This spice cake is packed with warm, spicy, and sweet flavors, and topped with an irresistible apple cream cheese frosting. Like all of my favorite cakes, it has all kinds of flavors bursting out of every bite, and the frosting is creamy and not-too-sweet, so that the flavors of the cake can really shine. If I were only baking for me, this is the kind of cake I would bake, every time. And that’s exactly what I did last week. Happy birthday to me, indeed!
Now, don’t think that I was slaving away in the kitchen all day on my birthday. I actually didn’t bake at all on that day. Instead we spent it up in northern Michigan, skiing, playing in the snow, having good craft beer, and eating brownies from a boxed mix that my kids made for me. It was the perfect way to turn 34. I made this cake the week before, because I figured it was the right time to bake just for me, and this way I could have a little sliver of cake whenever I felt like it and give the rest away, since no one else in my family shares my love of spice cake. Yet. I still have time with the little ones.
It’s the kind of cake that can make me forget that I am now undeniably in my mid-thirties.
- I adapted this recipe from the buttermilk spice cake from my grandmother’s Slovak cookbook. I replaced some of the sugar with brown sugar, and made the spice mix very similar to the Speculaas spice mix from Ottolenghi and Goh’s Sweet cookbook.
- For the spices here, if there is a flavor that you know you don’t like (I know some people are not fond of the flavor of aniseed, which is like black licorice), you can leave it out. And if you can’t find aniseed but want to use it, you can crush star anise (which are beautiful and available in most well-stocked spice sections) with a mortar and pestle. They’re not actually from the same plant, despite the similar name, but they taste very similar.
- I used 2 packages of these Crispy Fruit dried apples in the frosting, mostly because they are available in my local grocery store, but 1 cup of any dried apples will do. You could also experiment with other dried fruit flavors, or leave it out for a standard cream cheese frosting.
- ⅔ cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cups sugar
- 3 eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 2 cups cake flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon aniseed
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- ⅓ cup butter, at room temperature
- 12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup dried apple pieces (I used 2 packages of Crispy Fruit)
- 2 ½ to 3 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter three 8” or 9” cake pans, place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of each, and butter the parchment.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugars gradually and continue beating until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, aniseed, cardamom, ginger, coriander, nutmeg, and cloves.
- Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the buttermilk, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are glossy and form stiff peaks. Add these to the cake batter and fold in gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.
- Pour the batter evenly into the three prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto cooling racks to cool completely.
- In a blender or food processor, pulse the dried apple pieces until they are the texture of powdered sugar. Add them to the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and gently stir together with a whisk or fork.
- In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
- Slowly add the powdered sugar and apple mixture, half of a cup at a time, mixing on medium-high speed between each addition and waiting until the previous addition is completely incorporated before adding more. Stop when the frosting reaches your desired consistency.
- To assemble the cake, either use an offset spatula to spread frosting between each layer and on top of the cake, or, as in these photos, use a piping bag fitted with a large closed star piping nozzle to cover each layer with starbursts. I had just enough frosting to do two complete layers, and then do stars just around the border of the top.