Every year for my husband Kenny’s birthday I offer to bake him whichever sweet treat he’d like (blondies, cheesecake and chocolate chip cookie cake are among his favorites). And every year he always decides on the same thing: Southern Caramel Cake.
When he first told me about this super sweet cake, he fondly reminisced eating a piece at his Grandmother Eleanor Vitek’s home as a kid. I unfortunately never had the chance to meet Gamma (as she was called by her grandchildren), because she passed when Kenny was only 13. But from the stories I’ve heard from the Vitek clan, she was a wonderful grandmother and an excellent cook.
This recipe was dug up by asking Kenny’s Aunt Carol Warren (his dad’s sister and Eleanor’s daughter) if she would be so kind to share it with us. Fortunately she did, and I’m so grateful to now have the chance to make a family recipe that’s been passed down three generations.
I snagged a recipe for the actual cake mix from Deep South Dish, but you could also use a yellow cake box mix if you prefer. I’ve made this cake several times over the past few years – both as a three-layer cake and, more recently, in a Bundt pan this year. I tend to think the three-layer provides a prettier presentation, but the dense Bundt cake holds up well to the thick icing. And while Kenny’s birthday lands in July, this cake tastes incredible any time of the year.
The best part of this cake is definitely the caramel frosting, with its intensely rich, smooth, sugary flavor. OK, I take that back. My favorite part of making this cake is watching the wide, satisfied grin on my husband’s face after his first bite.
Southern Caramel Cake
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Caramel icing, recipe below
Make sure everything is at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Cut rounds of parchment paper to place into bottoms of each pan and grease the pan and paper with Baker’s Joy.
In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
With a hand mixer, cream the butter first on medium speed, and then add the sugar a little at a time, beating well for about 6 minutes total. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each in before adding the next. Start adding the flour and alternate adding in the flour and the milk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Add the vanilla and mix well.
Equally divide the batter among the three pans and level the batter – tap the pans a couple of times on the counter to release any bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes back clean, shifting the pans around halfway through. Don’t overcook or it will be dry – check at about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
Speedy Caramel Frosting
½ cup margarine
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup finely chopped toasted pecans (optional)
Melt margarine in a saucepan. Blend in brown sugar and salt. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Gradually, blend in sifted powdered sugar. Add vanilla and mix well.
Thin with small amount of milk if frosting begins to harden. Frosting will be creamier on the second day.
Spread thinly on each cake layer, on the top and along the sides. Sprinkle the nuts on top before icing sets.