A true caramel icing, I’ve learned, takes time. As you stand stirring the saucepan of caramel icing in the making, you’ll have an unusual moment of quiet – a chance to come up with ideas even better than your shower-time epiphanies. But, if you’re like me, thirty minutes of slow, repetitive stirring motion will hypnotize you. You’ll soon find yourself simply staring into the sweet confection, monitoring the reading on your candy thermometer as it crawls up and observing the thickening caramel with wide eyed wonder.
You might hear about caramel icing shortcuts, but there is a reason that Southern women have been making their caramel icing using two spoons (one for the saucepan and one for the cast iron skillet) for generations. This caramel icing may be the best you’ve ever tried, so be thankful that it takes so long to make (if it didn’t, you’d be eating it way too often).
Caramel Icing Recipe
I got the caramel icing recipe from My Yellow Bluff. I looked at many, many recipes and this one struck me as the most authentic. I am reprinting it here with a bit more detail and my notes.
Yield: Enough to frost 24 cupcakes with plenty left over (I filled my cupcakes with the extra caramel)
- 2 1/2 C sugar
- 1/2 C unsalted butter (the original recipe called for margarine, but I only use butter)
- 3/4 C evaporated milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, mix butter, evaporated milk and two cups of sugar.
- Heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Do not allow to come to a boil.
- Once sugar dissolves, reduce heat to low.
- In a small cast iron skillet on medium-low heat, melt half cup of sugar – stirring constantly until liquid and brown (as shown below).
- Pour the browned sugar into the saucepan and quickly stir to incorporate.
- Stir regularly until the liquid reaches the soft ball stage. It’s easiest to check for the soft ball stage with a candy thermometer (the caramel should be about 235 F). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can test by dropping a small amount of caramel into water to see if it forms a soft ball (hence the name). It may take up to thirty minutes to reach the soft ball stage. Here’s where the patience kicks in. Resist the temptation to turn up the heat because the caramel can easily burn.
- Let cool slightly. If you wait too long, the caramel will become difficult to spread.
- Mix in vanilla.
- Spread on caramel cake cupcakes (or anything).