Yellow Cake with Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Icing


Today, we’re going to do a quick and easy recipe with a big old root system behind it. The cake we’re going to use is just a boxed mix because, well it’s not the cake that is important here, it’s the icing. My Grandmother’s old fashioned peanut butter icing. This is another boiled icing, identical to the one we used for the fudge glaze on our chocolate pound cake, only with peanut butter instead of cocoa. This cake will forever me endeared to be for one reason, my great aunt Red.

Red was my great grandmother’s sister. Her given name was “Stella” but I took to calling her Red when I was just a girl due to her insisting that her hair be dyed red at all times. She used to come and stay with my Grandparents often and I was pretty close to both her and my great grandmother, whom we all called simply by her name, “Lela”.

Red was a young one, having been born sixteen years after Lela in the modern year of 1918. Red and Lela were very close and I was their tag along. Whenever Red was visiting, my mother would always be sure to take me by there and allow me to spend a day or two with the them. Their birthdays were one day apart and Mama even started checking me out of school so that I could go take them gifts and be there for cake on the day they both celebrated (I still don’t think my siblings know about this!).

Lela passed away in 1991, when I was seventeen. I didn’t get to see Red nearly as much after that. She got in a “bad way” as folks say it and wasn’t able to get out much. Six years went by, I did see her some, but her health was declining and her birthday was coming up.

She had a daughter in California who wanted to visit and it was silently understood that Red might not be with us too much longer. Her daughter wanted to make a big event out of her birthday, so she rented a banquet hall at a hotel and invited a large crowd for a grand celebration.

As Red’s daughter went about making plans for the party, she asked Red what kind of cake she wanted. Red, with a defiant streak to match her hair color, stated plainly “Lucille makes my cake”. Her daughter apparently had missed the tradition which had grown over the years of my grandmother making Stella’s favorite cake for her birthday each year and Red growing ever fonder of it, looking forward to this fudgy peanut butter icing on her special day. So in the end, Red got her way.

I was going to college and living with my Grandmother at this time (Lucille, Lela’s daughter and Red’s niece). Granddaddy had just passed away so it was just Grandmama and myself living together as “roomies”.

The day of Red’s party arrived and I drove Grandmama the two hours to the hotel where the party was held. The two of us walked into this hotel lobby, to this fancy banquet hall with flowers and balloons, folks all dressed up and Red there with a corsage.

Enter my Grandmother carrying a glass 9×13 Pyrex dish with a Duncan Hines yellow cake and homemade peanut butter icing.

Red was thrilled. It was just what she wanted.

Red and Lela aren’t really gone, neither is Granddaddy for that matter. They all still hang around us and I know they’ll be sniffing this icing and wishing for a bite today.

For the icing, you’ll need: sugar, shortening, peanut butter, milk, vanilla, and margarine. Exact recipe at bottom of page.
Place sugar in pot…
Along with shortening and margarine…
and salt…
and milk…
Stir well and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it comes to a boil, stop stirring and allow to boil for one to two minutes.

Remove from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla.
Stir until blended and creamy. Act fast because this is going to be hardening up right about now.
Pour over cake and spread quickly. If it hardens too much just return to heat for a minute and stir to make it runny again.
Then give the stirring spoon to one of the waiting kids who have been drawn to the kitchen by the amazing smell.
Happy Birthday, Red. Lucille says “hi”.

Yellow Cake with Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Icing
  • Duncan Hines yellow cake mix, made according to package directions and cooled
  • 1- ½ Cups sugar
  • 7 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons Shortening
  • 2 Tablespoons margarine
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ Cup creamy Peanut Butter
  1. Combine sugar, milk, shortening, margarine, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once it reaches a boil, let boil for one ot two minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peanut butter. Beat until smooth and quickly spread onto cake.

Stella “Red” and Lela, circa 1988
Great Aunt and Great Grandmother

Yeah, this post choked me up too…


Enjoy This Post? Never Miss Another!

Subscribe to Christy's email list and receive all her new posts directly in your inbox


  1. Judy H says

    Christy, This story makes me miss my Grandma and my Aunties and they’ve been gone for years, but a story like this brings them right back. I’m sure all of your departed loved ones are gathered round and cheering you on! It’s nice to see big time success come to someone with such a good heart.
    Hugs from me!

  2. Debbie Caraballo says

    What a great story…I think all of us ‘southern girls’ whose families were awesome cooks have these memories. I still have my special “Lela”. (and that’s really her name!) She’s my aunt, mom’s sis. My grandmother, mom, and aunt taught me so many things about cooking. Dad too, and I’m forever grateful.
    Just subscribed to Southern Plate today, and already loving it, and I’ve decided I have to have your cookbook!

  3. Molly Fox says

    I can just taste the peanut butter icing. I don’t know when I first had this but I loved it. My special memory was my first birthday as a wife; we were in seminary at the time. John talked one of our friends into coming over to our tiny apartment to help him make this cake. I think they did a great job and I might have to have one this July. Thank you for the memories!

  4. Dianne Calhoun says

    Christy, I to have precious memories of strong, southern “Godly” women in my life that also were good cooks. This recipe has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. My 25 year old (4th generation) son married in May…guess what he wanted as his grooms cake….” Mawmaw Eva’s peanut butter cake” “my grandmother”. Our baker suggested not to use the icing on the official cake because of decorating purposes. He was insistent upon this cake so we had to come up with a plan. He had his decorated peanut butter grooms cake (boxed and sent home as a favor) but Mawmaw Eva’s cake was served to the guest at the reception. Another memory to be shared with the next generation. Thank you for sharing your memories and allowing me to share mine!!!

  5. CS says

    I just made this peanut butter icing and it was amazing. The only thing I changed was that I used light brown sugar instead of white sugar, and I also used double the margarine because I had no shortening. It was absolutely delicious. Thanks a lot!

    • wanda muir says

      I made this cake and this great peanutbutter icing for it this afternoon. It turned out great. The only kind of shortening I had was the butter flavored , I used it and it was very good.Thank you for sharing your story and the recipe

  6. Sandy says

    Christy….have you ever thought about having a page with a family tree in your next cookbook? I love reading the story that goes with the recipe, but, I get confused on your wonderful large family of grandparents.

  7. Sheila says

    OMG! This was MY birthday cake every year when I was a child! Mama (she passed away when I was 16) would ask what kind I wanted and it was ALWAYS this cake! She baked it from scratch too, now my granddaughter can as well!

  8. Rebecca S says

    This is terrific. I made this Sunday. Instead of making a 9 x 13 cake, I actually fixed a two layer cake in round pans. Then I fixed a double recipe of the Peanut Butter frosting. I put it in between the layers and top and sides. As it cools down, it gets thicker so it will stick to the sides of the cake. It was enjoyed by all.

  9. Tra says

    I can’t believe I just stumbled onto your site! I just had yellow cake with peanut butter icing! My grandma who who was from Arkansas used to make it all the time. I am lucky I have one Aunt left that still makes it. I will be attempting your recipe over the holidays. It is funny how many memories can be stirred up by food. I miss my grandma and grandpa so much and the food just brings me happy thoughts of them. After this my next attempt will be chocolate gravy and biscuits. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Laura says

    Thank you soo much!
    This recipe is an answer to a prayer for me!
    You have literally saved me who knows how many hours trying to invent this frosting recipe!
    I promised my mom to try to duplicate her grandmothers cake for her 60th birthday.
    I never knew either of my great grandmothers and only one of my grandmothers so many of our families traditions and recipes have been lost.
    I am positive this is the same frosting recipe because mom says her grandmother never made “fancy” cakes with whipped frosting and “she only used poor peoples ingredients”. Another reason I am sure it is the same one is that she said her grandmother poured the icing on the cake right out of the pan.
    I will have to “invent” the cake recipe because mom says that the cake part that her grandmother made was not very sweet. I am guessing maybe just less sugar like the budget cake recipe in my 40’s cookbook.

    You have just made it possible for my mom to re-live a special part of her childhood. (Which couldn’t have happened at a better time since she is kinda depressed about turning 60.)

    God bless you for helping keep these important parts of our heritage alive.

  11. Nic says

    I have been looking for this recipe for years! My Gram always used this on a homemade white cake. She has passed and no one could remember the recipe. This is very similar to the recipe I use for peanut butter no bake cookies, just without the oatmeal. Thank you! I love reading your memories!

  12. Michelle Gilbert says

    I made this for a Teacher Appreciation luncheon yesterday. I knew the cake would be good, but I had no idea about the kind of emotions it would stir. I can’t even recall how many people said “that’s just like my grandmother used to make” or “I haven’t had this in years” or “my mother always made that for my birthday.” One woman was almost brought to tears when she recalled her mother boiling the icing. She said her mother now has Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember the recipe when she asked for it. Someone else said, “I thought that recipe had died with my mother.” After each comment, I was proud to tell them each about your blog and the great stories and recipes that you share each week. I was also proud to share memories of my Mama making this cake for me each year on my birthday and how blessed I am to still have her living. Anyway, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your wonderful recipes, thoughtful anecdotes and for helping me bring back (and create new!) wonderful memories.

  13. Debbie says

    I just made this and it is absolutely heavenly :) I couldn’t even wait for it to cool before trying a piece (I had already been cleaning the icing pan)… Yum! Yum! Yum! No wonder Red wanted Lucille to make her cake, this is waaaaayyy better than any bakery cake!! Thank you so much for this recipe!! Hubby loves peanut butter… He’s gonna really like this!! Thanks again :)

  14. Elisa says

    I just have to tell you, I had the best afternoon thanks to this cake, a cup of coffee and your Southern Plate cookbook.

    I had been waiting for the cookbook to become available at the library and FINALLY it came in. Money is tight so last night I was wandering through the pages looking for something sweet I could make with what I had on hand.

    I saw this cake and knew I had to make it! I had everything on hand and easily whipped it up. I put my little one down for her afternoon nap and served myself a plate, with a cup of coffee and sat to read more of the cookbook. It made for the perfect relaxing nap break!

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful recipes and your family stories. I have been writing down my family recipes for some time now and I hope you don’t mind but I have already written about 10 of yours into it as well. I have been on the site for some time and all your recipes have become favorites.

  15. Pam says

    Although I agree that this recipe was simple to follow and it was delicious, it did not yield enough for my 13 x 9″ chocolate cake. It was so thin I could see the cake through it. I will definitely increase it next time, by half or even double.

  16. Rhonda says

    I just had to post and say Thank You for sharing this story it made the cake I made yesterday extra special knowing how loved the frosting is. I lost my mom 12 years ago she never followed directions as she called it I have very few of her “directions” so I search the web for things that I can try to recreate the love mom created in the kitchen. I am now going to purchase your cookbook. Again Thank You for sharing

  17. Susan Willard says

    This post came just on the right day for me Christy, my beautiful, amazing Aunt Elvie passed on Saturday at the age of 86. She was one of those old fashioned cooks that it just came naturally to her. She made the most amazing yeast rolls and date nut candy. Last Christmas I finally, after years of trying got my date nut candy to turn out. She could cook anything and loved doing it. I will miss her, but she is in Heaven now with my Dad, my Uncle, her Husband and her Parents. I know they are having a good time “visitin”. Thanks again


  18. Deena Casady says

    I fixed this cake tonight and man, it is yum yum good! We actually had a small piece to try before eating supper because we couldn’t (well, didn’t want to is more like it! lol) wait until after supper. Ha! Thank you for sharing yet another wonderful recipe and story! :)

  19. Patricia T. says

    This story (and recipe) reminded me so much of my great grandmother and her peanut butter cake. I remember helping stir it as a child and being excited to lick the spoon. Picking out the toothpicks before serving it. This was a lovely reminder of how wonderful great grandmothers are and how near and dear they can stay in your heart. <3

  20. Timothy says

    Thank you so much for posting this! This is the same exact recipe that my great grandmother made and I fell in love with it as a child. The icing is so delicious! I’m making it right now! Mmm.

  21. Dawn says

    I recently asked my sweetheart of 30+ years what I should make for dessert for Sunday dinner. He said my grandmother used to make this yellow cake with peanut butter frosting, he said well more like fudge not frosting, but no one in the family has the recipe. I found your blog and recipe and surprised him on Sunday with the cake. He was so excited, he said this is just like my grandma’s!! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and and your story. I think we all have a “Red” in our family!!

  22. Alex says

    Warning: there was a comment that said she used this for a layer cake. DO NOT do that! I now have a ruined, ugly cake and my father is coming for his birthday tomorrow. It’s late at night and I have to make a whole cake and icing all over again. The icing tasted nice but it is DEFINITELY not suited for a layer cake. It pulled crumbs from the cake as it rolled down so you could see them. Then it softened the cake so much that it broke the side of the cake. I tried to fix it, it just looks so horrible I am so upset right now. I’m sure it makes a great sheet cake. Follow the recipe as written. Don’t let me sway you from trying it, I’m sure the sheet cake version is great. But as a layer cake it just cost me time, money and frustration. My own fault for following the comment.

    • says

      Oh Alex, I’m so sorry that happened to you! Thats why I never make this as a layer cake. My grandmothers could, but it takes years of practice and a lot of speed and skill to make it happen – I am not that good! I do hope y’all enjoyed the cake anyway. The company and the thought are what produce the best food :)

  23. Dana says

    This story made me cry. I am planning to make your Peanut Butter Fudge Iced Brownies tomorrow, but when I read your recipe I knew I wanted to know the story behind your icing. Thank you for the wonderful recipe and the heart warming story!

  24. CarusoneGirl says

    Help! I attempt to make this icing and it hardens IMMEDIATELY when I add the PB and instantly clumps up…so much so that it clogs up my wire wisk with a cement-like consistency. I do try to put back on heat to loosen it up, and I have added milk to it, but the icing still stays sooo clumpy! My daughter wouldn’t eat it because it was so clumpy that she thought I used crunchy PB. What can I do to get the smooth icing? Thank you!

    • says

      Hey CarusoneGirl! First of all, I have to commend you for not giving up! It is a rare thing these days to see folks keep working with a recipe if it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time. You chose a great recipe to stick with, too! I’ve been making this one as long as I have been cooking so I’ve had times where it turned out not so hot as well. Sounds to me (because I have been there) that it is overcooked. Different stoves and different temperatures just can’t be avoided. I feel confident that if you cut the boiling time down to one minute, it will work just fine. Now keep in mind that it will still be very thick but pourable and it will harden after it cools completely. So you may be thinking “I didn’t cook it enough!” but as long as you bring it to a boil and then start timing one minute from there it should turn out fine.
      Having said that, from time to time I still have a batch that isn’t “perfect” but we find that it is absolutely delicious anyway :)

  25. Felicia says

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. My aunt used to make this cake and icing from scratch when I was 10 years old. I remember when I used to sit and wait for her to finish icing the cake. The smell of the icing simmering would hypnotize me! I’ve attempted to make this icing but couldn’t remember all the ingredients. She passed about 15 years ago so I couldn’t ask her how to make this icing!! This recipe is the closest to her peanut butter icing so once again thanks for sharing.

  26. Patty B says

    That is absolutely precious!!! How so very lucky we are to have had Grandmothers and Aunts that were so wonderful…thank you also for your stories….you have a wonderful way of telling them and they ALWAYS make me smile, no matter how the day is going.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *