To master this cake is to be a Southern chef.
“The caramel cake is the best, hardest Southern thing to make,” says chef Amy Tornquist of Hummingbird Bakery in Durham, North Carolina. “To master it is to be a Southern chef—or at least a Southern pastry chef. I often see them for sale but they’re rarely delicious.” For her perfected version, Tornquist lets the cake batter sit overnight. That way the cake is firmer, with a crumbly top. “The caramel icing is the hardest part,” she says. “You only get one shot.” She often holds the icing in a bowl over boiling water so that it doesn’t cool down too fast, giving her a chance to properly ice the cake. “I’ve cried over caramel cakes repeatedly,” she says. “I actually stopped making them for a long time because I figured life is too short. But when it’s made right, caramel cake is the best.”