Bake or Break

Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This Caramel Cake recipe takes a classic Southern cake and makes it even better by adding a tangy cream cheese frosting. But don’t worry, there’s still a layer of rich caramel in the middle, just like the original!

Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting with a piece removed

An Easy Caramel Cake Recipe

I like caramel, but in small doses, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this Caramel Cake. Then I made it for Christmas and shocker! It ended up being the highlight of our holiday dessert table. It’s not just delicious, it’s beyond delicious. 

Caramel Cake is a popular dessert in the South, but traditionally, the entire cake is frosted with caramel icing. Because I can be a caramel skeptic, when I was looking for a recipe to adapt, I was most intrigued by this one from Cottage Living, which has a caramel cream cheese frosting instead of straight-up caramel. I’m so glad I found this recipe because I really think it’s the cream cheese frosting that takes this cake to the next level. 

If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard chocolate or vanilla cake, Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting is the one to try!

Overhead shot of Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting ingredients

What You’ll Need

If you bake often, you’ll probably have many of these ingredients on hand already.

For the cake:

  • Cake flour – Cake flour is lower in protein and has a bit of added cornstarch, resulting in a lighter cake.
  • Baking powder
  • Salt
  • Granulated sugar
  • Light brown sugar
  • Unsalted butter – Take the butter out about a half hour before you start the recipe to give it a chance to soften.
  • Eggs – Take the eggs out, too. Room temperature eggs produce a lighter cake.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Milk

For the caramel:

  • Light brown sugar
  • Evaporated milk – This is not the same as condensed milk!
  • Unsalted butter

For the frosting:

  • Light brown sugar
  • Unsalted butter
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Cream cheese – Let the cream cheese sit on the counter while the cake is baking so it softens.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar
Slice of Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting on plate with spoon

How to Make Caramel Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

If you talk yourself out of making your own cakes because you’re not confident in your decorating skills, you’ll love that this minimalist cake is a breeze to assemble.

Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350ºF and grease two 9-inch round cake pans; line them with parchment, then grease the paper.

Overhead shot of dry Caramel Cake ingredients in glass bowl

Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Overhead shot of butter and sugar in glass bowl

Mix the wet ingredients. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to cream the sugars and butter. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. After the eggs are added, mix in the vanilla.

Overhead shot of Caramel Cake batter

Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk. 

Overhead shot of two Caramel Cake layers before baking

Bake. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, tapping them on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. 

Overhead shot of two Caramel Cake layers

Cool. Transfer the cake pans to a wire rack and let them cool for 10 minutes. Then, carefully remove the cakes from the pans and let them finish cooling on the racks. Place one of the cake layers on a cake plate.

Overhead shot of caramel in saucepan

Make the caramel. Combine the brown sugar, milk, and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, continue to cook the caramel without stirring it until a candy thermometer reaches 238ºF. Transfer the caramel mixture to a heat-proof bowl and beat it for 3 minutes, or until it’s thick enough to spread.

Overhead shot of caramel spread onto a layer of cake

Add the caramel filling to the cake. Spread the caramel onto the layer of cake you’ve placed on the plate. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or until the caramel sets.

Make the caramel for the frosting. In the heavy saucepan you used to make the filling, combine the brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, then whisk in the cream. Transfer the caramel to a heat-resistant bowl and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally.

Finish the frosting. Use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat 6 tablespoons of butter and cream cheese in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and salt, then slowly add the caramel and continue beating until the mixture is smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until there are no lumps. Chill until the frosting is thick enough to spread.

Assemble the cake. Spread a layer of frosting over the caramel filling, then place the second layer of cake over it. Frost the top and sides, then chill the cake until the frosting has set. Once set, you can cover the cake and return it to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting on cake plate

Serve. Take the cake out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, then serve.

Tips for Success

Follow these tips and your Caramel Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting will turn out perfect.

  • Use a candy thermometer. If you’ve never made caramel before, it can be hard to know precisely when to take it off the stovetop. A candy thermometer gives you more certainty.
  • Watch the caramel as it cooks. Making caramel is not the time for multitasking because it can go from golden brown to burnt in the blink of an eye. And there’s no saving burnt caramel!
  • Level the cakes. If your cakes have a bit more rise in the middle, you can level them by using a serrated knife to create a more even surface. 
Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting with slices removed

Serving Suggestions

You can make some extra caramel to drizzle over the cake before serving. Although a classic Southern caramel cake has no decorative flourishes or garnishes, chopped nuts (a la my Hummingbird Cake) can be used to add a decorative touch without competing with the caramel flavor. Spiced Apple Compote would be an excellent accompaniment, too!

How to Store Leftovers

Store any leftover cake in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly. Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting will last in the fridge for up to 4 days. Let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before you dig in! 

Can You Freeze Caramel Cake?

Yes, you can freeze this Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Pop it in the freezer to harden the frosting, then take it out and wrap it tightly in two layers of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil. Return it to the freezer and use it within 2 months. When you’re ready to eat the cake, let it thaw in the fridge.

Slice of Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting on plate

Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield 10-12 servings
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Classic caramel cake gets a makeover with the addition of tangy caramel cream cheese frosting.

Slice of Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting on plate with spoon

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 & 1/2 cups (420g) sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 & 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (236ml) milk

For the caramel:

  • 1 & 1/2 cups (300g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (118ml) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup (56g) unsalted butter

For the frosting:

  • 1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons (141g) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/3 cup (78ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 & 3/4 cups (192g) confectioners' sugar

Instructions

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment, and grease the paper.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the sugar, brown sugar, and butter until well mixed (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Tap the pans on counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake 35 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.
  6. Place one cooled layer on a cake plate.

To make the caramel:

  1. Combine the brown sugar, milk, and butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 238°F. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl. Beat 3 minutes or until thick enough to spread.
  2. Immediately spread the caramel over the cake layer on the cake plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set (about 15 minutes).

To make the frosting:

  1. Place the brown sugar and 4 tablespoons (56g) butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Whisk in the cream and mix well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl to allow the caramel to cool to room temperature. Stir occasionally.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat 6 tablespoons (85g) butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt.
  3. While the mixer is still running, slowly add caramel and beat until smooth. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, and beat until well combined. Chill the frosting until thickened for spreading. Stir occasionally.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the caramel filling. Place the second cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of cake.
  2. Chill until the frosting has set (about 20 minutes). Cover the cake and chill at least 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.

Notes

Recipe adapted from Southern Living.

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    21 Comments on “Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting”

  1. Oh… my….
    Who cares about that caramel layer. That cake looks deelish.

  2. That looks absolutely delicious! I love caramel, and even more than that love cream cheese…what a yummy combo!

  3. Even tho’ I really like caramel goodies, I, too, could do without the caramel layer on this cake as the frosting would satisfy me. Thanks for the related recipes!

  4. I love the idea of caramel cream cheese frosting! YUM!

  5. It looks amazing. To this day one of the most favorite thing I made was a double caramel cake. But I am with Quinn, I love caramel.
    The only thing I can think that might of happen to the caramel layer is slightly overcooked caramel. Caramel as much as I love it can often be such a pain.

  6. Thanks, Tracy! It was indeed delicious.

    Cedar, if you like caramel and cream cheese, I highly recommend this cake to you. Or, you know, just make the frosting. Yum!

    JEP, I think it would be more than fine to omit the caramel layer. You might need a bit more frosting.

    Rachel, it is so good. I don’t have words sufficient to describe that frosting.

    Peabody, I agree that the caramel might have overcooked. Either that or it got too cool too fast when it was transferred over to be beaten. Oh, well.

  7. This cake sounds perfect! I love caramel and I love cream cheese. I just discovered your blog through Patricia (Technicolor Kitchen) and am already loving it and adding it to my blog reader list! So many beautiful photos and yummy looking baked goods.

  8. This is the most food-pornie food porn I’ve seen in ages. I want to dive into that cake slice and roll all over it. I happen to LOVE caramel cake — it’s a very retro flavor, whereas, I don’t care much for caramel drizzled anything, or caramels, or caramel sauce. But cooked caramel cake? Oh yes. Someone light me a cigarette.

  9. This caramel cake was delicious. It is just the right amount of caramel and the frosting, I think, was the best part of all! Cream cheese? You can’t go wrong with cream cheese anything! If the caramel layer was “messed up” as you say, I don’t think it hurt the taste of this cake one little bit!

  10. I bet this is one of the most amazing cakes ever! It looks fantastic!

  11. Welcome, Ashley! I’m glad you found me!

    LOL, Kate! Sounds like you and this cake had a moment.

    Thanks, Kristen! It is definitely one of my favorites.

  12. I found your site not too long ago and have really been enjoying it. Great photos! I was thinking of making this cake and noticed that I had a box of yellow cake mix in my pantry. I have no problem making things from scratch but wanted to get this box out of my closet, so I’m wondering if you think a box mix would hold up against the filling and frosting. Thanks in advance for your advice! Have a great weekend!

  13. Heather, I would absolutely try the yellow cake mix. This cake itself wasn’t heavy on flavor. It let the filling and frosting really come through. Personally, I might prefer a white cake mix, but I’m sure yellow will work just fine. Let me know what you think!

  14. I’m making this cake for a friends birthday… it seems like in comparison to the other cakes I make, this one is fairly dense and doesn’t get a high rise. Would you agree with that or did I do something wrong? Just wanting another opinion. I was hoping to make a three or four layer cake, but will never be able to do so with what i’ve got. I may just make another layer tomorrow, but I’m just looking for some feedback.

    Thanks!

  15. Maria, I only managed two layers with this one. And, as you can tell from the picture, they weren’t the most perfect layers. Let me know how it works with another layer. Enjoy!

  16. Is it possible to substitute the heavy whipping cream for half and half?

  17. Maggie, you should be able to use half and half in the frosting. If the frosting is a little thin, you can add a bit more confectioners’ sugar.

  18. Hi! This looks divine. I am looking for a cake that will stack nicely so that I can do the petal frosting technique on the sides. You noted in another comment that your layers weren’t “perfect”, but I was just wondering if you thought they may be too soft to get a straight sided cake and angle at the top edge. Any thoughts?

    Many thanks! Love the blog. 🙂

  19. …or maybe you have another suggestion that would work well for decorating (in the white cake family)? I see several that I’ve saved from you that are drool worthy…

    Thanks again!

  20. Adrienne, I think the layers of this cake would work fine. As with any layer cake, you might have trim them to make them flat for smoother frosting.

  21. Looks so moist and delicious! Love the caramel and cream cheese

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