B-I-N-G-O spells delicious: Salted vanilla-caramel icing


Blame it all on Bingo. No, not Bingo the game but Bingo the dog. You know Bingo, right?

He’s the dog on the Cracker Jack box, along with Sailor Jack. I think those two characters played a large role in my current love of all things sweet and salty.

When I was a kid my two brothers and I  really did walk to school. It wasn’t always 5 miles uphill in the snow both ways, but I do remember that it was a pretty good hike.

We would pass from our predominantly French neighborhood to the upscale homes near my godmother’s house and then on to the Italian area of town where our school was located.

We would walk by fences heavy with runner beans and backyard bathtub Madonna shrines. On the corner was a small Mom and Pop store with an eye-catching display of candy right near the door.

If we had managed to save a dime or two, we would stop for candy to eat on the way home. I was partial to Charms pops, Charleston Chews,and Cracker Jack.  Cracker Jack was extremely popular because you got a prize along with a whole boxful of sweet, crunchy, salty popcorn.

With two older brothers around, getting a whole boxful of anything for your very own didn’t happen very often. If you rationed carefully, the box could last for 2 days, and if you didn’t wash your hands, the tattoo you got for a prize could last for a week.

Nowadays I can get my Cracker Jack fix by making Carol’s Caramel Corn, but I still love all things sweet and salty.  The world is full of these tasty treats, so I must not be alone in my obsession. My current favorite is combining salt and caramel, with a hint of chocolate.

Check out this recipe for Salted Vanilla Caramel Icing. It really scratches the sweet/salty itch.

Place 1/2 cup chopped caramel and 2 tablespoons heavy cream in a small saucepan. Melt together over low heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.

The caramel sauce will be thin and fluid, dropping easily off of a spoon. Set aside to cool slightly.

To make caramel/chocolate swirled icing, you’ll need some chocolate ganache.

Melt 6 ounces of milk chocolate by pouring 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of very hot heavy cream over it.

Whisk the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is fully melted. Place in the fridge or freezer until the consistency of chocolate pudding.

Back to the caramel. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine:

1 stick (4 ounces) softened butter
4 cups (1 pound) sifted confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup meringue powder (optional, but good for stability)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon sea salt

Using your whisk attachment, blend together for one minute.

Pour in your cooled caramel. It should be slightly warm to the touch, but neither hot, nor cold and stiff. Like the little girl said, “It’s just right.”

Could you use a homemade caramel here? Absolutely. Keep the consistency in mind though, or you may need to adjust the confectioners’ sugar.

Can you use store-bought caramels? You betcha. You’ll need about 15 pieces. If the caramels are very soft to begin with, decrease the amount of cream by 1/2 tablespoon.

Mix on low speed for 1 minute to combine the caramel with the dry ingredients.

**update** If at this point the mixture seems too thick, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of milk or cream until it is a more blend-able consistency.

Increase the speed to high and whip for 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. I found whipping for less time left small bits of solid caramel in the icing and didn’t produce the smooth, creamy texture you want.

Oh so lovely, fluffy, and enticing. You can smell the vanilla and caramel as the icing whips, and each little stolen fingerful hits your palate with that sweet/salty combination of goodness.

Deep dark chocolate cupcakes from PJ’s Bake Sale Cupcakes are perfect bases for this sweet icing.

A drizzle of extra caramel sauce flows like golden lava over the swirls of icing. It was all I could do to keep from making a fool of myself crooning over this cupcake in a back corner of the test kitchen. My Precious…

Hey, remember that chocolate ganache chillin’ in the freezer? Take it out and whip it at high speed until it’s light and fluffy.

Using a pastry bag with a large tip, fill half the bag with the vanilla-caramel icing. Not half top to bottom, but half side to side. You’ll be putting the chocolate icing next to it.

Fill the other half of the bag with the chocolate whipped ganache. It’s OK if it’s not perfectly even; that gives the swirls character.

Practice piping a few lines or stars on parchment until you get a fairly even amount of each icing coming out at one time.

Check it out! As both icings flow out of the bag they connect and flow in a way that you just couldn’t do by hand. For more color contrast, you could use a dark chocolate ganache instead.

Both of these icings are on the softer side, so I recommend keeping them in the fridge. Take them out about 10 to 15 minutes before you want to serve them so they can soften up.

Of course, if you do want to ice your cupcakes by hand, you certainly can. This one reminds me of a classic black and white cookie, but taken to a whole new level.

Think of the taste possibilities here. A bite of just chocolate and chocolate, a lick of salty vanilla caramel, nibbling around the edge for an ever-changing sensation. I think I need some quality time with this cupcake.

Please make, rate, and review our recipe for Salted Vanilla Caramel Icing.

Print just the recipe.

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. guppy79

    Oh how yummy! I wonder how the swirled frosting would taste on a peanut butter or banana cupcake?

    And I never knew the dog’s name was Bingo. I learn something (many things) new everyday!
    I think the icing would be killer good on banana cupcakes, peanut butter too. As for Bingo, I love trivia and have lots of useless knowledge bumping around in my head. ;) ~ MaryJane

  2. Mel

    I am buying a piping set RIGHT NOW! I cannot wait to make this icing!!

    Have you guys ever done a fruit tart on the blog (I looked, didn’t find one)? I saw a great recipe in the (I think February) issue of Saveur. I tried it at home and although delicious, it didn’t look the same. The author of the recipe had the apple slices beautifully laid out in a rosette pattern. Anyway, I thought it’d be a great addition to your blog, especially since spring fruit season is almost here! I always feel like I can read this blog and recreate what you do, so thanks very much for that. :)
    Hi Mel,
    I don’t remember a fruit tart blog, but we’re over 500 now so I could be wrong. I saw that apple tart in Saveur too, it was lovely. I’ll have to add a fresh fruit tart to our wish list. Can you believe we’re already thinking about 4th of July, and Thanksgiving?! ~ MaryJane

  3. eleyana

    Oh that is just evil in so many ways! Then again, if middle earth had had this stuff, it might never have had a problem in the first place. I think my favorite creamy caramel recipe would be perfect for this…
    “and one cupcake to rule them all…” ;)

  4. nelll

    OK, so if the dog on Cracker Jacks is Bingo, and the guy he’s with is a sailor, did Bingo run away from the farmer in the song?

    Yeah, I know: it’s about the icing.

    But I get distracted…

    (Anything to avoid marking papers.)
    Oh, I remember those days. It must be report card season soon, eh?
    My guess is that Sailor Jack is the son of the farmer, and he went to sea for his country and took his faithful doggie. Sounds like a good story to me, anyway. ~ MaryJane

  5. justplainbeth

    My daughter and I have a soy allergy, and she is also allergic to tree nuts. Merckens is packaged in a plant that handles both. Do you have another favorite kind of chocolate for melting??
    Beth, you may want to check out Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (www.vermontnutfree.com). They have a great selection of guaranteed nut free products, everything from molded chocolates to chips to bars. I’m sure they will have a good melting chocolate that you can feel safe with. ~ MaryJane

  6. mikest

    Yum! Sounds great on most anything! I love carmel and salted caramels are one of my favorites! I was thinking of banana myself, or piped into the center for a nice surprise! :-)

    Is it stable enough to pipe inside, or should it be thickened/stabilized with something?
    It’s a pretty soft icing, so I’d say definitely use the meringue powder, and chill the icing before piping into the centers. Let me know how it goes. ~ MaryJane

  7. "Paul from Ohio"

    MJ – You’re KILLING ME with this!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT gonna do it now, sorry, but will one day. 16.6
    Save it for a special occasion. I bet it would be great on your favorite tender white cake. :)
    13.4 ~ MaryJane

  8. SoupAddict Karen

    No. You. Di’n’t. MaryJane! I’m moved to utter silence to see my dream icing brought to life. I must go before the tears start….
    Oh, honey, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I really meant to make you hungry! I really hope you can recover enough to try it. It’s souper-dooper yummy! ~ MaryJane

  9. gaitedgirl

    (whips out “to bake later” list… ) MJ, I loooooove the double swirl cupcake! However, I prefer the “handmade” look (okay, it’s laziness, I admit it) but it’s so darling! However, my husband is currently caramel-ed out, seeing as how I made a dulce de leche cheesecake a couple of weeks ago so this has got to go on the “baking later” list. Thanks for the neat tip on using two icings – I love it!! :)
    Just wait until I break out the “rainbow swirl” icing someday. If you’re caramel-ed out, you could go with just chocolate and vanilla swirls, à la soft serve ice cream. ~ MaryJane

  10. ksilloway

    I don’t have the meringue powder; can i use powdered egg whites? (Is that what the meringue powder is, anyway?!)
    While meringue powder contains more than just egg white, I think powdered whites will work just fine in this case. ~ MaryJane

  11. maccourt

    If these frostings are soft, would you recommend refridgerating the frosted cupcakes until ready to serve?
    Yes, you may do that. Just remove from the frig an hour or so before service. Elisabeth

  12. hamletscrummed

    First of all, I just want to say THANK YOU for calling it a “Bathtub Madonna” because my parents used to call them that and my friends all laughed at me and didn’t believe that some people actually build their own out of real bathtubs…

    Second of all, this cupcake recipe makes me want to try baking with caramel (prior to this, I’ve considered it way too much hassle for not enough reward). It looks fantastic!
    I think the shrines show real ingenuity, a recycling movement ahead of its time. We’ve been known to give local directions to “turn just past the bathtub Madonna”. ;) ~ MaryJane

  13. dorre

    I. am. drooling.

    Must make these for work, especially before goal review time, they’ll have to be nicer, right?
    Yes, just bring these little gems to your performance review! Elisabeth

  14. "Linda S"

    I was just looking for a frosting recipe that used caramel, and then I got your e-mail to head online! Talk about great timing!

    One question: since I don’t have block caramel and I DO have a can of Dulce de Leche caramel, can I use this instead? I think if I just heat it briefly to soften it in the microwave, it should work with the same consistency that seems to be in the photos.

    I do love your recipes, and always come here first when I’m looking for one before heading elsewhere online. Thanks for your great blogs, too. Think they’d be great bound as a KAF cookbook!
    Hi Linda,
    I think the dulce would work fine. Just heat it until it is lukewarm and pliable. If it’s too hot and thin, it will hard to get a good fluffy consistency in your icing. Let us know how it goes. ~ MaryJane

  15. pjh

    I stopped at the Baker’s Store on the way home from work, and one of the ladies had made our “Simply Delicious” chocolate cake mix in a 9″ x 13″ cake pan, then spread with this vanilla frosting, then drizzled caramel all over the top, then sea salt. She was cutting it up in pieces to serve as samples in the demo kitchen tomorrow. I had one – oh, my….. Anyone who’s near Norwich, VT tomorrow morning, stop by and enjoy a sample! PJH

  16. starrysugar

    what piping tip did you use? i have tried so many and can’t get mine to look like that! thanks :)
    MaryJane used an Ateco #843 flower tip. Elisabeth

    It’s definitely in my plans to do a step by step on piping cupcake icing. Getting those swirls does take practice, but once you know the tricks, it gets easier. ~ MaryJane

  17. milkwithknives

    Dang it! Another one for the massively out of control “try” pile! I think Duncan Hines used to make a caramel frosting, but I didn’t see it on the grocery store shelf this past weekend. KA to the rescue again! I was also just reminded yesterday of the dulce de leche in a can thing, where you boil the can of sweetened condensed milk for a few hours. I imagine that would work fine here. We have four birthdays in March, so you bet this special frosting will be deployed at one of them. I’m even imagining it in an oatmeal whoopie pie…
    Have fun deploying this recipe! Great ideas. Elisabeth

  18. Irene in TO

    It might help to state the difference between cake decorating tips and pastry tips. Cake decorating tips are mostly a lot smaller–to make this kind of swirl on a 3″ cupcake, you need a Wilton #506 or #508 or Ateco tips 1A-1F or 2A-2F. Didn’t see them at the cake dec section? They are sold online.

    Pastry tips are a LOT bigger because they are intended to be used for dough–choux paste, spritz cookies, etc. They make really good cupcake-covering swirls because they are the right size for the job. There are different numbers for different brands.

    How can you tell the diff? My rule-of-thumb is if they fit a standard coupler, they are cake tubes.
    Thanks for sharing Irene. Looks like I’ve really got to get that cupcake icing blog movin’ eh? ~ MaryJane

  19. "Holly S"

    Been wanting to try making whoopie pies and this recipe just screamed to become filling to me. So today I made the Kyle’s Whoopie Pies and then the Salted Vanilla Caramel Icing without the meringue powder. All was going well until I was mixing it after adding the caramel/cream mixture. It turned into a blob, very stiff. I added bit by bit about 2 tablespoons cream and beat it into submission. It came out very tasty – a bit stiffer than your photo. But since I was using it for a filling that was just fine.
    I will definitely be making this again so that I can figure out where it went cuckoo this time.
    Thanks for sharing such a yummy addition to the icing files. :)

  20. nelll

    Well, now, Mary Jane, I think you’ve started a story in my head. I don’t think the sailor took the dog, exactly, but rather the dog went in search of him, perhaps at the bidding of the farmer, who said, ‘Go find Jack’, thinking he was somewhere ’round about the barn, and had no idea it would take Bingo miles and miles and many adventures before he trotted gaily up the gangplank and leaped into Jack’s arms, and the lines were untied and the sails filled and they were off to adventures, and tune in next week, kiddos…

    All those adventures, through field and farm, over hill and dale, across the dark woods, and out of the clutches of numerous dog-catchers would keep the godchildren STILL for a number of miles on the train, I think, or get them settled down to bed. Always good to be able to spin these yarns o-u-t, you know.

  21. martibeth

    MaryJane, you mentioned a couple of times how “soft” this icing is. It’s obviously stiff enough to pipe (and those cupcakes are gorgeous), but do they need to be kept refrigerated to prevent the icing sliding off the cupcake? Thanks. Oh, and BTW, why don’t you make a video of piping the cupcakes. Thanks again.
    Hi Martibeth,
    Yes, the icing will pipe fine even though it is not as stiff as buttercream. I’d say keep the cupcakes in the fridge until about 15 minutes before serving. The icing never slid off the cupcake when I worked with it, but the nice swirls would start to soften and look a little wilted after an hour or so out at room temperature.
    I think the video is a great idea. I’ll have to set up a plan and see where we can go with it. ~ MaryJane

  22. Suzette

    I had a wonderful chocolate/Salted Caramel cupcake at Butterlane in NYC last spring. I wondered how they make the caramel-y icing. Now I know! :) They topped it with a few kernels of salty popped corn! It was PERFECT! Try it. I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

  23. KimberlyD

    Did we walk to school together? It almost sounds like my story of walking to school with my 3 big brothers. And I liked the same candy! lol! They would walk so fast it was hard for me to keep up with them…lol! They did it on purpose for they didnt’ want their friends to see them walk with their “little” sister. I learned years later…lol!
    They were pretty good about letting me keep up with them, but I do remember the time my oldest brother pulled my hat over my eyes and let me walk into a tree. I knew better than to tattletale, but the black eye I got kinda gave it away! ~ MJ


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