Fluffy Caramel Frosting Recipe

This caramel frosting has all the flavor of the caramel frosting on an old-fashioned caramel cake but in a light, fluffy, and workable texture.

It is delicious on yellow or chocolate cake, and it would also be spectacular on an apple cake or spice cake.

Add this tasty recipe to your frosting repertoire whenever you need something other than vanilla or chocolate.

For ease of browsing, you can find all my icing and frosting recipes in one place. Thank you for visiting!

An extreme close-up of piped caramel frosting showing the smooth and fluffy texture.

Don’t You Already Have a Caramel Frosting on the Site?

Why, yes, I do. I developed my burnt caramel buttercream specifically to pair with the chocolate stout cake we used to serve at the restaurant.

That buttercream is richer and less sweet than this one. While it is a perfect foil to the moist and deeply chocolatey cake, it’s not really made to be eaten off a finger. I mean a spoon.

Why You Need to Make This Caramel Frosting

This caramel frosting contains no eggs, less butter, and more sugar than its more mysterious buttercream cousin, so it’s much more accessible.

You can absolutely make it to pair with the stout cake, but it will also be fantastic on yellow cake, white cake, devil’s food, pumpkin cake, spice cake, etc.

Any kind of cake you want to give a bit of an “autumnal” twist to, this is your frosting, friends.

As an added bonus, since it has been very difficult for me to find heavy cream these days, I formulated it to use evaporated milk instead.

Chances are, you have a can or three of evaporated milk hiding in a cupboard or cabinet somewhere. It’s a sign!

How To Make Caramel Frosting

Ingredients and Substitutions

A collage of ingredients needed to make caramel frosting, all labeled and on a white background.
  • sugar: Provides rich caramel flavor as well as sweetness and texture. Use plain granulated sugar. You could also use an organic sugar that still has a bit of molasses in it for richer flavor.
  • salt: Brings out all the flavor in the butter and caramel, plus it counteracts most of the bitterness if you take your caramel super dark
  • evaporated milk: stops the cooking process and provides some caramelized dairy notes. You can substitute heavy cream. It has been hard for me to find heavy cream recently, so I developed this frosting to work with evaporated milk instead. Sub heavy cream, 1:1 for the evaporated milk. I have not tried to make this with plant-based milks, although I expect full-fat coconut milk, well-stirred, would work well
  • vanilla extract: Rounds out the flavors and provides a hint of woody and floral notes to the frosting
  • butter: Used in two places. First, some gets added to the finished caramel before cooling to help thicken the texture for whipping. The rest gets added, a bit at a time, while whipping, much like you’d make a European-style buttercream. Substitute plant-based butter in stick form if you like. Your final product may be slightly softer than if you use cow’s milk butter
  • powdered sugar: Provides additional sweetness to the caramel base before whipping in the butter.


This is not a super hard frosting to make.

If you have caramelized sugar before, you will have zero problems. And if you have not, I will talk you through it so you will also have zero problems.

In a nutshell, here’s what you do:

  1. Caramelize sugar.
  2. Stop the cooking with evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
  3. Add vanilla and butter.
  4. Chill for about 2 hours.
  5. Whip in powdered sugar.
  6. Add softened butter, a bit at a time, whipping all the while.

Visual How-To

If you have never caramelized sugar before, here’s what I do.

  1. Add sugar and salt to a pan that is much larger than you think you will need.
  2. Pour in enough water to get the sugar wet.
  3. Stir gently over high heat until it comes to a boil. Then stop stirring.
  4. Once the sugar starts to change color to pale honey, swirl the pan so the sugar caramelizes evenly
  5. When it is a medium-to-dark amber color, remove from heat and immediately stir in the evaporated milk all at once.
  6. It will boil up shockingly–way more than with heavy cream, so be prepared.
  7. Stir until smooth.

Note that in the short video clip, that is the color of the sugar literally about 1 second before I added the evaporated milk. That’s the color you want, and it can go from perfect to too dark in an instant, so be ready!

Once your caramel is made, pour it into the bowl of your stand mixer or into a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer. I do think you will get better, fluffier results if you have a stand mixer, though.

Add 1 stick of butter and the vanilla to the bowl, and whisk/stir until the butter is completely melted. Then refrigerate until cool room temperature, around 2 hours (since it is super hot to start with).

Once cooled, put the bowl on your mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip for a moment to lighten the texture a bit.

Whisk in the powdered sugar. Start on low speed so it doesn’t poof all over the world.

Once that’s all incorporated, scrape the bowl well, mix for another moment, and then begin adding the rest of the softened-but-not-greasy butter, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time.

Whip really well in between additions, and scrape the bowl occasionally.

Once all the butter is whipped in, you’re done and ready to fill and frost your 1234 cake, your chocolate stout cake, or whatever you desire!

Look how beautifully it goes on a cake:

Close up of a whole cake covered in fluffy caramel frosting.

Equipment You May Need

You can make caramel frosting with a hand mixer, but if you have a stand mixer, I think your results will be fluffier and smoother, and your arm won’t get tired from holding a hand mixer.

Best Mixer for Home Bakers
KitchenAid Artisan Series 5-Qt. Stand Mixer with Pouring Shield

This is my pick for the best mixer for home bakers. Many people will recommend a bowl-lift mixer, and I have one myself, but for ease of adding ingredients, tilt head is the way to go. The Artisan looks great, comes in a bunch of colors, and is a workhorse for people who bake every day. It's more than sufficient for the occasional baker, and it should last you for years and years.

This is an affiliate link which means I earn from qualifying purchases. Your price is unaffected.
01/16/2023 07:51 pm GMT

You’ll also want to make sure you’re using a 3-quart pan for making the caramel.

That sounds like overkill, but in my first attempt, I used a 2-quart pan, and it bubbled up so alarmingly that I had to pull the pan off the heat. Fortunately, only a tiny bit boiled over, but if I had been any slower, I’d have had a real mess to deal with.

Of course, I recommend using a kitchen scale for accurate ingredient measurements.

If you’d like, you can also check out my list of tools for serious bakers to see my recommendations for frequently used and not-too-expensive kitchen tools.


If you’re a coffee fan, I think this would be fantastic with some espresso powder or instant coffee whipped in.

If using instant coffee, grind it to a powder in a mortar and pestle so it blends easily into your frosting.

Cinnamon would be a great addition, and I think that would make it really sing on a spice cake, for an unexpected frosting for carrot cake. or as an option for filling and topping my dried apple cake recipe.

For a caramel cream cheese frosting, replace 4 oz (1 stick) of butter with 4 oz (1/2 block) of softened cream cheese, whipping it in a bit at a time.

Tips for Success

Make sure you have your evaporated milk measured out and convenient to the stove so you can immediately stop the cooking process once the caramel is the perfect color.

Use a 3 quart saucepan to make the caramel. It will boil up a LOT, and you don’t want it boiling over making a mess and potentially burning you.

Caramel Frosting Q & A

Is this the kind of frosting used on Southern Caramel Cake?

You absolutely could use it on caramel cake, but the traditional frosting for caramel cake is basically slow-cooked caramel candy that you pour over the cake. This caramel frosting is much lighter in texture, which is why I call it “fluffy” to distinguish it from old-school, Southern caramel frosting.

How long will this frosting keep?

Keep it in the fridge, with plastic wrap pressed down onto the surface and in a tightly-sealing container for up to a week. Allow to come to room temperature, and the re-whip to restore its fluffy, light texture. Freeze for up to a month, again allowing it to come to room temperature before re-whipping.

Is caramel frosting gluten-free?

Yes, as written, this recipe is gluten-free.

Serving Suggestions

A head-on view of a slice of yellow 1-2-3-4 cake on a plate. The point of the wedge of cake is pointed straight ahead.

This frosting works beautifully on chocolate and yellow cakes alike, so pick your favorite cake and go for it.

Obviously, you may want to gild the lily a bit when serving, so might I suggest some stabilized whipped cream or caramel vanilla ice cream to go with?


If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.

If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.

A Note About Measurements

NOTE: Most of my recipes are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids.

Even though I try to provide you with volume measurements as well, I encourage you to buy a kitchen scale for ease of measuring, accuracy, and consistency.

This is the scale I use, love, and recommend. If you’re unsure, please read my post about how to use a food scale.

Escali Primo Digital Food Scale

Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.

This is an affiliate link which means I earn from qualifying purchases. Your price is unaffected.
01/16/2023 01:22 am GMT
Escali Primo Digital Food Scale

Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.

This is an affiliate link which means I earn from qualifying purchases. Your price is unaffected.
01/16/2023 01:22 am GMT

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Close up of a whole cake covered in fluffy caramel frosting.

Caramel Frosting Recipe

Yield: Enough to generously frost and fill a 9" layer cake
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Fridge Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

This fluffy caramel frosting is light on the tongue but has rich caramel flavor. A hybrid frosting, it combines homemade caramel with evaporated milk as the base. Whip in powdered sugar and softened butter, and you have a caramel icing that spreads beautifully, remains workable for a very long time, and tastes delicious.


  • 150 grams (5.3 oz or about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Enough water to moisten the sugar, about 1/2 cup
  • 112 grams (4 oz or about a generous 1/3 cup) evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 336 grams (12 oz or 3 sticks) butter, cut into 1 Tablespoon pieces (divided use)
  • 224 grams (8 oz or about 2 cups) powdered sugar


  1. In a pot that is very much bigger than you think you need, place the granulated sugar, salt, and water.
  2. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  3. Once it comes to a boil, stop stirring and cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar turns a medium-to-dark amber color.
  4. Immediately remove from the heat and pour in the evaporated milk. It will boil up madly, so seriously, do not skimp on your pan size here.
  5. Stir until the mixture is smooth.
  6. Add the vanilla and 1/3 of the butter (112 grams/1 stick/4 oz). Whisk until the butter has completely melted.
  7. Pour the caramel mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer, or into a large metal bowl, and refrigerate to cool room temperature, about 2 hours.
  8. Place the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or with a hand mixer, whip the caramel until it lightens in color.
  9. Add the powdered sugar gradually, and whip until smooth and pale caramel in color. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
  10. With the mixer on high speed, whip in the remaining softened butter, a tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to get completely incorporated before adding more, about 15 seconds or so.
  11. Once all the butter is in, scrape the bowl well, and whip an additional minute or so.
  12. Use immediately to frost and fill an 8" or 9" layer cake. You can also refrigerate the frosting for 3-4 days. Let it sit out at room temperature for 3 hours or so to soften, and then re-whip to restore its light texture before frosting your cake/s.



Please make sure to use a 3-quart saucepan to cook the caramel. The mixture will boil up alarmingly once you add the evaporated milk, and the last thing you want is molten caramel all over your stove.


When you add the evaporated milk and stir, you may notice that the mixture is not completely smooth. This is okay. it's because there is not a ton of water in evaporated milk and not much butterfat, and the milk proteins may "clump" a little bit.

Worry not, your caramel frosting will come out smooth, fluffy, and beautiful. I just wanted you to be aware that it won't look the same as caramel with heavy cream in it.


Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the frosting and keep in a tightly-covered container for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.

Allow the frosting to come to room temperature before whipping to restore its texture.

Nutrition Information
Yield 12 Serving Size 1/12 of an 8" or 9" layer cake
Amount Per Serving Calories 335Total Fat 23.4gSaturated Fat 14.8gCholesterol 63mgSodium 245mgCarbohydrates 32.2gSugar 31.8gProtein 0.9g
© Jenni Field
Cuisine: American / Category: Icings, Frostings and Fillings

Thanks for spending some time with me today.

I think you’ll love the richness and flavor of this caramel frosting, friends.

Take care, and have a lovely day.

Head shot of Jenni in white shirt and multi-colored jacket.

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caramelizing-sugar-collage.mp4 (463kB)