Foolproof Southern Caramel Icing
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Caramel icing, frosting, whatever you want to call it, is a mouth watering, aromatic confection with a sweet dense crystalline bite, beloved for frosting a layer cake. But, like my mom used to say, it is "temperamental to make". I have failed numerous times. Over the years, I tried recipe after recipe, and although I had success with some of them, those were pretty difficult to execute. I finally devised one that is both fool-proof and as delectable as any I've tried. With this easy to do recipe, I hope you will begin making caramel icing, especially if it has been a challenge for you in the past. There is much more you can do with this icing than frost a cake! A few ideas...icing scones, heavily drizzling over a cooled apple pie crust, or coating a cornmeal pound cake. I have even used this icing as the inside of a chocolate truffle, and that was absolute magic. 😲
Bakers who have had little to no success with caramel icings have told me they make this icing with perfection! That makes me so happy! I hope you will try it, and that it makes you happy, too. xxxooo
Prep Time: 20 minutes Yield: 3 cups of frosting (will fill and frost a 3 layer cake)
Electric hand mixer - I preferred a hand mixer over a stand mixer because you want fingertip control of the icing and the ability to begin spreading it on the cake right away once it's at perfect texture. I also find I can gauge when the icing is done easier when I use a hand mixer. You also need the ability to consistently scrape the sides of the saucepan as the icing is cooling and thickening, which you can do easily with the beaters of an electric mixer.
6+ quart heavy bottomed high quality saucepan - You may have heard of this suggestion before, and there are a few reasons why. The heavier the saucepan base is, the less likely the contents are to burn. A quality pan also conducts heat efficiently and evenly. If you work with boiling sugar to any degree, I would suggest making the investment in a high quality saucepan. It will serve you for a lifetime. Below is one I recommend.
large wooden spoon - This is for stirring the caramel sauce while it is cooking. I prefer a wooden spoon because it doesn't conduct heat like a metal one. Fun fact: when a wooden spoon is set on top of a pan of boiling water, it stops the water from splattering and overflowing.
12 ounces unsalted butter (3 four ounce sticks)
3 cups granulated white sugar
3 cups light or dark brown sugar
12 ounces evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk) or heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
In a heavy, large saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, evaporated milk (or heavy cream), and salt. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium, stirring the mixture, until it comes to a rolling, medium, steady boil.
Let the mixture boil for approximately 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly but not constantly, cooking it until it is the consistency of thick maple syrup.
Note: If that seems too thin a consistency to spread on the cake, remember the icing will continue to cook somewhat once the pan is removed from the stovetop because of the retained heat from the saucepan, and beating the icing as it cools will also make it thicker.
Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla and lemon juice.
Beat the icing with an electric hand mixer (I have the best results leaving it in the original pan while mixing, my mother also did this over the years, and our pans have not been affected, however you may choose to place the unbeaten icing in a large separate mixing bowl before mixing). As the icing is beaten and it begins to cool, it will become somewhat thicker and ready to fill and frost a cake. When the icing begins to form thick ribbons, it is ready to use and should stay perfectly spreadable, yet not thicken too much while frosting the cake. Another way to tell if the icing is ready; stop the mixer, removing the mixer from the icing and stand it on the counter. If the icing begins to drip off the mixing beaters but thickens instead and doesn't drip back in the saucepan, the icing is ready to use.
For best results, spread icing while it is slightly warm. If icing becomes too thick, thin with milk. Work somewhat fast, but don't get anxious about it being perfect (Been there many times 😅, so just b r e a t h e )
Any remaining icing will harden a bit more once it is completely cooled and has sat for some time. Here is where truffle magic can begin....but that is for another blog post. 😍
I hope this has helped you if you've struggled with making caramel icing. Let me know how you use this recipe in your sweet creations!