I've now made this cake three times, and it's definitely one of those recipes that takes a little practice. This method of caramel is called burnt sugar icing and is the old-fashioned/Southern way to make caramel icing. I told Net that I think I would have enjoyed science more in high school if it had been explained in terms of cooking. I don't understand the science behind this recipe, but it's all about getting the ingredients to the right temperatures and watching the sugar go from a solid to a liquid and then back to somewhere in between!
Start both pots (iron skillet and Dutch oven) at the same time. In the iron skillet put in 1/2 cup of sugar. In the Dutch oven put 1/2 pint of xxx cream (heavy cream) and 2 cups of sugar.
Stirring constantly, heat the sugar until it turns into hard brown clumps and then into liquid - it will be a medium, nutty brown color.
Take care to mash up all the clumps using the back of a spatula - they won't go away later!
Once the sugar is a brown liquid, add one stick of oleo (NOT butter). Stir to combine.
At this point your Dutch oven mixture should be at a full boil. Add in the sugar/oleo mixture.
Keep stirring until it gets to the soft ball stage. This is about 240 degrees or you should be able to drop a little of the icing in a cup of cold water and be able to roll it into a soft ball with your fingers.
The icing will start to thicken. If it gets too thick, add a bit of cream or warm water. It's important to have your cakes ready to ice before beginning. I've found that once the caramel icing is ready you have to work quick to keep it from getting hard!