!

      2. I substituted coconut oil instead of the crisco. The liquids separated and it’s super liquidy how is this supposed to be an icing texture?

      3. MC Laney, substituting coconut oil for the solid Crisco shortening in the recipe would cause the icing to be “super liquidy”. This is a recipe I would not make with oil. Hope this helps!

  2. Hi Robyn! Can I use a stainless pot instead of a Dutch Oven for this icing? Thanks! I’m excited to try it for a Christmas dessert.

  3. I’ve used this recipe for wedding cakes, birthdays and baby showers. It is a huge hit and it never fails to please the crowd. In fact, the last wedding cake I made was the southern caramel with this icing and unlike most weddings, THERE WAS NO CAKE LEFT OVER!! It was demolished in an hour.

    I’ve just made another of the southern caramel for best friends birthday tomorrow, this is the third year running she has requested it. Much love from New Zealand!!

  4. It turned out fantastic! Thanks for sharing this. This tastes just like my mom’s and grandmother’s. I lost both of their recipes years ago, and am thrilled to find one just like it. Did I miss where you indicated the stove temperature setting for cooking the icing? I didn’t see it, and couldn’t remember from previous experiences. I simply used trial and error, so it worked out well.

    1. I’m so thrilled you found this recipe if it reminds you of your mother’s and grandmother’s. Every time I make this caramel icing, I think of my grandmother, too. I’m sorry, I didn’t include the stove temperature in my recipe. I cook mine over medium heat. Hope you find more recipes on my site that you enjoy! Thanks.

  5. I find it so very disheartening to see so many inane questions posted for this very simple recipe. Learn the basics of cooking and/or baking and set yourselves free. So many have become food network slaves without realizing it’s  goal is to keep its viewers stupid so they keep tuning in.

  6. For some reason mine came out like a glaze more than icing or frosting and very dark. Nothing like the picture. What did I do wrong? I’m usually good on recipes. So I have 3 layers ready to use, guess I’ll make my famous pineapple cream cheese frosting for now because I don’t have enough ingredients to try another batch of icing. Please help .

    1. Hi Janice,
      It sounds like you may have cooked your icing too long. If it was very dark, did you use brown sugar? This will not be a soft, fluffy frosting like a buttercream frosting, but it should not be hard like a glaze, either. I hope you try this recipe again and have better luck next time. Thanks

  7. My committed family helped me on a second attempt at this frosting. The first was not cooked long enough. This stuff is amazing.

  8. Does this icing never get ‘set up’ or get firm? Or did I do something wrong? Tastes great, came out just like the recipe… covered cake to take to dinner, and got a nasty, messy looking cake when I took off the foil. This was my first try with this kind of frosting and it SEEMED like It was going to be fine. I guess I would have transported it differently if I’d know the frosting stays sticky. Thanks!

    1. This icing does not stay sticky, Tina. It does get firm. It sounds like it may have not cooked long enough. I have not tried covering the cake in foil so that may have contributed to the issue, too.

  9. I love this icing! I was very nervous initially because I decided to quarter the recipe (I’m using it for a single 6-inch cake) and I’ve heard so much about how tricky it is to make a caramel icing at home. I don’t bake frequently so when I try a new recipe, it’s usually never anything adventurous, which is definitely what all caramel recipes are in my book. But as I kept repeating the soft ball test every now and then, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The result was just amazing! And I used an electric beater in the end to stiffen it. Thank you for sharing this. It’s going to be my new favorite icing. Cheers to your grandmother!

  10. I can’t wait to try this icing on the southern cake!! It looks so good!! I will update when I do and let y’all know how it turned out.

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