Caramel Cake

CATEGORIES: Cakes and Cupcakes, Kate

Sara and I have dabbled in posts about our dads before (like here, here, and here), but, in light of Father’s Day being this coming Sunday, we thought we’d dedicate a whole week to recipes that remind us of our dads. Oh, by the way, Dad, happy Father’s Day! I’m a little behind on my shopping… 🙂

It seems like no matter what other kinds of cake my dad may like, if it’s a birthday or any kind of special celebration just for him, he wants a caramel cake. The thing is that it’s not really a caramel cake–it’s a yellow cake with penuche “icing”–and I put that in quotation marks because the icing is really just a layer of caramel candy similar in texture to fudge. Sounds evil, right? Fudge-coated cake? Yeah, it is. More about that evil icing in a minute…

So I’ve kind of decided that when it comes to yellow and white cakes, I am completely at peace with doctoring up cake mixes. In fact…I kind of think they taste better than just about any homemade yellow or white cakes I’ve ever had. I know that will cause some of you to gasp in disbelief and maybe unsubscribe from our blog because of the un-foodiness of that statement, but it’s the truth, and if that truth also makes my life a little less complicated, I am ALL for it.

So for this cake, I start off with a Duncan Hines yellow cake mix (not an advertisement, I totally swear up and down by Duncan Hines cake mixes only) and doctor it up with sour cream, eggs, oil, butter flavoring, almond extract, and vanilla.

Now…in virtually any picture you see of a caramel cake, it will be a round layer cake. Up until I made the cake for these pictures, I’ve always made the cake in a 9×13″ pan because the candy frosting is so dense and heavy that it is difficult to ice the cake while a) not wrecking it and b) the frosting looking like a hot mess. Foolishly thinking myself a better cake decorator than I actually am, I decided to attempt the round cake. Suffice it to say there is a reason that I have carefully selected one side of the cake to photograph. In fact, my husband very cautiously asked me if I was going to put pictures of that cake on the blog. Yes, once we sliced the cake, the pieces looked very impressive and yes, that one side was so pretty sitting on the cake stand, but let me just tell you that for your own sanity, I strongly encourage you to suck up your pride and just make the cake in the 9×13 pan. So what do we not do?

That’s right, bake the cake in smaller pans for a layer cake.
Anyway, after you’ve baked your cake, allow it to cool. While the cake is cooling, prepare your candy frosting.

That stuff on the left side is dark brown sugar (that was actually for emphasis, not just to be cute here; light brown sugar doesn’t have enough of a bite to cut the sweetness of the frosting). Everything else in the picture can only bring happiness–butter, whipping cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar. After you’ve made your icing, you spread it over your cake and then add some chopped, toasted pecans. I know nuts in and on cake is a fairly controversial topic, right up there with government-run health care and whether Jon or Kate Gosselin is at fault for the public falling-apart of their marriage, and normally, I’m not a huge nut fan. But I really, really, really recommend them on this cake. That that for what it’s worth.
And there you have it–caramel cake, perfect for Father’s Day dessert. Or random snackage, which is what, after my daughter’s third birthday was over, this cake has become. The evil temptress (the cake, not my daughter) is about to find herself a new home.


  1. If you are going to use one – Duncan Hines is the way to go – hehe! I totally agree with you on that! This looks wonderful!

    Happy Day!

  2. Hi! I love the look and sound of this cake. My question is, would this be completely acceptable in cupcake form? A 9×13 cake is just so big for two people, and taking a cake with slices missing isn't as pretty as bringing in some cupcakes to work. Suggestions?

  3. My dad is a caramel nut too! So I know you made a point of saying that the pecans are controversial, but I am really allergic to them. Do you think it would be better with almonds (the one nut I can eat for some freak reason) or none at all?

  4. I love your blog. I am a Utah girl living in San Antonio so I can relate to a lot of your experiences. I have a son who is allergic to milk. Do you have any suggestions on substituting soy milk in baked goods? When I try it, it usually comes out a little dense and sometimes a little dry and sometimes with a strange aftertaste.

  5. I made this from the southern living magazine recently and it was amazing. I made cupcakes (mini and regular) instead of a layered cake and they were perfect. I didn't use nuts, though, cause I'm not a fan.

    Several people asked me for the recipe and have since made the cake themselves. It's a crown pleaser for sure. Different than the norm but it still has universal appeal. Definitely a keeper.

  6. Mmmm Penuche frosting. My mom always made it with a spice cake and walnuts, in case someone wants to try that.

  7. I LOVE doctored up cake mixes. I live at high altitude (Denver) and I'm so sick and tired of making cakes from scratch, only to have them fall in the middle. I don't have the patience, time or ingredients to waste tinkering with recipes to make them suitable for high altitude, but when I use a cake mix I always get the same result!

    Some people say cake mixes taste like chemicals but I can't taste anything. And when you add that much other stuff to them, you're really only treating the cake mix like dry ingredients anyway, right? I'd love to see more cake mix recipes from you girls!

  8. I just made this and it is SO good!
    I didn't have any butter flavoring or almond extract so I used 1 t. maple extract.
    I also baked it in a sheet pan.
    Since there was more surface to frost I used the whole 1/2 pint carton of whipping cream and about 5 c. of powdered sugar. (I had a little extra frosting, so I put it between graham crackers)
    Thanks for the great recipe! This is going in my keeper file to make again … and again

  9. This frosting sounds very similar to one I use and LOVE (I'm not home to look at my recipe right now, but it could be identical). I use mine on a wonderful homemade spice cake that is much less sweet than many cakes, so the super sweet frosting is balanced out some. I have never used dark brown sugar though, I'll have to give that a try next time I make it.

  10. I have a question about the Bertolli give away post. Who won? I never did see a post saying who won the dutch oven.

    Sorry posts hubby's name

  11. Brandon's Wife :),
    The winner of the giveaway was posted here on the blog and on our Facebook page. Head on over to FB and scroll down and you'll see. She has already claimed the prize so I'm sorry it wasn't you!

  12. Do you seriously use 1 whole cup of oil in this cake? I am wondering with all the sour cream, eggs and oil if you can ever get it out of the pan? I think your idea to make it in a 9X13 pan is probably the better idea, your photography is awesome, but the cake clearly looked like it had challenges —LOL.

  13. This might be a dumb question, but butter flavoring? do you mean margarine? or Crisco? Looks really good! I'm thinking of adding chopped heath bars on top with the pecans, do you think that would be good? I'll be making it for Father's Day tomorrow!

  14. Susan- not a dumb question! Butter flavoring is like a butter extract. It's sold by the other extracts. You can see it in the ingredient picture in this post kind of hiding in the very bottom right hand corner of the picture.

  15. Amazing cake! Made it for an early Father's Day for my hubby and dad(the missionaries came for dinner so I needed a dessert)
    Rave reviews from all the guys.

  16. I just made this cake for my husband for Father's Day. I haven't even cut into the cake yet, but the frosting is PHENOMENAL! I could eat it with a spoon. Thanks for the great recipe!

  17. when I made this, the frosting didnt come out fudgy, but more the consistency of a thick caramel sauce…not sure what I did wrong, but it still tastes good!

  18. OMGOSH! I can't tell if I love you guys or hate you guys..LOL!!! everything I have made using your recipes is so darn GOOD! and I feel like I roll from one room to the o man! you guys rock with your recipes…I made this today for the fire station and they all loved it! my husband felt it was like a maple donut…thank you so much 🙂 and I love your husbands Happy Father's Day!!!

  19. Ok, I tried this, and I wasn't a fan of the frosting. The cake was FABULOUS!! I just don't know if I didn't make it right. It was just really grainy and THICK! Not something I'm used to.

    I was unhappy with the way the frosting turned out on Sunday, so I scraped it off the remaining half of the cake today and remade the frosting. Same result. So I added probably another 1-2 Tbsp of the whipping cream while I mixed the frosting in my Kitchenaid. It made it lighter in texture, and fluffier… but there was still the graininess. Is that how it's supposed to be?

  20. StacieJayne–The texture of the frosting should be almost exactly like fudge when it's cooled. It shouldn't be grainy at all. The only thing I can think of is that the sugar mixture didn't cook quite long enough–was it totally smooth when you added the powdered sugar?

  21. Just wanted to let you know that I'm still with you and have NOT been turned off by *gasp* the use of cake mix. LOL!

    Thanks for the penuche recipe. I'll be giving that sucker a try.

    Btw, Your Dad has excellent tastes in cakes!

  22. What can I use for the 1tsp of butter flavoring in the Cake Recipe?? I was just about to make this and came across that?! Not sure – can I use a tsp of melted butter?? thanks!

  23. What can I use for the 1 tsp butter flavoring for the cake? I tsp melted butter?? I was just about to make this and saw that – I don't have any of it – I haven't seen butter flavoring before… or haven't looked for it anyway.

  24. I am baking this cake right now. It looks wonderful. Just wanted to let you know that even though you stress using dark brown sugar in your step-by-step instructions, at the bottom of the page where the actual recipe is printed out it just says packed brown sugar.

  25. This would be a great treat to bring to a book club for “The Help.” I’m reading it right now and thinking I’d like to try one of Minny’s caramel cakes.

  26. I’ve made your Easy White Cake recipe many times, where you start with the box mix and then add a cup of flour, sugar, etc so that it actually makes 36 cupcakes instead of 24. So my question is – do you think this caramel recipe would turn out if I made it like the Easy White Cake recipe, only with yellow cake and the addition of butter flavoring? I’m going to be making a lot of cupcakes, so the farther I can stretch the batter, the better 🙂

  27. My husband requested this cake for his birthday and it was perfect! I even ignored your warning and made a round layer cake. It was beautiful and delicious and the doctored cake mix made a cake firm enough to stand up to the frosting. Thank you for the great recipe!!!

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