Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing (& Zack)

I have been very fortunate in my short time on this earth. I married the love of my life, I’m working for myself, my dog is heavily medicated and, thusly, well behaved.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing | Midwest Nice

Blessedly, I have never known great loss.

My husband has.

Thankfully, I don’t know what it’s like to have to say goodbye to someone you’ve known your whole life.

My husband does.

Unfortunately, I don’t have memories of Zack.

My husband does.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing | Midwest Nice

He has told me about Zack. Relayed stories and shared secrets. There have been tales of snow-covered hay bales, piano practice, and football games. Recollections of tiny hands pushing even tinier tractors around the living room rug. Mentions of cross-country family trips and harrowing encounters with the neighbors’ dog. An anecdote of how he held the steering wheel. A guarantee that we would have butted heads.

Those aren’t my stories to tell. I can only listen, only learn now, after the fact. Now that he’s gone. That’s not my story to tell, either. I don’t know it. Didn’t live it. Could never imagine it.

But that is Seth’s reality. His parents’ and family’s too. They knew life with him and know it now without him. They have their memories and their stories. They knew his favorite color, what t-shirt he liked best.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing | Midwest Nice

That yellow cake with caramel frosting was his favorite dessert.

There are things I will never know about Zack, but I do know this – he is loved. He is missed. He is remembered. Today and every day.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing | Midwest Nice

This fluffy yellow cake is lightly scented with orange essence – a nod to Mexican pan de muerto. I chose to incorporate the flavor because of the significance of this date – November 1. Dia de los Muertos. A day to remember those who are gone.  The day my husband lost a brother. This cake is an offering to Zack, for Zack. For my husband and his family, in the hopes that whenever it’s made, whenever it’s eaten, old stories will be shared, and new memories will be made.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Frosting

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 – 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 – 45 minutes
  • Yields: one 9×13 pan


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs + 6 yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. orange extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with baking spray and set aside. Whisk together the flour, soda, powder, salt, and orange zest and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as necessary to be sure all of the butter and sugar are being lightened appropriately. Whisk together the eggs and yolks until smooth. With the mixer on medium-low, slowly stream in the eggs. Mix thoroughly, until eggs are fully incorporated, scraping down the bowl as needed. Stir in the extracts. Working in three batches, add the dry ingredients to the bowl, altering with two additions of the sour cream, as always, scraping down the bowl to ensure an even mixture. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and top bounces back when lightly touched. Remove from oven to cool on wire rack. While cake cools, prepared the caramel frosting (recipe follows).

Caramel Frosting

  • Active Time: 10 minutes
  • Inactive Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yields: 2 cups frosting


  • 1 ¼ cups brown sugar
  • ½ TBSP flour
  • ½ cup Half & Half
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt


Fill the sink with two inches of cold water and a few handfuls of ice. In a large sauce pot, whisk together the sugar and flour. Begin to cook over medium heat, stirring in milk until smooth. Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until it registers 235 on an instant-read thermometer. Immediately remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla, and salt. Place pan in the ice water and beat with an electric mixer until thick, smooth, and glossy – about three minutes.* Frosting should still be pourable but not runny. Spread onto cake in an even layer. Let cake fully cool and frosting fully set before slicing and serving.

*Electricity and water are no joke. I do this with the utmost caution. If you’re concerned about electrocution or don’t have an outlet near the sink, allow frosting to cool for about 30 minutes before transferring to a stand mixer and whisking that way.  

**recipe adapted from Southern Living.

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