Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting Recipe

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Salted caramel buttercream frosting may just be the most delicious icing around.  It's an American buttercream recipe, but the flavor is much more intense and complex with the addition of homemade salted caramel.
Kitchenaid beater covered in salted caramel frosting, with text overlay reading "salted caramel buttercream."

I generally choose salty snacks over sweet ones, but when you combine sweet and salty...holy cow, I'm in heaven! Prime example:  salted caramel anything.  Like this Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting.  If there's any icing I'd eat by the spoonful, it would be this one.  If you want a one page, printable version of the salted caramel buttercream recipe, scroll down to the bottom of the post and look for the link to the PDF.

This fluffy salted caramel buttercream tastes amazing on vanilla cake, chocolate cake, and caramel cakes, I can tell you from delicious experience.  And I look forward to trying many more flavor combinations (pumpkin! apple! spice!  carrot!).  That fabulous caramel flavor is one of my favorite things in the world.

Ingredients for salted caramel sauce for making Salted Caramel Frosting.

Salted Caramel Frosting Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2lb powdered sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, softened

Wooden spoon with salted caramel sauce dripping off the end, ready to be used to make Salted Caramel Frosting.

Caramel Sauce Recipe

The first step is to make the luscious homemade caramel sauce that makes this icing recipe better than all others out there (in my caramel-and-salt-loving opinion).

Start by mixing the water, corn syrup, and the granulated sugar together in a very small saucepan.  

Why Use Both Corn Syrup and Granualated Sugar in Salted Caramel Buttercream?

  • Because the corn syrup, while not strictly necessary to make homemade caramel, will help inhibit the creation of sugar crystals.  Sugar wants to be in crystal form, but we don't want it to be for our caramel.  Adding the corn syrup to the mix, even in such a small quantity, really makes this a pretty foolproof recipe.

Collage of images showing melted sugar caramelizing and becoming more golden to make caramel.

Heat sugar and water mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat, but DO NOT STIR.  Stirring also encourages crystallization.  Cook until the water and sugar mixture caramelizes into the beautiful golden brown color in the photo just above.  It happens quickly once the sugar starts browning, so don't walk away from the stove during this step!  I don't use a candy thermometer when making this caramel sauce--I just look for the right, golden brown caramel color.

Caramelized sugar with cream being swirled to make salted caramel for salted caramel buttercream.

Remove the caramelized sugar syrup from heat, and mix in the cream.  It mixes in more easily if the cream is at room temperature, but  it can still work if you have cold cream--you just have to do it slowly, at least at first.  Pour in just a tiny bit of the cream, a couple teaspoons worth, and mix that.  Add just a splash more, mix that in.  Our goal is to lower the temperature of the caramel, so that it doesn't get a big cold shock when you pour in the cream and just sieze up.  Continue mixing in the cream a bit by a bit, but you can start adding more and more as you go along.

Mix in the salt and the vinegar and vanilla extract.  The acid is another optional ingredient--the caramel doesn't need it in a chemical sense--but it does brighten the flavor and make it taste even more amazing.   Stir to combine.

What Kind of Salt to use in Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting?

  • I used kosher salt in my recipe, because that's what I generally have on hand.  You could also use table salt or sea salt.  

Salted caramel sauce being dripped from a wooden spoon into a glass jar.

Set the caramel aside to cool completely before moving on to making the icing.  I'm not joking.  COMPLETELY. Otherwise, you'll end up with a soupy, melted buttery mess.  Which, while I'm sure would be delicious, would not be particularly useful in spreading on cakes or cupcakes.

Salted Caramel Sauce Tips:  

  • Since the sauce needs to be completely cooled before incorporating into the icing, it's  a great idea to make the salted caramel a day or two ahead of time, and keep it in the fridge.
  • This caramel sauce also makes an awesome ice cream topping at this stage!

Salted caramel frosting ingredients in a kitchenaid mixer bowl.

Once the caramel sauce is completely cool, combine the softened, room temperature butter, powdered sugar (also known as confectioners’ sugar), and caramel together in a mixer (oh Kitchenaid stand mixer, I love you so) and beat until it turns into a smooth buttercream icing.  If the icing is too stiff, add just a bit of milk, cream, or water (just a bit at a time) until the icing is the perfect frosting consistency for your needs.  

Cupcake in a golden wrapper topped with salted caramel frosting.

And clearly, Apple Spice cupcakes need to be topped with salted caramel icing.  Oh yes.  And perhaps sprinkled with some extra crystals of sea salt.

Cupcake topped with salted caramel buttercream and drizzled with salted caramel sauce.

Or perhaps drizzled with a little extra salted caramel sauce.  I wouldn't turn that down, either.

Salted caramel sauce dripping off a wooden spoon against a dark brown background.

Yup, anything made with this glorious nectar, this salted caramel, is good.  Great.  Awesome.  Stupendous.  Apply any superlative you want--this qualifies.   What would you put it on?

Easy Caramel Buttercream Frosting

No time to make your own homemade caramel sauce for the salted caramel buttercream?  I have a couple semi-homemade tips that are almost as good as my best caramel buttercream recipe.

  • Use one cup of caramel sauce (any kind you can buy at the grocery store, like the kind for topping ice cream, or the caramel dip made for apples) instead of the homemade salted caramel sauce.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Otherwise, follow the same directions as above.
  • Dulce de leche (a south and central American caramel made from condensed milk) is easier and easier to find in regular grocery stores these days.  Use a can of dulce de leche and one teaspoon of salt to replace the homemade caramel in the recipe above.
  • Combine 2 pounds powdered sugar, 1 cup butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use salted caramel syrup (Monin brand is my favorite) to thin the frosting to the right consistency instead of milk, cream, or water.  The flavor of this one isn't quite as intense, but it's still delicious, and it's incredibly easy and fast to make.

Free, Printable, One Page version of the Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting Recipe:

Want a one page, printable PDF version of this recipe?  Just click on the image below to download or print directly from your device.

Navigational image leading reader to free, printable, one page version of the salted caramel buttercream icing recipe

More of the Best Frosting Recipes You Might Like:

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Nicole Wills, creator of Tikkido

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