Southern Burned Caramel Cake

Southern Burned Caramel Cake

Indulge in the rich, decadent flavors of a classic Southern Burned Caramel Cake. This traditional dessert features a moist, tender cake layered with a unique burned caramel frosting that provides a delightful contrast of sweet and slightly bitter notes. Perfect for special occasions or a sweet treat to enjoy with family and friends, this cake is sure to impress.


For the Cake:

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

  • ½ cup sugar (for burning)
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks margarine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preparing the Cake:

  • Cream Shortening and Sugar: In a large mixing bowl, cream together the vegetable shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. This step is crucial for incorporating air into the batter, ensuring a light and tender cake.
  • Add Eggs: Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. This helps to fully incorporate the eggs into the mixture and create a smooth batter.
  • Sift Dry Ingredients: Sift together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt three times. Sifting multiple times ensures an even distribution of the baking powder and salt, resulting in a consistent rise and texture.
  • Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients: Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the whole milk. Begin and end with the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Avoid overmixing to prevent a dense cake.
  • Add Vanilla Extract: Stir in the vanilla extract, ensuring it is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  • Bake the Cake: Pour the batter into greased and floured pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Preparing the Frosting:

  • Burn the Sugar: In an iron skillet, burn ½ cup of sugar over medium heat until it reaches a deep amber color. This process requires careful attention to prevent the sugar from burning too much and becoming bitter.
  • Make the Syrup: Add ½ cup of boiling water to the burned sugar to create a syrup. Be cautious, as the mixture will bubble vigorously.
  • Combine Ingredients: In a large saucepan, combine the burned sugar syrup with 4 cups of sugar, 2 sticks of margarine, and 1 cup of milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (235°F to 240°F on a candy thermometer).
  • Finish the Frosting: Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set the pan in cold water and beat the mixture until it thickens enough to spread.

Assembling the Cake:

Once the cake layers have cooled completely, spread a generous amount of burned caramel frosting between each layer and over the top and sides of the cake. The frosting will set as it cools, creating a deliciously smooth and slightly crunchy caramel coating.

Serving and Storage Tips:

Serving Tips

  • 1. Ideal Temperature: Serve the Southern Burned Caramel Cake at room temperature. This allows the flavors to fully develop and the frosting to maintain its perfect texture.
  • 2. Garnishing: Enhance the presentation by garnishing with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, a few caramel drizzle lines, or a dollop of whipped cream on each slice. Fresh berries or a sprig of mint can also add a touch of elegance.
  • 3. Cutting the Cake: Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut clean slices. For an extra neat presentation, warm the knife in hot water, wipe it dry, and then cut the cake. Clean the knife between cuts to maintain tidy edges.
  • 4. Serving Size: The recipe yields 12 servings. Cut the cake into even slices to ensure everyone gets a fair share. If serving for a larger gathering, consider cutting slightly smaller slices.

Storage Tips

  • 1. Room Temperature: If you plan to consume the cake within two days, it can be stored at room temperature. Keep the cake in an airtight container or cover it with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
  • 2. Refrigeration: For longer storage, place the cake in the refrigerator. Store it in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it fresh. The cake will last up to one week when refrigerated. Before serving, bring the cake back to room temperature for the best flavor and texture.
  • 3. Freezing: If you need to store the cake for an extended period, freezing is an excellent option. Wrap individual slices or the whole cake tightly in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, and place it in a freezer-safe bag or container. The cake can be frozen for up to three months. To thaw, transfer the cake to the refrigerator overnight, then bring it to room temperature before serving.
  • 4. Avoiding Moisture Loss: To maintain the cake’s moisture, place a piece of parchment paper between the cake layers if storing in a container. This prevents the layers from sticking together and helps retain moisture.
  • 5. Re-Frosting: If the frosting loses its texture or becomes too firm after storage, gently reheat the frosting and beat it again until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Apply it to the cake as needed.
  • 6. Portion Control: If you prefer to freeze individual slices, wrap each slice separately. This allows you to thaw only the amount you need, reducing waste and ensuring each serving is as fresh as possible.


While the traditional Southern Burned Caramel Cake is a beloved classic, there are several variations you can try to add a new twist to this timeless recipe. Here are some creative ideas to customize your cake:

  1. Nutty Caramel Cake: Add a delightful crunch by incorporating nuts into the cake or frosting.
  • Ingredients: Add 1 cup of chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds to the cake batter or sprinkle them over the frosting.
  • Directions: Fold the nuts into the batter before baking, or press them into the frosting while it’s still soft.
  1. Salted Caramel Cake: Enhance the caramel flavor with a touch of salt.
  • Ingredients: Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to the frosting, or sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of the frosted cake.
  • Directions: Mix the sea salt into the caramel frosting for a balanced sweet and salty flavor, or lightly dust the finished cake with sea salt flakes.
  1. Chocolate Caramel Cake: Combine rich chocolate with the caramel for a decadent treat.
  • Ingredients: Add ½ cup of cocoa powder to the cake batter, or drizzle melted chocolate over the frosted cake.
  • Directions: Mix the cocoa powder with the dry ingredients before combining with the wet ingredients, or melt chocolate and drizzle over the cake as a finishing touch.
  1. Caramel Banana Cake: Infuse the cake with the natural sweetness of bananas.
  • Ingredients: Add 2 ripe mashed bananas to the cake batter.
  • Directions: Fold the mashed bananas into the batter before baking. The bananas will add moisture and a subtle fruity flavor to the cake.
  1. Caramel Apple Cake: Incorporate the flavors of a caramel apple for a seasonal variation.
  • Ingredients: Add 1 cup of finely chopped apples and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake batter.
  • Directions: Mix the apples and cinnamon into the batter before baking. This variation is perfect for autumn and adds a lovely apple-cinnamon aroma.
  1. Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting: Add a tangy twist with a cream cheese-based frosting.
  • Ingredients: Replace the margarine in the frosting with 8 oz of cream cheese and 1 stick of butter.
  • Directions: Cream the butter and cream cheese together, then gradually add the burned caramel syrup and sugar, beating until smooth.


  • 1. Can I use butter instead of margarine in the frosting? Yes, you can substitute butter for margarine in the frosting. Keep in mind that butter will impart a slightly different flavor and texture to the frosting, but it will still be delicious.
  • 2. Can I use a different type of milk in the cake batter? Yes, you can use any type of milk you prefer, such as whole milk, skim milk, or even plant-based milk like almond or coconut milk. Keep in mind that using different types of milk may slightly alter the flavor and texture of the cake.
  • 3. Can I make the cake layers in advance and freeze them? Yes, you can bake the cake layers in advance and freeze them for later use. Wrap each cooled cake layer tightly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil before placing them in a freezer-safe bag or container. Thaw the layers in the refrigerator overnight before assembling and frosting the cake.
  • 4. How long will the frosting stay fresh? The frosting can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Before using, let the frosting come to room temperature and beat it again until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

This Southern Burned Caramel Cake is a delightful blend of rich flavors and textures. With its moist cake and unique caramel frosting, it’s sure to become a favorite in your dessert repertoire. Enjoy a slice with a cup of coffee or tea, and savor the taste of Southern tradition.