Have you ever made a Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing recipe? It’s a classic Southern treat! But instead of a layer cake, I made it into a thin sheet cake. Less time baking, more time eating, I say! It’s really easy to put together. Originally posted August 1, 2018.

caramel cake sliced into squares

The other day I walked into the kitchen to find my 1-year-old baby Valentine standing on a chair by the kitchen counter, eating an entire stick of BUTTER. Such are the risks of softening butter on the counter in this house.

little girl eating butter supposed to have been used in caramel cake recipe
little girl with butter showing how to back caramel cake

I snapped this picture literally minutes after I had finished giving her a bath to clean up her adventures in the toilet. She rewarded me with butter hair. These kids! It’s a good thing she’s so cute.

fork cutting into caramel icing

Caramel Cake…sheet cake?

I’ve been a little obsessed with sheet cake lately. I posted the recipe for The Only Texas Sheet Cake You’ll Ever Need just a few weeks ago, after testing it 3 times. And then I moved straight into the caramel version. (Side note, do you pronounce it car-mel, or care-uh-mel? I grew up saying car-mel, but in the past few years for some reason switched to care-uh-mel, and now I feel like a pretentious food snob every time I say it. The truth comes out!!)

Thick caramel frosting spread over a slice of caramel cake

Southern Caramel Cake wannabe

What I really wanted was Caramel Cake, the Southern kind with layers, but without all the fuss of actual, well, layers. The cake part of a traditional Southern Caramel Cake is not actually caramel-flavored; it’s a yellow or white cake that’s there to soak up all the caramel icing goodness. The cake part of today’s recipe, though, actually tastes caramel-y because we’re using 2 cups of brown sugar. And we’re throwing it into a sheet pan to bake so that it’s done in 20 minutes!

Caramel Cake Ingredients

Here is everything you need. So easy!

  • Salted butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Flour
  • Evaporated milk
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Sour cream
  • Large eggs
caramel cake recipe close up of cake squares

How To Make Caramel Cake

This cake recipe is soooo simple. Kind of the opposite of real Caramel Cake, ha. Here’s a basic overview and I’ll give you some more details and photos below!

  1. Melt butter and water in a pot, add a heck ton of brown sugar, then vanilla.
  2. Add flour, salt, and baking soda.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and sour cream separately then add to the batter.
  4. Bake 20 minutes! That’s it!
Close up of pieces of caking showing thick caramel icing

What size pan should I use to bake caramel sheet cake?

I like this cake best in an 18×13 inch half sheet pan (thinner cake means a higher frosting ratio!) but you’ve got options for sheet cake. Be sure to adjust the bake time according to the pan size you select. Cooking times will always vary because everyone’s oven is different.

Pan SizeBaking Time
9×13 inch (cake pan)23-25 minutes
15×10 inch (jelly roll)20-22 minutes
18×13 inch (half sheet)17-20 minutes

How To Make Caramel Frosting

And now for the icing. Legit, from scratch, pour-straight-up-dry-sugar-into-a-pan caramel icing takes like an hour to make, stirring a pot the whole time. Noooo thank you. I’m all about the brown sugar shortcuts. Bless you, brown sugar. Here’s a quick overview!

  1. Boil together butter, brown sugar, and evaporated milk for 10 minutes.
  2. Add vanilla
  3. Place the pan of frosting in an ice bath for about 5 minutes to help it thicken.
  4. Spread over the cake and devour! Make sure you don’t eat it all with a spoon first!!
Bubbling pot of butter and brown sugar for caramel icing

(This is what your caramel should look like when it’s boiling. It should have thickened by the end of 10 minutes.)

caramel frosting recipe in a pot, cooling after boiling

Ice bath time. You can see how beautifully thick it is now.

You still get that deep caramel flavor by boiling it on the stove with some butter and evaporated milk, and it only takes a few minutes. Much easier than the dry sugar method.

After boiling, you cool for several minutes in an ice bath to thicken it up. I LOVE this method for cooked frosting, and use it in several recipes, including Nana’s Famous Fudge Brownies and this Peach Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. It makes the frosting thicken up so nice and smooth. I eat it by the spoonful! (It’s much better than fistfuls of butter.)

Thick southern caramel frosting flowing from a pot onto a sheet cake

Is there a difference between icing and frosting?

Frosting is thick enough to be spreadable. It stays soft on the edges. Imagine the frosting on your favorite Chocolate Cake. Swirly soft for days.

Icing is thin enough to be drizzled on top of a cake, and usually hardens on the edges (like today’s caramel frosting!) It will look crackly when you cut into it, like the icing on this Glazed Lemon Bread. Today’s caramel frosting is kind of like a frosting-icing hybrid.

Squares of cake covered in thick frosting made from this caramel frosting recipe

How To Store Caramel Cake

Store this cake covered on the counter! If you leave it in the pan you baked it in and don’t have a lid for that pan, it’s going to dry out pretty fast, even if you cover with plastic wrap. I like to transfer it to a large rectangular food storage container. Keep it only in one layer if you need the frosting to stay nice for presentation. It also freezes beautifully, if well sealed.

How Long Does Carmel Cake Last?

First you should ask yourself, am I REALLY going to have any leftovers? And then you should probably pop the cake in the freezer, if by some trick of fate the cake has already been out a few days. Frozen cake is good for up to 3 months.

A knife cutting a frosted caramel cake recipe into squares

Look at this you guys. Can you see how this literally looks like I’m slicing up a square of soft caramel? It really is caramel, with the added bonus of cake underneath it! It’s so incredibly rich, and so good. A little bit goes a long way. (For some people who are not me.) This cake feeds a crowd and would be a great dessert to bring for game day!

More sheet cakes that you will die and go to heaven for!

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Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing

4.63 from 29 votes
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 17 mins
Total: 32 mins
Servings: 20
Have you ever had Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing? It’s a classic Southern treat! But instead of a layer cake, I made this into a thin sheet cake. Less time baking, more time eating, I say! It’s really easy to put together.


For the cake

  • 1 cup salted butter, (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs

For the icing

  • 3/4 cup salted butter, (1 and 1/2 sticks)
  • 3 & 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup evaporated milk OR heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla


  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 18×13 inch half sheet pan* with parchment paper, or just spray it well with nonstick spray (or grease with butter).
  • In a medium saucepan, melt 1 cup butter and 1 cup water over medium high heat. Add 2 cups brown sugar and stir occasionally until it comes to a rolling boil (that means bubbles all the way across the top, not just the edges.)  Remove from heat once it has come to a full boil. 
  • Let it cool for a couple minutes, then add 2 teaspoons vanilla. 
  • Add 2 cups flour to the pot, but don’t mix yet. Add the salt and baking soda on top of the flour and use a small spoon to stir it into the flour (You don’t want to accidentally get a chunk of salt or soda in your cake, ew). 
  • Use a whisk to stir the flour mixture in. Try to get all the lumps out. 
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and sour cream. Add this to the cake batter and stir until incorporated. 
  • Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread to the edges.
  • Bake at 350 for about 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no batter on it. The edges of the cake will start to pull away from the side of the pan. 
  • Let the cake cool for about 20 minutes before frosting.
  • Make the caramel icing: In a clean saucepan, melt 3/4 cup butter, 3 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup evaporated milk (or heavy cream), and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring it to a boil over medium heat. Once it is at a rolling boil, set a timer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The caramel should be a bit thicker by the end of 10 minutes, and should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat. Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and stir. 
  • Fill a large bowl with ice water. Place the entire pan of frosting into the ice bath, making sure you don’t get any water in the caramel. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, stirring the edges of the pan every minute. See photos. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t harden up without you noticing! (Don’t walk away. You can read in the comments about a bunch of people who waited too long and their caramel got too hard. Sometimes it takes 5 minutes, sometimes more like 8.)
  • Stir the frosting with a wooden spoon and make sure it is thickening up nicely. While it is still pour-able, Pour the icing over the slightly cooled cake and spread to the edges.
  • Let the icing set for a few minutes before serving warm. This is really good with vanilla ice cream! It’s so rich, you can cut it into pretty small pieces. (I mean. I don’t. But I have a major sweet tooth.) 


*I like this cake best in an 18×13 inch pan (makes for a thinner cake) but here are the times for other size pans:
If you are baking this in a 9×13 inch cake pan, bake for 23-25 minutes. If you do a 15×10 jelly roll pan, bake for about 20 minutes. If you bake it in an 18×13 half sheet pan, bake for about 17-20 minutes.
All of these times are going to vary because everyone’s oven is different.


Calories: 452kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 67mg | Sodium: 325mg | Potassium: 147mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 60g | Vitamin A: 585IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 94mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 452
Keyword: Cake, caramel, caramel icing
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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  1. Haven’t tried it yet.. only just finished baking it! My caramel icing came out strange for me… almost like curdled pieces in it? I accidentally put the vanilla in with all the ingredients rather than waiting until after.. but I can’t imagine that being the reason why? Wondering if you can help so I can make better next time! (:

    1. Update: the curdle look went away when the caramel hardened! My family loved this as well, little bit too sweet for my liking, but still enjoyed! My family put it in the microwave and it enjoyed it both hot and room temp

  2. Is there any way to bring the Carmel icing back to a pourable stage? I have leftover and don’t want to throw it out.

    1. Hello Mome, thanks for your question! If you have leftover, you may be able to warm it up in a saucepan on the stove with a little milk, added a tablespoon at a time. Keep it on low heat and watch it carefully. This recipe hasn’t been tested with re-warmed icing so I can’t guarantee perfect results. If you try it, come back and let us know how it turned out!

  3. I was wondering about making a cream cheese frosting. There is a lot of sugar…not complaining 🙄 I plan on making this cake this weekend. Can’t wait!

    1. Hi Jo-ann! You totally can use a cream cheese frosting but it’s not going to taste like caramel cake! The frosting is what makes it, for sure. Make it for a special occasion 😂

  4. This looks so yummy! Would the cake work as cupcakes? It looks pretty moist so I wasn’t sure if it would be sturdy enough.

    1. Hi Ally! So I haven’t tried this, but I think it would be ok! Don’t make the cupcakes too big, I would only fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. The frosting is going to be a little tricky because it is really a glaze, so you will have to wait until the temperature of the frosting is just right so that when you pour it on it doesn’t just spread into a sticky mess. Let me know how it goes!

  5. 5 stars
    Absolutely one of the best cakes I have made though I messed up the frosting. Mine was a bit grainy and when I poured it on my cake, it was hard. I was able to take off the frosting and the cake was wonderful without the frosting. Super moist and I will definitely bake this again!

    1. 4 stars
      Hi. This is what i was looking for. However I Was wondering if I could swap out the water for buttermilk. If I did this.. would I need the sour cream?

      1. Hi Taylor! This recipe hasn’t been tested with swapping out water for buttermilk, nor with removing the sour cream. If you decide to make any changes, come back and let us know how you liked it! Hope you enjoy :-)

  6. This recipe sounds SO delicious, and I’m tempted to make it right now. But…would anything bad happen if I used only one cup of sugar? (Need to watch those carbs but would still like to make the cake).

    1. Hi Frannie! I don’t recommend it. Sugar doesn’t just add sweetness, it is an essential building block of any baked good. Your texture will be wrong. I say make the cake as-is, eat what you want, and then freeze the rest for later! Out of sight, out of mind! If you freeze it in individual portions then you know exactly how many calories you’re getting when you pull it out. Enjoy!

  7. I was working with your husband when you were first developing this recipe and he brought it in to the break room! :) It was so delicious! I have all of these ingredients right now. Sounds like it’s finally time to make it!

    Have you ever had a Butterchew candy from See’s? That’s what this reminds me of. It’s my favorite!

    1. APRIL OMG YES!!!!! I recently discovered the Butterchew from See’s just last summer and now I AM OBSESSED. This cake is totally reminiscent, I hadn’t thought of that. I’m so glad you enjoyed the cake when Eric brought it in, that is so fun! It’s definitely time to make it again!! Having all the ingredients means it’s FATE. :)

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