This Best Southern Salted Caramel Cake recipe comes super moist, fluffy, and full of delicious buttery and caramel flavors--- thanks to the salted caramel infused in the cake itself, in between each layer, and drizzled atop the vanilla buttercream. There's nothing like this cake! It’s the perfect sweet indulge for every occasion and season. Vegan + Gluten-free options available.
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Being a southerner at heart and growing up in Florida for almost half my life has certainly displayed itself in this Southern Salted Caramel Cake. If I'm honest, I'm completely obsessed with the flavors in this cake and if you're a caramel fanatic----it won't disappoint one bit.
What Makes the Best Southern Salted Caramel Cake
When it comes to any cake, I'm convinced that the thing that makes it stand out is how completely moist and fluffy it is. In fact, I tend to make my cakes super light and fluffy, while ensuring that they still hold up well although they are crumbly. It's the crumbly, moist feel of any cake that melts my heart away.
For this Southern Salted Caramel Cake, the things that also make it the best are: the beautiful marriage of buttery and sweet caramel flavors as well as the homemade salted caramel sauce, which is so easy!
How to Make Southern Salted Caramel Cake
This cake as I’ve mentioned before is super easy to whip together and doesn’t require anything special or difficult when it comes to ingredients. All you need to whip up this simple salted caramel cake batter is:
Bob’s Red Mill All-purpose flour.
Ground cinnamon (Just a pinch).
Plant-based milk (You can also use Regular cow’s milk)
Salted caramel sauce.
Salted Caramel Sauce Ingredients
The three components in this Southern Salted Caramel Cake are the cake batter, homemade salted caramel sauce and the buttercream. Here’s what you need to make the sauce:
Brown sugar. I use organic to make sure it’s vegan (for vegan-option especially).
Unsalted butter. I just substitute with vegan butter for that option.
Heavy Cream. I love using organic heavy cream. You can also use the coconut cream version for a creamier texture for vegan option.
Sea salt. This creates a nice balance with the sweet and helps to heighten the flavor.
Storing the Cake
If you have leftovers, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or place them in an airtight container. Keep the cake in the fridge for up to five days. You can also freeze leftover cake for up to three months. Defrost the cake on the counter before serving.
Another thing that I’ve learned about baking a cake is having the right tools. As a basic—-you should have a cake stand (preferably one that has a turnstile table), spatulas (big + small), piping bags + tips, correct baking pans and parchment paper, and if you need to get a bit more fancy—Bake Even Cake Strips.
Have no clue what these are? Whelp, you basically soak them in water before wrapping them around your cake pan while baking. These stripes ensures that your cakes don’t bake with a funny “dome” or anything. Just flat and even.
Of course, if you don’t have these strips, you can simply butter your pan and use liners along with an old trick that I’ve always done when baking—–add a small pot of water to the oven to keep things moist. Yup. It works EVERY. TIME.
One of the essential ingredient combos for a light, silky cake texture is baking soda and acid ingredient (usually vinegar or buttermilk if the cake calls for it). When acid and baking soda reacts, it creates bubbles and helps to create a nice rise for your baked goods, leaving an airy texture.
In the case of vegan cakes, this is usually done by adding apple cider vinegar to your milk and letting it sit for a few minutes and then later combining it with the dry ingredients (which includes baking soda). Wallah!
One of my latest tricks to a perfect cake has been to ensure that ALL of my dry ingredients are sifted. Trust me, ya’ll—-this works!
Making all the dry ingredients fully sifted makes things airy, as you’ve guessed it and allows everything to combine faster.
Never Over-mix! When creating a cake, it’s so important to add the dry ingredients and wet ingredients alternately and as soon as everything is combined very well, THAT’S IT! Over-mixing creates a more dense cake.
Icing vs. Buttercream. Which is Better?
Honestly, I prefer buttercream for this cake because it gives it that real indulgent cake feel. However, I do know that many caramel cakes come with caramel icing instead. So what's the difference? Caramel icing is thinner and tends to set quickly and harden, much like glazes on a donut or pop tart.
As for buttercream, it's usually thicker and fluffier, which in my opinion adds to the already fluffiness of this cake. Plus, when you decide to warm the cake a bit, I find that buttercream holds up better. Win, win.
How To Make this Cake Gluten-Free or Vegan
If you would love to make this cake gluten-free, then substituting all-purpose flour with Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour is the easiest option. It’s a special blend of gluten-free flours, starches, and xanthan gum, which makes this cake just as soft, fluffy, and airy as the original!
In addition to the flour, to make this cake vegan, simply remove the eggs and unsalted butter, substituting them with vegan butter (softened at room temp.) and apple cider vinegar (1 Tbsp) mixed in with the milk. Also, you can make the salted caramel sauce vegan using this recipe.
Can I Make Salted Caramel Cupcakes?
Certainly! If you’d like to make cupcakes, simply follow the recipe as written. Instead of pouring the batter into cake pans, pour it into a cupcake tin with liners. Bake the cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.
Heat the brown sugar in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and stir constantly using a rubber spatula until clumps are formed. Add butter and continue to stir until everything has melted and become a dark 'amber-like' color. Continue to stir consistently until fully melted and bubbly, about 2-3 minutes.
Now, slowly whisk in the heavy cream and continue stirring until well incorporated and sauce has fully thickened. Remove from heat, stir in the salt and allow to cool slightly before using. Set aside.
MAKE THE CAKE:
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease (with butter) AND line with parchment paper the bottoms of TWO 9-inch cake pans (for thicker layers) or THREE 8-inch cake pans.
In a bowl, whisk together the milk and lemon juice and set aside for 5-10 minutes until everything "activates" to create the dairy-free "buttermilk".
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt until combined.
In a bowl, add the butter and sugar, beating them together using a hand-mixer (on high-speed), until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs (one at a time) followed by the vanilla, oil, and salted caramel, mixing until combined. On low-speed, add in the dry ingredients followed by the buttermilk and continue to mix until combined and the batter is smooth, about 3-4 minutes. NOTE: The batter should be thick, yet slowly run off the whisk once lifted.
Divide the batter evenly into each of the cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick or butter knife comes out clean when tested in the centers.
Remove cakes from the oven and let them rest in the pan for 10 minutes or so before removing the cakes and placing them onto a cooling rack to fully cool. NOTE: Let them cool for at least 1-2 hours in a cool place.
MAKE THE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
Simply beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand-mixer) on medium-high speed, until smooth and pale. Add in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk, continuing to mix on medium-speed until you reach the desired consistency----smooth and fluffy. NOTE: Add more milk (1 tablespoon at a time if too thick) or powdered sugar (for more thickness).
Place the first cake layer on your cake stand and evenly cover the top with buttercream and a few drizzle of salted caramel sauce. Now, top with 2nd layer and add more buttercream + salted caramel sauce atop that layer. Finally, top with final layer and top with remaining buttercream, spreading it over the tops and sides of cake, evenly and thinly.
Once fully frosted, add small little designs of the buttercream using a piping bag + tip around the sides and top of cake. Chill for 5 minutes to ensure that buttercream sets. Drizzle with remaining salted caramel sauce.
When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator. Slice and enjoy!
Tips & Tricks
STORAGE: Keep cake leftovers stored for up to 4-5 days in the fridge. Keep it in an airtight container to keep the cake from drying out. You can also freeze the cake tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 3 months. Before serving, defrost the cake on the counter.
FLOUR: You can also use cake flour in place of all-purpose flour for a fluffier texture.
STORAGE (CARAMEL SAUCE): Leftover salted caramel sauce can be stored in a tightly sealed mason jar for up to two weeks. When ready to use, simply reheat sauce in the microwave at 15 second intervals until softened and at room temp.
CUPCAKES: This recipe yields about 30 cupcakes. Simply bake for 18-20 minutes instead, until centers come out clean.
VEGAN OPTION: To make this cake entirely dairy-free + vegan, simply omit the unsalted butter and eggs and use vegan butter instead and add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar to milk instead of lemon juice. Also, see my recipe for a vegan caramel sauce to substitute.