Made from just 5 ingredients, this salted caramel frosting is fudge-like, rich, and buttery. It’s everything you love about the flavor of homemade salted caramel—in frosting form! Enjoy it piped onto apple cupcakes, spread over banana cake, or sandwiched between two butter pecan cookies. Follow my step-by-step instructions, success tips, and video tutorial for best results.
Creamy and fudge-like, with an irresistible salty-sweet-buttery flavor, this is the frosting that all desserts are begging for. (I’m pretty sure all desserts would taste epic under a blanket of this stuff.)
Not the Quickest Frosting, But Certainly the Tastiest
If you want to try this frosting, be warned that it’s not an effortless, quick process. Now that I’m scaring you away, let me back up and explain.
There are two main steps in this recipe: (1) Cook a brown sugar caramel on the stove, and then let it cool for 20 minutes. (2) Beat in sifted confectioners’ sugar and a little heavy cream or milk to thin out.
You can use the frosting right away, but it will be quite runny—pourable consistency, really. Or if you wait at least 20–30 minutes, the frosting will be thick enough to pipe.
So very good on banana cake.
5 Ingredients for Salted Caramel Frosting
- Butter: This is the base of the frosting, and using real butter in this recipe (not margarine or plant-based) is crucial for both flavor and texture.
- Brown Sugar: You can use light or dark brown sugar, or a mix of both. (I usually do half and half.) Make sure your brown sugar is fresh—it should feel soft and moist, not hard or clumpy. If using all light brown sugar, your frosting will be lighter in color than these photos.
- Heavy Cream/Milk, Divided: Heavy cream works best in this recipe, but you can use whole milk or half-and-half if that’s what you have instead. Nothing lighter or the caramel and/or frosting will separate. I do not know any nondairy alternatives that work successfully. If you’re making a trip to the store, I strongly encourage you to use heavy cream.
- Salt: Obviously essential to make this salted caramel frosting. I recommend regular table salt.
- Confectioners’ Sugar: Make sure to sift the confectioners’ sugar or else your frosting will have lumps. I use a fine mesh sieve and sift it directly into the slightly cooled salted caramel.
Recipe Testing for Consistent Success
Today’s recipe has been published on my site for many years now, but I’ve been wanting to rework the instructions, as some readers were reporting difficulty. It’s incredibly important to me that the recipes I share are easy to follow AND work successfully. And this particular frosting recipe was proving to be a bit… temperamental.
My assistant and I began retesting the original recipe. Frustratingly, the batches kept yielding different results. Then we began changing small variables. One batch was too hard, another too grainy. Why?
- First, we tested using cold butter vs. room temperature butter.
- And then we tested using whole milk instead of cream.
- Then we changed the pan.
- And then it was dark brown or light brown sugar.
But it wasn’t the temperature of the butter. And it doesn’t really matter if you use milk or cream (I do prefer cream, but the frosting still works with whole milk). And the pan didn’t make a noticeable difference, same with using light vs. brown sugar. The problem was simply that we were overcooking it!
The following picture shows the over-cooked, grainy caramel mixture:
A Candy Thermometer Promises the Best Results
The recipe used to call for boiling the caramel sauce for 3 minutes, which is actually too long for my stove. (And the above photo shows that.) The caramel should boil only until it reaches a temperature of 230°F (110°C), and then should be removed from the heat. On my stove, it takes just under 2 minutes, which is a pretty big difference.
A candy thermometer promises more consistent results. Your frosting will no longer be grainy and your caramel will no longer be over- or under-cooked.
Left photo below: The caramel is thin and smooth right off the stove. What a difference from the photo above! Right photo below: Here is the caramel after cooling for 20 minutes.
Now sift in your confectioners’ sugar and beat in more heavy cream/milk:
At this point, you can use the thin frosting, or wait 20–30 minutes for it to thicken into a pipeable consistency. The longer it sits, the thicker it gets:
And be sure NOT to over-mix the frosting after it’s done. Because it will begin to separate:
That was a lot of information for you! Here is everything broken down:
6 Success Tips for the Best Salted Caramel Frosting
- Make sure your stovetop is set to medium heat, or slightly lower if your stove runs hot.
- Whisk the butter and brown sugar together FIRST—and make sure the two are really combined. You can start combining the two with a rubber spatula, but switch to a whisk (I always use a silicone whisk so I don’t scratch my pans) when the butter is nearly all melted, to make sure the butter and sugar are really combined. Otherwise, you might see an oily layer around the edges where they’re still a bit separated. Once they are combined, add the cream and salt.
- Use a candy thermometer for best results. The time it takes to reach 230°F (110°C) may take more or less than 2 minutes, depending on your particular stove and saucepan.
- Let the prepared frosting sit for 20–30 minutes to thicken if you want to pipe it. It’s going to crust a bit as it sits, which is fine—simply give it a stir when you’re ready to use it.
- Do not over-mix the frosting because it will begin to separate. After beating in the sifted confectioners’ sugar and cream, use it right away or leave it alone to thicken.
- If frosting sits for a couple hours, it becomes too hard to spread or pipe. If that happens, scoop it into a heatproof bowl and set it over a pan of simmering water on the stove. Heat and stir until it thins out. (Or use a double boiler.)
Best Piping Tip to Use
The best piping tip for this frosting is a round tip such as Wilton 2A or Wilton #12. If you pipe this salted caramel frosting with star tips, it will not hold its shape as nicely, because this frosting is creamy and thinner than buttercream. So I suggest a simple round tip.
Finish your dessert with a drizzle of salted caramel, the sauce version of today’s recipe. Because everything is better with extra salted caramel.
I promise you will never run out of excuses to make this salted caramel frosting! Try it on these recipes:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 equal pieces
- 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar (I like to use 1/2 cup of each)
- 5 Tablespoons heavy cream, divided*
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (240g) confectioners’ sugar
- optional garnish: salted caramel sauce
- Make the caramel: Combine the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir constantly as the butter melts. Once butter has melted, switch to a whisk to make sure the two are really combined. (Otherwise, you might see an oily layer around the edges where they’re still a bit separated; you do not want that.)
- Once melted butter and brown sugar are combined, add 3 Tablespoons of heavy cream and the salt. Whisk to combine, then stop whisking and attach a candy thermometer to your pan, making sure the bulb is not touching the bottom of the pan (as you’ll get an inaccurate reading).
- Let the caramel boil, giving it a quick whisk every 30 seconds or so, until the temperature reaches 230°F (110°C). On my stove, it takes just under 2 minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from heat, give it another quick whisk, and let cool for a minute. Carefully transfer the salted caramel to a heat-proof mixing bowl set on a cooling rack and cool for just 20 minutes before continuing. The caramel sauce thickens during this time.
- Finish the frosting: Sift in confectioners’ sugar and add remaining 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat on medium-low speed until the ingredients are incorporated. Turn mixer up to high speed and beat for 1 minute. If frosting is very thick, beat in 1 more Tablespoon of heavy cream. Avoid over-mixing or the frosting will begin to “break” and separate.
- Use it right away as a thin glaze or icing, or let it sit and thicken. It’s going to crust a bit as it sits, which is fine—simply give it a stir when you’re ready to use it. If you want to pipe this frosting, let it sit for at least 20–30 minutes before filling your piping bag, to give it a chance to thicken up to a pipeable consistency.
- Frost cake or cupcakes and garnish with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce, if desired.
- Make Ahead Instructions: You can store this frosting covered in the refrigerator until ready to use, up to 3-4 days. It will be quite firm, so you’ll want to warm it in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. (Or use a double boiler.) Stir constantly until it’s smooth and room temperature. This frosting isn’t ideal for freezing, unless it’s already used on a cake/cupcakes. The frosting as a whole, in bulk, doesn’t thaw very nicely.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Candy Thermometer | Sieve/Sifter | Handheld or Stand Mixer | Silicone Whisk | Glass Mixing Bowls | Reusable Piping Bag or Disposable Piping Bags | Wilton 2A or Wilton #12 piping tips
- Quantity: This recipe is enough to frost 12–16 cupcakes or one 9×13-quarter sheet cake. 1.5x the recipe for more cupcakes or a double layer cake. (Doubling the recipe would be far too much.)
- Heavy Cream: Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream works best in this recipe, but you can use whole milk or half-and-half if that’s what you have instead. Nothing lighter or the caramel and/or frosting will separate. I do not know any nondairy alternatives that work successfully. I strongly encourage you to use heavy cream.
- Piping Tip: The best piping tip for this frosting is a round tip such as Wilton 2A or Wilton #12. If you pipe this salted caramel frosting with star tips, it will not hold its shape as nicely, because the frosting is creamy and thinner than buttercream. So I recommend a simple round tip.
Keywords: salted caramel frosting