This old-fashioned caramel icing recipe is a homemade cooked frosting. Here you'll learn how to make caramel frosting that has the creamy texture of brown sugar fudge!
Use this caramel icing recipe for cake, like classic spice cake or chocolate cake, and cupcakes. You'll find lots of uses for this homemade caramel frosting. Let me know!
Discovering a Recipe for Caramel Icing
This old-fashioned recipe for carmel frosting came from Susan LaRosa (pictured below), one of my favorite bloggers, who writes about collected classic, and vintage recipes.
Her blog, A Cake Bakes In Brooklyn, came about when Susan found a box of old recipes at an antique store. She began collecting vintage cookbooks and boxes of old, often handwritten recipes. She bakes them one by one and blogs about her favorites!
This easy caramel icing recipe for cake is one of the recipes she found in her collection. I love that it stands the test of time. It has a nostalgic flavor and texture, while still being a dessert that could trend on any social media channel!
Ingredients for The Best Caramel Icing Recipe
I love this carmel frosting recipe because it's heavy on the brown sugar, which creates a lovely caramel flavor and color. It's genius with this light Spice Cake.
Besides brown sugar, you'll also need some shortening, milk (both hot and cold), corn syrup, and confectioners' sugar.
Vanilla extract rounds out the flavor profile and takes the icing to the next level.
How to Make Caramel Icing
This is a never fail creamy caramel icing! However, it's not made like your typical icing. This icing recipe is made using the technique of cooked frosting — sometimes called a boiled icing.
This technique for making icing has been around for ages, but was quite popular in the early and mid 1900s. These classic icing recipes have just a few more steps than mixing butter with confectioners' sugar.
Here are the steps for how to make caramel icing:
Mix the shortening, vanilla, hot milk, and confectioners' sugar together until smooth.
Cook the brown sugar, remaining milk and shortening, and corn syrup together in a saucepan. You'll need a candy thermometer to take the right temperature.
Pour the hot mixture over the confectioners' sugar mixture and mix until smooth, and the texture starts to thicken.
Cooked Brown Sugar Icing
I've given step-by-step instructions for making caramel icing in the recipe card below, but here are the main things to keep in mind:
- You will need a candy thermometer along with your mixer to make creamy caramel icing.
- You will need to cook a sugar mixture to 235ºF on a candy thermometer. This creates a soft-ball textured caramel that is stirred into the confectioners' sugar mixture.
- The frosting is warm and smooth and should be spread on cakes and cupcakes pretty quickly. If the icing cools it becomes more candy, or fudge-like, and won't spread smoothly.
Tip: Because this is an old-fashioned boiled caramel icing, it must be spread while still warm. As it sets on the cake, it develops the consistency of smooth fudge!
Old-Fashioned Caramel Icing FAQs
Unfortunately, you will not get the same result with butter. Butter and shortening have different fat and moisture ratios.
You could try solidified coconut oil, but I haven't tried it myself so I can't say for certain it will work.
No, the icing must be prepared and spread over the cake immediately. As it cools, it becomes almost fudge-like in texture.
Tips for Making Homemade Caramel Icing
- This icing is versatile! It doesn't just have to go with the Spice Cake; use it on a chocolate cake, or cupcakes as well. (If you're using it on a chocolate cake, try sprinkling the top with a little flaked sea salt just to be super trendy. Salted Caramel Icing, y'all!)
- Because this is such a simple icing recipe, I do not recommend substituting any of the ingredients. It's a vintage recipe that works perfectly as is!
- You absolutely must use a candy thermometer when making this recipe. Without it, you may not cook the icing long enough.
More Easy Frosting Recipes:
Homemade Caramel Frosting
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening
- ¼ cup hot whole milk
- ½ cup cold whole milk
- 2½ cups confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 2 cups light brown sugar
- In a bowl, combine ⅓ cup shortening, ¼ cup hot milk, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 2 min. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, boil together 1 tablespoon shortening, ½ cup cold milk, corn syrup and brown sugar until temperature reaches 235°F (soft-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.
- Pour the boiled mixture over over shortening mixture and beat until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. If icing isn't smooth enough, add 1 tablespoon hot water.
Cake recipes for any occasion
About Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes & food-styling for magazines, books, television & advertising. Order my new cookbook & stick around for amazing things to eat.
Recipe courtesy of Susan LaRosa at acakebakesinbrooklyn.com. Originally published in LHJ 03/12. Photography Seth Smoot. Updated 2023.
David Millage says
Followed the instructions .. dribbled the hot mixture on top the whipped shortening mixture and it turned to liquid.
Yes, the hot mixture will structurally melt the shortening, but as the icing is stirred and whipped it will cool and get thicker. It’s all about the cooling with this frosting. It is quite liquid when hot, and then forms a thicker, fudge-like frosting as it cools and air is beaten into it. I hope you kept stirring, or will try it again. It should come together without a hitch.
Mona S says
I just had the same problem. At 2mins the frosting is still extremely hot. I let the mixer continue for ~ 20mins. The frosting poured out like thick batter over the top of the cake. Made it very easy to frost the cake. I know from making other spice cake/caramel frosting recipes, it is best to let the frosted cake sit over night before serving. So, I now have to smell this amazing cake all night and try to wait until tomorrow before taking a bite. I may have licked the bowl clean. :). Very delicious frosting.
It is delicious! One of my favorites. I'm glad you have a method for getting the frosting to work the way you want! That's perfect.
Mary Bench says
This icing takes me back to my mother's kitchen! It is delicious!
Will butter work instead of shortening? I cannot eat shortening for health reasons.
Unfortunately you will not get the same result with butter. Butter and shortening have different fat and moisture ratios. You could try solidified coconut oil. I'm just suggesting that, as I haven't tried it. This recipe is vintage and I didn't re-develop it to not use shortening. I rarely use shortening! All the best!
Jaime Moellman says
Look up a recipe for Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Icing. It’s very similar and uses butter.
Sharon Toji says
This would go very well with my own personal heritage spice cake recipe, Magic Spice Cake. About 75years ago, when I was about 8 or 9 SoftAsSilk came out with a little folder of one bowl cake recipes, and this one was included, Magic Spice Cake. It became my favorite and I won first prize at the Umatilla (Oregon) county fair with it more than once. You can find it now on the internet by googling Magic Space Cake and looking at Heritage Recipes for the recipe or just going here: http://www.heritagerecipes.com/cake-recipes/magic-spice-cake.htm
It is much lighter than the usual spice cake, with no molasses, more light and delicate but with just enough spice to make it special.
Sharon Toji says
I should have added to my Magic Spice Cake comment that I now make my own yogurt at least weekly in my Instant Pot so have a lot of whey. It is a wonderful substitute for buttermilk or sour milk in just about any baking recipe.
Tara Teaspoon says
Thank you for all the wonderful information Sharon! I love getting inspiration from tried and true recipes like the ones you mentioned. Tara
Lauren Behl says
I have not tried your recipe as I have been using my grandmother's recipe for 50+ years..
Your vintage recipe is so much more complicated than need be and would be daunting for even an experienced baker as my self.
My recipe calls for 3/4 cup unsalted butter cut in cubes.
Add 1 1/2 dark cup dark brown sugar
Melt together over low heat
Once melted, increase heat and bring to a slow boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
Mixture should be stirred,but not constantly.
Remove from heat
Add 1/3 cup cream
Add 1 tsp vanilla
Remove from heat and cool slightly
Gradually add 2 cups sifted powdered sugarand stir until well blended. If too thick,add more cream.
If you prefer more of a glaze,use less powdered sugar.
A glaze works well on a bundt cake. Try this and you will agree it tastes wonderful and it's simplicity is hard to beat
Lauren, I'm glad you have a recipe that has worked for you for over 50 years. Were you looking for a different recipe or did you just want to comment that my recipe looks hard for you?
My icing was also a little too ‘liquidy’, so I added just a little more powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Turned out beautifully. I also sprinkled a tiny bit of coarse sea salt on top for a ‘salted caramel’ effect. Delish!
Tara Teaspoon says
Great to hear Karen! So glad it worked out and I love the addition of the course salt. Tara