Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake


Sound decadent? Just wait until it's smothered in icing.

Active Time:
15 mins
Bake Time:
35 mins
Cool Time:
2 hrs 10 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs

Buttery, rich, and decadent, this Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake is easy to make and guaranteed to please. A basic recipe structure yields a cake with the texture of pound cake that offers hints of luscious caramel flavor without being too sweet or overpowering.

Here, everything you need to know about making and serving this indulgent dessert.

Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake Southern Living

Courtney West

What Is Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake?

A traditional Southern caramel cake is essentially a yellow cake, though we add rum extract to the batter to give it a bit more caramel-y flavor on its own.

What takes it from simple to special, and from yellow cake to caramel cake, is the Caramel Frosting. And while the cake batter comes together in a flash, the frosting is a bit more finicky; you have to make a caramel on the stove, constant stirring and candy thermometer and all, before beating it with a stand mixer until it reaches the consistency of spreadable frosting.

Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake Ingredients

Before you get to the frosting, there are a few ingredients you’ll need for the cake itself.

  • Sour Cream and milk: Whenever there’s sour cream in a cake recipe, it’s a signal that the cake is going to extra moist and rich. We use it here, in addition to milk, to ensure the cake stands up to the Caramel Frosting.
  • Butter, sugar, and eggs: You’ll find these staple cake ingredients in almost every batter.
  • Flour, baking powder, and salt: Ditto these dry ingredients. No need to buy cake flour for this recipe; we prefer the all-purpose you already have on hand.
  • Vanilla and rum extracts: Vanilla and rum extracts are added to the batter to further enhance the flavor of the cake and help it mesh with the powerfully sweet frosting. 
ingredients for Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake Southern Living

Courtney West

How To Frost Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake 

This part is super important: Your cake must be completely and utterly cool before you begin to frost it. If it’s even a little bit warm, the icing you worked so hard to make is going to slide right off the surface of your cake.

To be extra certain that your frosting won’t melt, you can even cool the cake layers completely, wrap them in plastic wrap, and chill them in the fridge for two hours before you begin to frost.

Once you’re certain your cake layers are cool, place a small dollop of frosting on your serving plate (to hold the cake in place) and place the first layer on top. Cover the top of the cake layer with frosting, then top with the second layer. Then use the rest of your Caramel Frosting to coat the top and sides of the cake.

How To Make Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake in Advance 

One way to ensure your frosting won’t melt, plus free up your oven on the day of your party or holiday gathering, is to bake your Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake up to a few weeks in advance and freeze the layers.

To do so, cool your cake completely, then wrap each layer in several pieces of plastic wrap followed by a piece of aluminum foil, and pop them in the freezer (don’t forget to label them!).

The day before you plan to serve the cake, transfer your cake layers to the fridge to thaw overnight, then move them to the counter to sit and come to room temperature as you make the frosting.

Editorial contributions by Alyssa Sybertz.


  • 1 cup sour cream

  • ¼ cup milk

  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 4 large eggs

  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon rum extract

  • Caramel Frosting


  1. Prepare:

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine sour cream and milk. Set aside.

    adding milk to sour cream

    Courtney West

  2. Cream butter and sugar:

    Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well after each addition.

    adding sugar to a stand mixer

    Courtney West

  3. Finish batter, add to pans:

    Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at medium-low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla and rum extract. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

    adding batter to round pans Southern Living

    Courtney West

  4. Bake cake layers:

    Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and let cool 2 hours or until completely cool.

    baked cake layers for Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake Southern Living

    Courtney West

  5. Frost cake layers:

    Spread Caramel Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.

    putting Caramel Frosting on Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake

    Courtney West

Additional reporting by
Alyssa Sybertz
Alyssa Sybertz

Alyssa Sybertz has nearly a decade of experience writing about food, cooking, and cookbooks for print and digital publications, developing recipes, and cooking for her family.

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