This month, I’ve been baking so many fantastic cakes that are just perfect for fall. Our kitchen has been filled with the scent of brown sugar and spices, each cake better than the last one. Today’s Spice Cake is no exception. This is a brown sugar spice cake full of flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, but also cardamom, along with subtle hints of cocoa and coffee. All the spices complement each other so beautifully, with sweet cream cheese buttercream as the perfect finish.
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- Flour. All-purpose flour provides the structure that the cake needs to rise.
- Cocoa Powder. I use Dutch-processed cocoa powder for all my baking, and if a recipe calls for Dutch-processed, be sure to use it, and not a “natural” cocoa powder. Their chemical properties are different, and affect how the cake rises. The small amount of cocoa powder in this cake adds a subtle hint of chocolate to complement the flavor of the spices, but this is not a chocolate cake.
- Spices. You really could use so many different spices in a spice cake. I love to bake with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, and they work together so beautifully. For this cake, I also added cardamom, which adds such a rich flavor.
- Espresso Powder. The espresso powder, dissolved in water, is what gives this cake its deep color. Of course, it also adds subtle notes of coffee.
- Baking Soda + Baking Powder. These leaveners react with the acidic ingredients in the cake (the cocoa powder, espresso powder and brown sugar) to help it rise.
- Salt. Balances the sweetness.
- Dark Brown Sugar. Sweetens the cake and adds moisture and a hint of molasses.
- Water. For moisture. The espresso powder is dissolved in the water, so that essentially, you’re adding brewed coffee to the spice cake batter.
- Vegetable Oil. Oil not only adds moisture to cakes, but keeps them very light and fluffy. On the other hand, butter-based cakes tend to be a bit more dense.
- Eggs. Add structure, fat and richness.
- Vanilla Extract. Flavor. Use a good-quality vanilla extract. I love Rodelle and Nielsen-Massey.
- Cream Cheese + Unsalted Butter. When frosting a layer cake with cream cheese frosting, you should always use half butter and half cream cheese. Adding the butter stabilizes the frosting, whereas only cream cheese tends to be too soft and can slip and slide all over a layer cake.
- Powdered Sugar. Sweetens and thickens the buttercream to the proper consistency.
- Meringue Powder. Helps to stabilize the buttercream.
- Salt. Balances the sweetness.
- Vanilla Extract. Flavor.
This is a really easy cake to make! First, just sift together the dry ingredients. I always sift the dry ingredients – especially my flour and cocoa powder – to make sure there are no lumps. Then, whisk together the liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry, and whisk briefly to combine. That’s it!
This spice cake rises tall and light, and is such a gorgeous color from the spices, brown sugar, cocoa powder and espresso. And with both buttermilk and oil in the batter, you can be guaranteed of a really moist cake with a beautiful, tender crumb.
To showcase the rich color of the cake, I decided to leave the sides of the cake naked. The cream cheese buttercream is fluffy and rich, perfectly sweet, and perfectly complements the spice cake.
Be sure to read all of my BAKING FAQs where I discuss ingredients, substitutions and common questions with cake making, so that you can be successful in your own baking! I also suggest reading my comprehensive post on making Perfect American Buttercream.
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Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream
- Stand Mixer
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- ¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (such as Rodelle)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp instant espresso powder
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp meringue powder
- ⅛ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick baking spray.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the brown sugar.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the water and espresso powder until dissolved. Whisk in the oil, eggs and vanilla.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk until combined; the batter will be thin.
- Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the tops spring back when gently touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Set the pans on cooling racks, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for 1 minute until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder and salt, mixing until combined. Add the vanilla.
- Increase the speed to medium and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy.
- Remove the cooled cakes from the pans. Stack, fill and frost the cakes with the buttercream.