Blog post

Caramel Cake and Culture

24 June 2018

 I recently received a message on LinkedIn from a woman who had attended one of my book launch presentations. This professional was hosting a Round Table Discussion, and all the participants were reading Gracious Leadership in anticipation of a group conversation regarding this time-critical topic.

The woman was specifically writing to share that she was making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake to serve at the Round Table, and she was having difficulty getting the icing to be thick enough.

I smiled to myself as I read her message. You see, I had experienced the same frustration many times throughout the years as I tried to master both the science and the art of making a Caramel Cake. It’s really tricky to get the icing “just right.”

Now, you may ask yourself, “What in the world does making a Caramel Cake have to do with Gracious Leadership?” The answer is actually quite simple.

Making “this” particular Caramel Cake definitely requires all the key ingredients as specified within the recipe, but it also calls for the “art part” … meaning the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance and, yes, even a little bit of love!

Becoming a Gracious Leader and building a healthy, high-performance work culture are like making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake. Simply put, neither aspiration is easy.

As with any recipe, all 13 Key Ingredients are required to become a Gracious Leader. Not even one ingredient can be omitted, and no shortcuts are allowed. This, my friends, is the science of Gracious Leadership.

As a Gracious Leader, to guide your team to peak performance, you will need to be purposeful in building and maintaining a healthy work culture, one in which your team is empowered to soar to new heights while achieving the right results. So, in addition to teaching your followers the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership, you will also need to add your own version of the “art part” … the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance, and love that are emblematic of your personal leadership style.

Whether you’re making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake or you’re well on your way to become a fully respectful leader who inspires a healthy corporate culture, when you get it right, you will absolutely know it!

Just as this woman reached out to me, I hope to hear from you, too, as you aspire to become a Gracious Leader. If you have not yet begun this journey, please start today, and together let’s lead like we’ve never led before.

5 from 1 vote

Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake

Author Mrs. Hattie Bell Johnson, Carthage, MS



  • 1 cup butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Caramel Icing

  • 3.5 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 2 tbsp white Karo
  • 1/2 cup Cremora
  • 1 tsp vanilla


For the Cake

  1. Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add whole eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla to milk. Sift flour and baking powder. Add part of flour mixture, add milk and then remaining flour and beat until smooth. Pour batter into three greased and lightly floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake 30 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven.

For the Icing

  1. Mix sugar, Cremora, Karo, and milk in a large pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar that has been browned, cooking until it forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Add butter and vanilla and cook until butter dissolves. Beat until icing is right for spreading between layers, then beat until creamy for icing the remainder of the cake.

Recipe Notes

I have passed along Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake recipe exactly as it was written in the New Hope Baptist Church Cook Book. This collection of favorite recipes was published to honor the American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976.

I will add a few clarifications. These steps represent the "art part."

  • Be sure not to overcook the cake so that it will not be dry.
  • Cook the icing in a 5 quart, non-stick pot. Use powdered Cremora. In addition to the 3 1/2 cups of sugar required in the recipe, brown 1/2 cup of sugar in a small, non-stick skillet during the time that the sugar, milk, Karo, and Cremora are cooking.
  • I use a candy thermometer and cook the icing to 236-237 degrees, still applying the soft ball text that is required in the recipe.
  • After adding the butter and vanilla to the icing, I beat the icing with a mixer until it reaches the right consistency to spread between the layers. I then beat the icing by hand until it reaches a creamy consistency that is right for icing the remainder of the cake.
  • Remember that no shortcuts are allowed. Always use patience, persistence, perseverance, and love to get the icing "just right."


  • Janelle E. Bryant

    June 26, 2018 at 12:27 am

    5 stars
    Thought-FULL representation of your point. Well done! Oh how I would love to have one of Mrs. Hattie Bell’s cakes again. Thank you for not only the reminder of her and the “taste” of that divine cake but the lesson as well.

    1. graciousadmin

      June 26, 2018 at 9:32 am

      Thank you, Janelle. This special woman touched so many lives with her culinary excellence and the love that surrounded it. I was thrilled to honor her by sharing within Gracious Leadership that while it’s difficult to get great things right (like Caramel Cakes and Culture), when you do get them right, you will know it, and they are “Oh, so good!”

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