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.

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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.
  2. Add vanilla
  3. Place the pan of frosting in an ice bath for a few 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 will thicken in just a few 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

4.60 from 44 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 17 minutes
Total: 32 minutes
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, stir constantly, watching for the consistency to thicken – it should coat the back of a spoon. As soon as it does, remove from heat (this may take as little as 3 minutes and as many as 10). 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. Stir constantly for 3-5 minutes, making sure to be scraping the edges of the pan. 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 3 minutes, sometimes more.)
  • 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. This is just a suggestion to help those who have had trouble with their frosting.
    Perhaps you could update the recipe, next time you get around to doing it, with candy thermometer readings. I know that my glass top stove can be very different from the one I grew up with & has been an adjustmentfor my recipes. A thermometer takes the guesswork and any natural baking “knowing” it’s just right, out of the equation. Simply when the thermometer gets to to a certain temp. continue to boil for ___ minutes then remove to the ice bath. Then everyone will have a consistent experience.

  2. This cake is soooo delicious. My husband and my kids love it. They finished the entire 2 cakes in 2 days. That’s was me trying to slow them down. I am not a good Baker but if you follow the instructions you’ll make it right. I will make it again soon for my family and serving it to guests. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

    1. I love that you tried to slow them down, haha! Sometimes cake is just too good to pass up when you’re feeling snacky…and then it’s gone :) So glad you found the recipe easy to follow, thank you so much for commenting with a review An!

  3. Love care-a-Mel and don’t think it’s foodee lahdeedah for any thing. Will be making this but have one question. Is the brown sugar packed into measuring cup or loosely as dipped? I normally would pack, but recently made a cookie that specified do not pack! So thought I better ask. It looks yummy!

    1. Hi Tricia! I haven’t tried this as a bundt cake so I’m not sure if you will need to change the amount! Let me know how it goes!

    1. Hi Tamia! I haven’t tried it, but I think you could substitute heavy cream (the kind of cream that you can beat into whipped cream) for the evaporated milk in this recipe! Let me know how it goes!

  4. I made the cake and it was perfect. However I did get a bit of water in my Carmel frosting. But with a little more evaporated milk and butter we brought it back to life. You gave very through instructions. I will definitely be making this again. 

    1. I’m so glad you were able to save it Kichana! What a relief! I’m so glad the detailed instructions were helpful. Thank you so much for reviewing!

  5. It’s wonderful how you write the instructions building your recipes! I’m a old seasoned crow,but sometimes on occasion you run across a recipe like yours that is worded perfectly …and if you’re a nervous first time baker your illustration helps bring it full circle. I promised my husband a chocolate cake, however this Carmel Cake has me feeling like a new woman! Lol
    Keep up the good work! And Thank you!

    1. Haha! Caramel cake really does make you feel like a new woman, I totally feel you! Thank you so much for you compliments on my recipe writing! You are so sweet. Enjoy the cake!!

  6. I love your recipes!  Well the sheet cake Caramel!  Love especially the way you talk a person through! The Texas Sheet Cake says Powdered Sugar (?) Would that be 2 CUPS!  I want to do it just like You!  So sorry I’m finding out about You So Late in Life!  I’m going to cook overtime!  You are adorable and a Terrific Cook!  Wishing You the BEST!
    Thank You, Carolyn 

      1. I must admit that you had me at white Texas sheet cake, once I made it I fell in love ,and I’m like I must make everyone that she makes. So from the white Texas sheet cake ,I went to the chocolate Texas sheet cake, from the Texas chocolate sheet cake I went to the caramel big mistake. The caramel became very grainy I read another one of your responses to another comment and I think it’s true what you said my electric stove was a lot hotter than yours so therefore the caramel was overcooked before I even started to cool it down once I put it in the ice bath immediately it started to get grainy. But thank goodness I was smart enough not to put it on the cake I didn’t want to have both things ruined. So I will find some other type of caramel frosting to put on top of the cake ,and I really hate that because I love the first two sheet cakes so much.I’m not going to give up though I just won’t make that one again thanks so much for sharing. New lover of Texas sheet cakes.

  7. Caramel Cake Frosting – not sure what I did wrong, but when cooled, my frosting was ROCK HARD, like crack it with a hammer hard. I made sure no water got into it during the ice bath. I only had it on boil for 10 mins and I weigh all of my ingredients in grams.

    I cut the recipe in half to make in a 9×9 pan. Would that change how long it should boil? The cake part was amazing so I’ll probably try it again sometime.

    I literally had to use the back of a kitchen knife to crack the top – at least my dinner party got a laugh out of it :-) First time I’ve messed up one of your amazing recipes!

    p.s. I did substitute greek yogurt for the sour cream in the cake part to take out a few calories.

    1. Hi Burton! yes, halving the recipe will definitely change the amount of time that you have to boil the caramel for the frosting. You would have to decrease the time. Your caramel was overcooked, that’s why it hardened. I don’t know what times to tell you for a half recipe since I haven’t tried it. I’m sorry it didn’t work out!

      1. Hi Helen! Yes you can freeze this! Place in a sealed ziplock and freeze for up to 2 months. Let thaw on the counter! Enjoy!

  8. Just made this cake 10 minutes ago. Disaster! I can’t see any way my wife and I deviated from your recipe; dark brown sugar. But once we cooled it in the ice water, it went to caramel candy, almost like taffy. With difficulty we spread it on the cake. Then we tried to cut a piece: the icing instantly pulled away from the cake! It tastes just fine; but it’s just not possible to cut it into any sort of neat piece. What did we do wrong???

    1. Hi Lowrie! I’m so sorry the recipe didn’t turn out for you! That’s very frustrating. The problem is cooking the caramel, yours hardened because it cooked too long. It sounds like your burner must be a bit hotter than mine. Next time try cooking the caramel for 7-8 minutes instead of 10. I hope this helps!

  9. This was tasty! But definitely not caramel in flavor. It’s more of a butterscotch, which makes sense because the icing had brown sugar. Either way, it was a hit!

    1. I can see how that flavor may come out. Thanks for sharing your experience and so glad you loved it!

  10. If I halve the cake recipe, will it change the baking times for the 9” and/or the 10” pans?  If so, what would the baking times be?

    1. Hi Christina! Do you mean a 9 or 10 inch round pan? I’ve never made this in a round pan. If you want to half the cake, I would try an 8×8 inch square pan, or I suppose a 9 or 10 inch round pan would work. You will have to test the cake for the bake times. Start with 20 minutes and check with a toothpick from there.

  11. Made this recipe for my sons birthday! This was. A filling for a 4 layer cake of yellow and carrot cake! It turned out great!!

    1. Oooh this frosting as a filling on a layer cake would be so delicious!! Yum. Thanks for commenting!!

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