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Antique Caramel Icing Recipe for Cake

This simple icing recipe uses only 4 ingredients and was passed down from my great-grandmother.


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Picture of caramel icing on a cake.

An icing recipe that is a blast from the past.

This icing recipe is an essential component of my Great-Grandmother's caramel cake recipe, which she prepared every year for my Grandmother's birthday. The original recipe card was nearly illegible, but it has now been deciphered. I will include her original ingredients and instructions below the recipe. Some modifications have been made for clarity.

Basic icing for cake idea that is good to have in your back pocket!

If you want to make homemade icing and are looking for a change from vanilla buttercream or chocolate ganache, then caramel is another classic flavor to try! This recipe makes a very rustic, nostalgic flavor for a simple, no-fuss, homemade cake.

Here is the original recipe from my Great-Grandmother:

Caramel Icing

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup pure cream or sour cream

2 Tbs white Karo

1 stick Oleo

Cook to soft ball stage over low heat. Cream and pour over cake.

That's it! That was the whole thing!

Let's Begin:

Picture of ingredients for the caramel icing.

Gather the ingredients.

Picture of sugar, butter, cream, and agave syrup in a pot.

Place 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup pure cream or sour cream, 2 Tbs corn syrup or agave syrup, and 1 (115g) stick butter or margarine together in a sauce pan over medium-low heat.

Picture of whisking the icing.

Warm slowly, occasionally whisking it lightly.

Picture of ice water.

Cook to soft ball stage: You can use a candy thermometer for this if you have one. If not, continue with these instructions: Prepare the bowl of ice water before the icing starts to simmer.

Picture of icing balls in the ice water.

Soft ball stage continued: As soon as the icing begins to simmer test the heat once a minute by dripping a drop of icing into the ice water until soft ball stage.

Picture of a soft ball of icing being held.

Soft ball stage continued: You know you have reached soft ball stage when a drip dropped into the ice water forms a small pliable ball that you can pick up with your fingers, and that flattens automatically when removed from the water. This means the pan of icing is done and must be immediately removed from the heat. If you keep heating the icing past this stage it may form hard caramel candy when it cools.

Picture of icing cooling.

Let the icing cool until it thickens enough to be applied to your cake. If the icing is too hot it will simply melt off the sides of the cake. Stir the icing occasionally while it cools so it cools evenly. You can speed up the cooling process by setting the bottom of the sauce pan in a shallow bath of cold water, stirring the icing constantly, and changing the water bath whenever it starts to get warm.

Picture of icing a cake.

Now you can ice your cake!

Picture of caramel cake.


What to serve with this caramel iced cake?

This was originally used as a birthday cake, so it would go well with all the normal festive birthday tasty treats. Here are some other suggestions for accompanying meals, drinks, or sides;

I recommend anything that fits into a comfort food/southern food category.


This icing must be applied before it complete finishes cooling. Otherwise it will set in whatever container it is in. If it sets too much for use it can be gently reheated in a pan or microwave and should return to a usable consistency if stirred well.

Once applied it is good in the fridge for 6-7 days.


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