1Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 3 9-inch cakes pans by greasing them and adding optional parchment paper.
2Beat butter until light and fluffy; add sugar and beat for 5 more minutes. Add eggs, one at a time and mix well after each. Add flour and buttermilk, alternately beginning and ending with flour and mix well after each. Add vanilla and beat well. Divide among the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes until set.
3Turn out pans onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely. Prepare the southern caramel icing as cakes are cooling and frost the cake.
4For the icing, mix all ingredients in a 3-4 quart cast iron dutch oven. Swirl pan to keep ingredients moving in the pan. Cook to softball stage 235-245 deg on a candy thermometer or when tested in a cup of cold water. Remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy and ready to spread.
5No thermometer? Cold water test: Take some of the caramel and drop it into a bowl or cup of cold water. Give it a few seconds to cool. Retrieve some of the caramel and make a little ball with it. If you pull out a gooey mess, you need to boil longer.