The Lexingtonienne



The Oscars are this Sunday, and I — like you, I’m sure — will be cheering on Octavia Spencer to take home the Best Supporting Actress prize for her role as Minny in The Help.


I thought it would be fun to watch the year’s pinnacle awards show with a Minny-themed treat, so I decided to make a caramel cake like Minny was famous for baking in the book. I pored through cookbooks and researched recipes online until I came across THE. RECIPE. that actually came from the Junior League of Memphis cookbook (copyright 1952) and is supposedly the real-life favorite of The Help author Kathryn Stockett. The recipe for the caramel frosting is even posted on Kathryn Stockett’s own website. It is called “NEVER FAIL Creamy Caramel Frosting.”


Y’all, I think this recipe was written by Hilly Holbrook herself.


Here, I’ll read it to you. Recipe in bold. My notes in italics.

Melt 1/2 cup of sugar in iron skillet slowly, until brown and runny. First of all, does anyone have an unseasoned iron skillet? I went with All Clad instead. And melt on what heat? High? Low? I assume low since it says to melt the sugar “slowly,” but am I supposed to stir it? Leave it alone? How slow is “slowly”? Five minutes? An hour? Do I need to give my toddler a Ritz cracker, or do I need to put on Sesame Street? [The answer: BOTH.]




Mix egg, butter, remaining sugar, and milk in a saucepan and cook over a low flame until butter melts. Do you mix all that together and THEN put it in the saucepan? Or throw it all in the pan together? Should I whisk it the whole time or is it okay by itself?



Turn the heat up to medium and add the browned sugar. This is probably my fault, but I don’t think I turned the heat up long enough before adding the browned sugar, because that browned sugar slithered into the mixture and immediately formed into a big browned sugar turd that swirled and floated around and eventually did melt, but I considered throwing the whole thing out several times. Literally, it looked like a turd. It doesn’t seem to me that something called “NEVER FAIL” should constantly tempt one to give up. Or look like a turd.




Cook until it reaches the soft ball stage or until mixture leaves sides of pan. The soft ball stage? Clearly this recipe writer assumes I have candy-making knowledge that I do not. Even after reading extensively about the soft ball and hard ball stages in the Joy of Cooking, I am still confused. 

This takes about 10 minutes. Are you sure about that? Because I think it was more than that. Maybe that’s just because my toddler was standing at the baby gate screaming at me. (Are we having fun yet?)



Remove from fire, let cool slightly, and add vanilla. Remove from FIRE? Is this Little House on the Prairie? And how “slight” is slightly? Because that sugar mixture is so hot, if it cools “slightly,” it’s still hotter than anything that shot out of Mount Vesuvius and decimated Pompeii. 


Beat until right consistency to spread. If it gets too thick add a little cream. It would have been cool of you to include “a little cream” in the ingredients list, which is what people look at when they do their grocery shopping. Guess I’ll just make sure it doesn’t get too thick. 


This will ice a 2 layer cake. Are the sides supposed to be unfrosted? Because in that case, YES, it will ice a 2 layer cake.


So there you have it — the NEVER FAIL recipe for caramel frosting. I think I failed 18 different times while making it. I’m pretty sure some snoot over at the Memphis Junior League in 1952 wrote it out all ambiguously just to make sure no one else could make it the way SHE did. Then, just to rub it in, she called it, “NEVER FAIL.”

But that’s just the icing on the cake. The cake recipe itself wasn’t much better than the NEVER FAIL frosting recipe. First, it said to beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, for about 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES? Haha! That had to be a typo — or maybe I live in a time machine — since 2 minutes is how long it actually took.


Then it said to bake the two 9″ round cakes at 350 for 18-20 minutes. EIGHTEEN MINUTES?! Who’s living in a time machine now?!?! Mine took almost double that.



Anyway, 12 hours (from start to finish, including a break to go to Toddle Tunes, Eleanora’s music class), 5 pans, 6 rubber spatulas, 4 whisks, half a bottle of Palmolive, and 1 fingerprint-erasing blister later, I had this:


And I have to say it’s pretty delicious. Light, fluffy, buttery, sugary, caramel-y, and — yes — creamy. Worth it? HELL NO. So here’s the recipe I’m going to leave you with today:

1) Buy a caramel cake.
2) Eat it.


If, however, you get an itch to bake something The Help-themed on behalf of Team Octavia, check out last year’s post for chocolate pie. It’s fabulous and far easier. Now, whether or not you add Minny’s secret ingredient? That’s up to you.

chocolate meringue pie




  • Comment by HaleyD — February 24, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    Hahahaha hilarious!

  • Comment by Maggie — February 24, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

    I’m still laughing !!!!

  • Comment by Shae — February 24, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    I’m still laughing…!!!

  • Comment by Kelly Bradley — February 26, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    Just made my husband turn from the sporting-event-of-the-moment to laugh out loud! He especially liked the turd part. Of course. Will be cheering for Octavia; and I may just mix up some butter, sugar, and vanilla, and eat it with a spoon during the show.

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