If you’re like me and about 80 gajillion other people, you’ve just read The Help (or saw the movie) and loved it. I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, but frankly, what stuck with me most from the book was Minny’s famous caramel cakes mentioned so often. I’m a sucker for a good Southern recipe (duh) and this famous caramel cake the author mentions so many times definitely had me intrigued. I come from a peach cobbler-buttermilk pie type family, so cakes didn’t play a huge roll in our family get-togethers; but good old fashioned Southern cakes like this one are very much a part of my heritage. As soon as I finished this book (like, 3 days ago), I set out to make myself a caramel cake. Where did I turn? Why, Baba’s American Woman’s Cookbook, of course. If you want a good old fashioned recipe, be it buttermilk biscuits, a Lady Baltimore cake, or perfect-every-time pie crust, this book will never let you down! Sure enough, I found exactly what I was looking for!

I’m not going to lie and say this was a simple cake to make; in fact, I’ll go ahead and fess up to having to make more batches of caramel than I’d like to admit. There are 3 different caramel-y aspects to this cake: the caramel syrup that goes into the batter, the caramel filling (more like a glaze) and the caramel buttercream, which I did not get from the cookbook, but here instead, since it was more along the lines of what I was looking for. Other than lots of caramel making, this recipe is extremely easy (it’s just like any other cake you’ve ever made…except WAY more delicious!), so don’t let all that caramel scare you- if I can do it, YOU can do it!

Now, the verdict: holycowhallelujahwowomigoshjeezlouise! After just one bite, every sense in my body told me this was the best cake I’ve ever made. Even Joel, who isn’t a big fan of caramel couldn’t shut up about this cake! All it took was that one bite and I knew, “this is Minny’s caramel cake. I’ve nailed it.” As I read about Minny cooking her caramel and bringing the finished cakes to people’s houses, this was exactly how I pictured it. And heck, it may not be anywhere close to what the author was talking about, but in my mind it’s perfect and I’ll never make a caramel cake any other way. It’s incredibly moist, absolutely bursting with sweet, caramel flavor and the gooey caramel center….pure heaven. Making all that caramel may be a bit of a pain, but do your friends, your loved ones and yourself a favor and make this cake ASAP- then take a bite and experience the South.

Caramel Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup hot water
3 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare the caramel syrup: place 1/2 cup of the sugar in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar melts. When it becomes a dark amber color (about 5 minutes- watch it closely!), remove from heat and whisk in the hot water VERY slowly until dissolved. You’ll be left with a syrup about the consistency of simple syrup. Cool completely. *The first time I tried this I added my hot water too fast and ended up with a rock-hard lump of caramel, so be sure to add the water VERY slowly while whisking!

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and the cooled caramel syrup; blend. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately, beating until smooth. Pour into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans lined with wax paper and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Caramel Filling

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Cook the sugar, butter, cornstarch and milk together in a double boiler until thick (mine never got too thick and I cooked it for at least 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and add vanilla. Let cool for about 5 minutes then pour over the warm cakes still in their pans (I poked holes all over my cakes with a toothpick so it would soak up the liquid better). Let the cakes sit out at room temperature in their pans until completely cooled.

Caramel Buttercream

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar

Briefly stir together granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Remove from heat and very slowly add in cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth (be careful, as the mixture will definitely bubble up and possibly splatter a bit as you add in the cream). Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, gradually add powdered sugar, and mix until completely incorporated. Turn off the mixer, and then add caramel. Beat frosting on low to combine, and then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate if not using immediately (or to harden the frosting a bit).

To assemble the cake:
*This part was a little tricky since I had to somehow figure out how to get the wax paper off the bottoms of the cakes while they were gooey with caramel! Slide a dull knife all the way around the edges of the cakes to loosen the sides from the pan and (using a spatula or possibly your hands- however you deem fit, really), lift the cake from the pan, peel the wax paper off the bottom and place, caramel side up on a cake platter.

The second layer is easier- just line the cake up evenly with the bottom layer and gently overturn the pan, setting it upside down (caramel side down; so you’ll have caramel-to-caramel), then peel off the wax paper.

Using a cake spatula, gently and evenly spread the caramel buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until about 1 hour before serving. Makes one 2 layer, 9-inch cake. Phew! :)

Recipe sources: cake recipe adapted from American Woman’s Cookbook; caramel frosting from Gimme Some Oven

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36 Comments »

  1. All this caramelly goodness could not look more delicious. Love it Amy.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Eliana — August 23, 2011 @ 6:32 PM

  2. YEAH! This looks so delicious!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Noelle — August 23, 2011 @ 8:06 PM

  3. This looks SO delicious! I, too, am part of the gajillions out there who is wanting to jump on the “The Help” bandwagon, but I won’t watch the movie until I read the book! I suppose I should start by reading the 155 posts awaiting me in my Google Reader first, though, before taking on another reading project. :) Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Dianna @ The Kitchen Prep — August 23, 2011 @ 8:30 PM

  4. Where’s MY piece?? Can you come see me tomorrow…and be here in the morning…in time for coffee…and some CARMEL CAKE?? You’re right, that’s just how I pictured it when I read the book, too!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Mother — August 23, 2011 @ 9:11 PM

  5. I was curious…is the American Woman’s Cookbook still in print?

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    I don’t think so, Callie. However, you can definitely find them at used book stores, garage sales, ebay and possibly Amazon.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Callie — August 23, 2011 @ 11:12 PM

  6. I loved that book, and when I was reading the part about the cake I was drooling! So glad I found your recipe. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Jenn (Cookies Cupcakes Cardio) — August 24, 2011 @ 12:16 AM

  7. oh my lordy this looks soooo delicious! I’ve seen a few posters pop up for The Help and was wondering what it was about – I’ll have to go see it when I find out it’s release date in Australia!

    [Reply]

    Comment by jas — August 24, 2011 @ 4:12 AM

  8. Oooh this looks incredible. I read The Help a few years ago but I do remember the caramel cake! Might have to try this soon :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Emma @ Poires au Chocolat — August 24, 2011 @ 6:31 AM

  9. Great looking cake & recipe – thanks.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Mike @ How To Make A Smoothie At Home — August 24, 2011 @ 10:47 AM

  10. Oh goooodness, ive been wanting to make a caramel cake for SO so long, they look simply gorgeous and elegant and plain delicious :) Your cake is stunning!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sasha @ The Procrastobaker — August 24, 2011 @ 2:07 PM

  11. I loved the movie, and will read the book eventually. This just looks amazingggg, Amy! If only I could bake, then I would attempt this ;)

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    You totally COULD bake, Anna Lynne!! It’s all about following instructions- go for it! :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Anna Lynne — August 24, 2011 @ 2:25 PM

  12. Amy, what a great description of this cake: “take a bite and experience the South.” Your photos were divine, too!

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    Thanks so much, Kimby! :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kimby — August 24, 2011 @ 4:41 PM

  13. A nana should be able to control her self——But forget that!!!! I want this cake and I want it NOW!!
    And I’ll find a way. Just don’t anybody get in my way!

    [Reply]

    Comment by nana — August 24, 2011 @ 5:11 PM

  14. Oh wow, that looks TRULY amazing, worth every ounce of effort to make caramel, 3 ways. I’m the only person, on the planet, who hasn’t read or watched ‘The Help.’ I plan on reading it ASAP.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Julia — August 25, 2011 @ 11:54 AM

  15. YUMMMM!!! I want to take a bite out of the picture!!! Looks like a lot of hard work! How are you feeling? Just saw the update you are preggers – congrats! I hope food is now your friend, and you are enjoying every minute! :) It is such an amazing and special time :) Jamie

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    Thanks Jamie! I’m feeling great now! My first trimester was really rough, but I’m enjoying food again and have lots of energy!

    [Reply]

    Jamie Reply:

    oh Yay! Enjoy every min – it goes so fast! My son is now 15 months – I feel like I was JUST pregs! :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Jamie — August 25, 2011 @ 3:54 PM

  16. Looks delicious!I know how you feel about having to make numerous batches of caramel,I had that problem myself when making a caramel chocolate cake recently.Here’s a link if your interested !http://easybakesandcakes.blogspot.com/2011/08/chocolate-cake-for-birthday.html

    [Reply]

    Comment by Irishbaker — August 25, 2011 @ 7:05 PM

  17. Yum times a million! If this is the inspiration one gets from The Help, I think a trip to the movie theater is imminent :) Thanks for the recipe – can’t wait to try it!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Angela @ The Dancer Bakes — August 26, 2011 @ 3:41 PM

  18. Looking back at your archives, it looks like you had a 2 year blogaversary this month. If I were you, I’d make this cake again to celebrate! :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Kimby — August 26, 2011 @ 10:33 PM

  19. YUM! I am definitely making this for my mom’s birthday party next week!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sandi — August 27, 2011 @ 11:14 PM

  20. I’ve wanted that cookbook since the first time you talked about it, so I finally got on eBay last week and won a copy for less than $10! Yay!

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    That’s wonderful, Linda! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! I recommend the icebox cookies and buttermilk biscuits to start with! Those are classics! :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Linda — August 29, 2011 @ 6:19 AM

  21. I just came across this cake! IT looks delicious. I think I will try this cake for my sisters baby shower. :) As for taking the cake out, I think a great idea would to have the cake sit on a cooling rack over a baking pan and then pour the caramel over. That way it can drip off and you can gett he cakes easily!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Chau — August 30, 2011 @ 6:35 PM

  22. You’ve added 2 things to my to do list: read The Help and make this cake! It sounds fabulous!

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    Thanks Dana!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Dana — August 31, 2011 @ 8:08 AM

  23. I made this, and it was FANTASTIC! So caramelly and sweet – if not a little time-consuming to make! lol! It’s worth all the effort! Major hit at my mom’s birthday party! Thanks! :o)

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    That’s great Sandi!! I’m so glad everyone liked it!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Sandi — September 3, 2011 @ 9:41 PM

  24. my love! i think this would be amazing to make and have a “The Help” viewing when it comes out on dvd/blue ray! Reading your blog has made me inspired and i will be using your blog to find some new things to cook my hubs! it helps that i can hear you dictating the recipes in my head! miss you love you!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Devon Zukowski — September 9, 2011 @ 12:06 AM

  25. Hi Amy,
    How do you think these would be as cupcakes? They have to sit in the fridge so I was thinking of skipping the caramel topping that’s poured into the cake. Just because they will be sitting and served over a period of 2 days (odd, I know :) Do you think it would be good as a cupcake minus the topping? Thanks in advance!

    [Reply]

    amy Reply:

    I think they’d be great as cupcakes! Just leave out the filling, like you said.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Stephanie — December 20, 2011 @ 11:00 AM

  26. [...] "The Southern Caramel Cake, inspired by Minny from "The Help," popped up in my Google Reader and I knew I had to make it. I just finished the book and was going to see the movie over the weekend!   Homemade caramel is included with every step.  The cake was delicious!  A bit tedious, but worth every moment of making caramel three times!!  Caramel cake, caramel filling, caramel frosting!  The only adjustment I made was to double the frosting!    [...]

    Pingback by Grab that milk, it’s the birthday treat gallery! » Peanut Blossom — July 5, 2012 @ 5:12 PM

  27. [...] caked adapted from American Woman’s Cookbook via Sing for Your Supper, frosting adapted from Half Baked [...]

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