Vanilla Caramel Cake: Giving a Classic Dessert a Very Sweet Uplift

I’m a caramel lover, and proud of it!

Vertical image of a slice of vanilla cake with caramel sauce, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

I always favor the type of chocolates with a center of runny, messy caramel.

Between peanut butter or caramel, I prefer to dip my apple slices in the latter.

And I eat my ice cream not in a cone, but in a bowl, so that it can slowly melt in the excessively huge spoonfuls of hot, ooey-gooey sauce I pour over it.

Vertical top-down image of an upright slice of caramel cake, surrounded by a white napkin, cookies, and other slices of the same dessert.

So why not transform a simple cake with this luscious ingredient, as well?

A classic vanilla butter cake or an easy cream cake will be the best foundation for a caramel sauce, which I like to use in two different ways for this recipe.

Because one way just won’t do this sweet sauce any justice.

You agree with me. I know you do.

Vertical image of a three-tiered decorated cake with dark brown sauce and frosting with cookies.

I first mix a few scoopfuls of this luscious concoction into the vanilla buttercream frosting. You’ll notice a subtle nuance of flavors from the browned butter and toasty sugars.

Nothing too intense, just a lovely taste of unique sweetness to give the simple buttercream a unique lift.

Vertical image of a tall slice of vanilla cake with a dark brown sauce drizzle running down, and cookies on a white plate.

After covering the cake in the frosting and letting it set in the fridge, I then use the rest of it to cover the top, and to drizzle down the sides.

The dessert gets even better after you cut into it and serve. The sauce on top will sloooooowly start to fall down all around each slice.

Don’t you love seeing those thick drips?! What a magical thing to behold.

Vertical close-up image of a slice of vanilla cake with a luscious caramel drizzle.

And, lucky you, you get to eat it all. Just add a few garnishes (I used mini stroopwafel cookies!), and you’re ready to let loose and forget any diet plans you thought you might start today.

But what should you do if you’re not a vanilla fan?

How dare you. Get out… kidding!

Vertical top-down image of a clean slice of dessert with a caramel topping and cookie garnish on a white plate.

The buttercream and extra sauce on top will pair brilliantly with other flavors. I will stand and applaud any baker who decides to make this recipe with chocolate, banana, or carrot!

But if you enjoy the classic vanilla flavor, you’ll be pleased to know that we also have our salted caramel vanilla muffin cupcakes waiting for you.

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Horizontal image of three plates with a caramel-topped slice of cake, with a white napkin and cookie garnish.

Vanilla Caramel Cake

  • Author: Nikki Cervone
  • Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
  • Yield: 1 whole cake (12 servings) 1x


What do you get when you combine a luscious caramel sauce with a classic vanilla cake? Possibly one of the best desserts ever.



For the Vanilla Cake:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Caramel Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

For the Buttercream:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream, room temperature


For the Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and lightly spray again.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until softened and lightly whipped. Add the salt and sugar. Beat at medium-high speed until well combined.
  3. With the mixer running on low speed, add one egg at a time. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fully incorporated. Repeat with the other two eggs.
  4. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Measure out the milk in a separate measuring pitcher. Measure the vanilla and stir into the milk. On low speed, add the dry ingredients and liquid mixture alternately to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition, beating well until a uniform batter develops.
  5. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake has a light spring when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes. Turn cake out of the pans onto a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper, turn right side up, and allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the Caramel Sauce:

  1. In a large clean pot, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Add 1/8 cup warm water and stir to begin dissolving the sugar.
  2. Cook the mixture over high heat until it bubbles and turns light brown. Do not stir.
  3. Once the sugar mixture is brown, turn off the heat and whisk vigorously while slowly pouring in the cream. It will bubble up significantly. Add the butter and whisk until melted.
  4. Let the caramel cool to room temperature before adding to the buttercream.

For the Buttercream:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the softened butter on medium speed until it is smooth with no lumps.
  2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar in a separate bowl. Add one cup at a time to the butter, beating very well after each addition.
  3. Add the salt, vanilla, and heavy cream. Mix on medium-high speed until very light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of the cooled prepared caramel to the buttercream. Mix until completely incorporated.

To Decorate:

  1. Assemble and frost the cake rounds with the caramel buttercream, making a three-layer cake.
  2. Refrigerate the decorated cake for 1 hour to set the frosting.
  3. If necessary, reheat the remaining caramel briefly to get the right drizzling consistency. Once frosting on the cake has cooled and set, use pour or drizzle the remaining caramel over the top and the sides of the cake.
  4. Let set for 10 minutes. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking, Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Baked Goods

Keywords: caramel, cake, vanilla

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prepare the Cake

Horizontal image of three vanilla cakes with the tops trimmed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray three 8-inch round pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and lightly spray again.

Make the batter using a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Divide evenly between the three prepared pans.

We love our recipe for a classic vanilla butter cake! If you have a favorite recipe, feel free to use it here.

Not feeling three thinner layers? Just divide the batter between two pans for thicker layers. The baking time will need to be increased by about 10 minutes.

Step 2 – Make the Sauce

Horizontal image of a pot with caramel.

Now is the perfect opportunity to learn how to make this delicious confection all from scratch!

There are some essential rules and steps to follow to make sure you stay safe (you’re dealing with hot sugar, after all!), and to get the best and creamiest results.

All of this information can be found in our recipe for homemade caramel candies. To make a pourable sauce, don’t continue with the other steps once you add the butter.

Cool to room temperature before adding to the frosting.

Step 3 – Make the Frosting

Horizontal image of frosting in a metal bowl with a dark brown liquid on top.

Follow our recipe for an American-style vanilla buttercream. You can also use our Swiss meringue buttercream recipe, or our cream cheese icing.

Once the frosting is made, add about 1/2 cup of the room temperature caramel and mix to completely incorporate.

Make sure it has definitely cooled to room temperature! If you try adding a warm sauce to a cold, butter-based frosting, you’ll melt the frosting, causing it to lose all of its volume.

Horizontal image of fluffy frosting on a paddle attachment.

Oh no… got a little too excited and added the still-warm sauce? No worries, you can still fix this! Place the mixing bowl with the frosting in the refrigerator. Let cool for at least 30 minutes to re-chill the fats.

You should be good to go to re-mix back to fluffy happiness!

Step 4 – Build the Layers

Horizontal image of a three-tiered cake with a light layer of frosting.

Assemble and frost the rounds with the buttercream, building a three-layer cake.

Need some assistance with this step? Review our cake decorating guide, as well as our recommendations for the best decorating tools.

Once frosted, chill in the refrigerator until the frosting sets, for about 1 hour.

Step 5 – Decorate

Horizontal image of three plates with a caramel-topped slice of cake, with a white napkin and cookie garnish.

With the remaining sauce, decorate the tops and sides as you wish! You can drizzle a pattern on top of the cake, or pour an even layer of it on top, and let it drip down the sides.

Add any other decorations you wish. If you have more buttercream, pipe designs on top, or cover the cake with other garnishes, like small candies and crisp cookies!

Let set for about 10 minutes to set. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator to serve at a later time.

Can I Play Around with the Sauce?

Of course you can! Don’t even get me started with how you can flavor the caramel itself.

Infinite possibilities!

Steep a variety of ingredients in the heavy cream for a few minutes before adding to the cooked sugar mixture. Try any medley of your favorite spices (we love warming spices during the fall months!), citrus peels, coffee, or distilled spirits like your favorite bourbon or whiskey.

Vertical image of a decorated cake with light brown garnishes and drizzle on a white stand.

If making this sauce seems like a feat you really don’t feel like trying just yet, we won’t judge. If you really are craving all the flavors, you can simply get a store-bought option and mix it into your buttercream.

You can also skip a few prep steps with our DIY yellow cake mix.

But you didn’t hear that from me…

So, how do you think you’ll make this recipe? Stick with the classic vanilla? Maybe add a sprinkling of sea salt? Pair with decadent chocolate? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and get my mouth watering!

For more cake recipes, here are some of my favorites from our tasty collection:

Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on April 13, 2009. Last updated: October 7, 2021 at 15:03 pm.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

13 thoughts on “Vanilla Caramel Cake: Giving a Classic Dessert a Very Sweet Uplift”

  1. I loved this post! And that cake stand looks gorgeous. And, well, you just can’t beat a soft yellow cake with a lovely caramel icing, can you?

  2. !!!
    I was bummed about not having Easter this year, but your pictures make up for it! wow that cakes look so yum 🙂 and I think the above asparagus recipe is so worth trying next time I go shopping…mmmm..

  3. I want to use this caramel sauce on a 16 layer cake that I usually use chocolate ganache on. Do you think it will work?

    • Hi, Bismi!

      I would not recommend trying to substitute honey instead of corn syrup in the caramel recipe. The recipe is designed specifically for the properties of corn syrup. You may get a different final consistency, and definitely a stronger taste.


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