I’m a caramel lover, and proud of it!
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.
So why not transform a simple cake with this luscious ingredient, as well?
A classic vanilla butter cake is 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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- In a large clean pot, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Add 1/8 cup warm water and stir to begin dissolving the sugar.
- Cook the mixture over high heat until it bubbles and turns light brown. Do not stir.
- 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.
- Let the caramel cool to room temperature before adding to the buttercream.
For the Buttercream:
- 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.
- Sift the confectioners’ sugar in a separate bowl. Add one cup at a time to the butter, beating very well after each addition.
- Add the salt, vanilla, and heavy cream. Mix on medium-high speed until very light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add 1/2 cup of the cooled prepared caramel to the buttercream. Mix until completely incorporated.
- Assemble and frost the cake rounds with the caramel buttercream, making a three-layer cake.
- Refrigerate the decorated cake for 1 hour to set the frosting.
- 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.
- Let set for 10 minutes. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baking, Stovetop
- Cuisine: Baked Goods
Keywords: caramel, cake, vanilla
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prepare the Cake
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.
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
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
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.
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
Assemble and frost the rounds with the buttercream, building a three-layer cake.
Once frosted, chill in the refrigerator until the frosting sets, for about 1 hour.
Step 5 – Decorate
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Macadamia Nut Coconut
- Einkorn Blueberry with Whipped Cream
- Red Velvet
- Vegan Vanilla Raspberry with Oreos
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: September 6, 2019 at 17:36 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 a hungry foodie 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 is not tearing through her city's best cheesesteaks, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.