Faulknerian Family Spice Cake, with Caramel Icing

By • November 21, 2009 • 107 Comments

Author Notes: Being from the South, I come from a rather, ah. . . kooky family in which relationships are tangled but the food is straightforward and good. This is my mother's spice cake, but I got the recipe from my sister. I won't go into the whole story of why I didn't just ask my mother for it because it would take a million years and you'd be bored to death. I fashioned a pumpkin version of sorts for the food section at the Chicago Tribune when I worked there, but Mother's original is superior: murky and dark and complex underneath, but with a crazy sweet caramel icing on top. Just like the South. And just like the South, you'll keep going back to it even past the point when it seems to be verging on an unhealthy addiction. It's that good. - ENunnENunn

Food52 Review: In the true Southern tradition, this is a cake that makes a statement. The spices are pervasive, the icing concentrated and sweet, the height of the cake breath-taking. You expect a cake like this to be heavy, but ENunn's mother's recipe produces a cake that's finely textured and featherweight. The instructions for icing the cake are vague -- invert the cake onto a platter and spread it on the top and sides. We tried drizzling it and you shouldn't. - A&M

Serves 10-12

  • 1/2 pound butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening (yes, shortening)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace (don't leave this out)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients, twice. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture, alternating with the milk. Add vanilla. Bake in a greased floured tube pan at 325 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until cake tests for doneness. Serve with caramel icing.
  3. Make Caramel Icing: in a saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter; stir in 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1/3 cup cream. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Return to heat and bring to boil for 1 minute. Let the mixture cool. Beat in 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Tags: Desserts

Comments (107) Questions (16)


9 days ago Gem

Made this twice now. Delicious! But still having some trouble with the icing. I boil caramel for a few minutes but its still coming out a bit gritty after I beat in the icing sugar. Suggestions?


3 months ago Louisa Barash

I just made this notwithstanding the intimidating comments about the icing. I added additional cream as I beat in the confectioners sugar to get a slightly runny consistency. Then iced the top and let the icing run down the sides. It looks beautiful!


3 months ago Ilene Seidel

If salt is in recipe I wouldn't add more. I would use unsalted butter. I bake a lot of cakes it's always unsalted.


6 months ago Phyllis Grant

this sounds wonderful


6 months ago Jas3

Should I use salted butter for this recipe? It doesn't specify so I'd assume salted but I rarely make cakes with salted. What have others done? Thanks!


6 months ago Yazoolulu

I used salted butter and folks are still asking me when I am going to make this again. Maybe this will become my new MLK celebration cake.


6 months ago ENunn

I don't think it matters. A little salt never hurt caramel. Or anything.


7 months ago catherine

This was the best cake I've ever tasted,I've had many.(trust me) lol


9 months ago Yazoolulu

I made this today with all butter because I did not have shortening and half the icing because I did not have enough powdered sugar. It was out of this world. I took it to a potluck and it disappeared in less than 30 minutes! I applied the icing slightly warm to the warmish cake so it ended up more like a glaze. I didn't even like the sound of spice cake until now. It may be my new favorite cake.


9 months ago arcane54

If you don't enter this icing recipe in the current "Your Best Icing" contest... someone else will ;). It's the best, easiest, most magical icing and goes perfectly with this cake (or on a spoon..).


12 months ago Lee Ann

I had no problems at all with the frosting, but there's a definite technique to glazing a bundt-shaped cake. I poured the frosting on the top part of the cake, going around the cake over and over again until it pretty much covered most of the cake as it cascaded down. Did it on a plate I didn't intend to serve it on, because I knew it would pool, but doing it on a rack with wax paper underneath would have been easier. Then moved it to a serving plate once the glaze set, and put daylilies in the middle (which are edible and gorgeous). This cake is AMAZING. One of the best I've ever made. Thanks, Emily!


about 1 year ago Nuala

Any thoughts on how the icing might turn out if the confectioners sugar was added to the hot mixture, and then drizzled or poured over the cake? Has anyone tried this?


9 months ago goldenflake

The butter separates and it becomes oily. You can rebeat when cool, and add cream if it's too thick.


over 1 year ago Aysha

Made this cake yesterday and it was perfect! I was amazed at how soft and airy the cake was! Definitely a keeper :)


over 1 year ago Julie Hancock

I too have made this cake several times, and my approach to the icing is to make it rather stiff initially, place icing in a quart size zip lock bag and then clip the bottom corner about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. I then go back and forth creating loops over the tube cake and it looks quite nice this way. (swags of caramel icing - yum!)


over 1 year ago ENunn

I just made this again, and I have to say the secret to the caramel topping, like the secret to almost everything, is more cream. This time I drizzled it over the top, and then patted it down and along the sides with the back of a glass, so that it is basically a caramel shell. It's not gorgeous, but it worked. And I've never Iced a cake and had it end up gorgeous, anyway.


over 1 year ago misslofox

There's no doubt about it, this is a great cake. It's a great, flavorful cake that was perfect for this year's Thanksgiving. With that said, it would have been a different story had I followed the recipe to a T. Upon tasting the batter, I agreed with a reviewer before me who said that this spice cake needs more spice - and this is coming from a person who errs on the side of safe when it comes to baking. So I doubled the amount asked of each spice and the result was perfection. Also, I disagree that this cake could stand alone; sure, this cake could stand alone, but mark my words that it won't impress the way it does with the caramel icing, which is downright heavenly. Like those before me, I'll agree that this cake is a bit complex to frost, but worth every ounce the effort.


over 1 year ago DianneD

The cake and icing is delicious, but to get the icing to adhere to the cake was indeed a Faulknerian dilemma!


over 1 year ago Emily

I made this this weekend, and while my icing wasn't as delicate as I'd have liked, the cake was delicious top to bottom. The batter was exquisite and the finished product was stunning! I will definitely make this cake again.


over 1 year ago Soozll

My son has been buggin me for a spice cake. I have no idea where he ever tasted one. I've never cared for it. So...I've been eyeballing this cake since about May and finally made it today. Wow! This is really, really good. This cake is delicious with a nice delicate spice and it's so light, moist and tender. The frosting is to die for. It tastes like my favorite See's candy, the brown sugar square with the milk chocolate coating. I might just drizzle some melted chocolate over it. I'll definately make this again. Thanks for sharing this one, Enunn!


over 1 year ago PauPau

Duh, just re-read. Sorry tipsy baking!


over 1 year ago PauPau

Temp & time? 350? 35-45 min??


over 1 year ago MelanieCurry

I followed Step 2 and mine turned out great. "325 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until cake tests for doneness."


over 1 year ago TheLearningCook

So, despite the fact that I made this cake and THEN realized I didn't have any powdered sugar, this cake was delicious!


about 2 years ago sdschorr

This cake is FANTASTIC -- a few tips. Be sure to really butter/flour the pan well, especially the tube. I also lined the bottom of the pan with wax paper. I didn't have cloves so added a bit of everything else. I had no problem with the frosting, as others reported. One addition that I thought made a big difference was a healthy teaspoon of kosher salt to the frosting (added to the butter/sugar/cream mixture so it melted in), and I used a bit less powdered sugar than called for. Be sure to frost right away as the frosting will harden quickly in the bowl. I served it with fresh strawberries, which added a nice acidity and freshness to the cake. This is a classic Christmas cake, but it was a really delicious end to a light Vietnamese-style dinner of grilled chicken/shrimp skewers and an asian cole slaw.


about 2 years ago Manhattan Tart

I made this cake for a dinner party and gosh, was it beautiful! I sub'd veg oil for the shortening that I assumed I had (oooh, never assume while baking...) and was still so pleased with the crumb/texture of this cake. When making the frosting I used about 1 3/4 C. of powdered sugar, didn't wait for it to cool and drizzled it easily (and quickly! And prettily!) over the cooled cake. After drizzling like crazy I still had about half the frosting left over, so next time will half the recipe. I'll also be heavier-handed when adding the spices, as this wasn't as aggressively spiced as I would've liked. This kept, under a cake dome, until it was gone (so I can only attest to its ability to stay fresh for 2.5 days)! Loved it.


over 2 years ago JenLeePA

I've made this cake a couple of times, and it's divine. I do love the idea of drizzling the icing, though, so my solution has been to double the recipe for the caramel frosting. I upend the cake onto a cooling rack, put a sheet of parchment or aluminum foil underneath the rack, and gently pour the warm frosting over. Doing so gives the cake a glossy, smooth glazed that looks terrific. I let it cool, then ever so gently slid a flat icing spatula underneath the cake to coax it onto a platter, although you have to be careful not to crack the caramel when you move it. I'm making the cake again tomorrow, and I think I'll put either a cardboard circle or a piece of parchment underneath it to make moving it even easier.

Bonus: getting to snack on all the the drippings from the excess frosting. :)


over 2 years ago SusanGiff

I made this cake just to have on hand for Thanksgiving guests, and found it so absurdly delicious that I wished I had saved it for Thanksgiving dinner itself--it's taken the place of my beloved pumpkin layer cake in my heart. One note: The frosting as written didn't work for me at all; it balled and clumped and turned into an unspreadable crumbly mess. I just added milk and kept beating until it was icing. It didn't look as smooth and pretty as in the photograph, but it tasted fantastic. A great recipe.


over 2 years ago David Black

Had this for the first time at a New Year's buffet. When I complimented the host, he steered me to Food 52! (thanks, Tom!) I've made it myself, and it is one of my favorite cakes...and it is not even chocolate. I am a chocolate fiend, so for me to compliment any dessert that lacks the ingredient, it MUST be good!


almost 3 years ago IrisB

I made this last night for a dinner party, and it was fabulous. I used a quarter cup less sugar in the batter and next time I will remove a half cup. The caramel sauce is divine, but sweet so the cake itself doesn't need that much sugar. I plan to make the recipe again as baked doughnuts! I just bought a doughnut tin and I think this recipe would translate beautifully. I will keep you posted, fellow bakers.


almost 3 years ago Passenger

I've made this three times now, and it's been a hit each and every time! Plus, it serves a lot of people... I cut it into 24 pieces since it's so rich. Though I usually go for second helpings anyway! And it's a great cake to freeze individual slices, frosting and all... the butter allows it to freeze and the spices only get to stew even longer. Amazing.


almost 3 years ago Nuala

Any opinions on whether this would freeze well? (pre-frosted, of course). I'd like to make several for a wedding dessert table and I'm wondering if there's any chance I could make them more than a day ahead.


almost 3 years ago Martha Bakes

Sorry, Didn't mean to ask twice, new to this


almost 3 years ago Martha Bakes

Was wondering if I should continually stir the caramel icing while its over the stove and boiling for a full minute? I just don't want to make gritty icing. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful recipe :) cheers


almost 3 years ago Martha Bakes

Was wondering if I should continually stir the icing while it is over the stove boiling. Just don't want to create gritty caramel icing. Beautiful cake! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe :)


almost 3 years ago vagregory

While I am under the firm believe that caramel icing makes anything even more delicious, I agree that this cake could easily stand alone. One of the best spice cakes I've had. I especially loved the very fine texture thanks to double-sifting.


over 3 years ago savitha

There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the frosting on this cake. From now on, whenever I hear the expression "That's just the icing on the cake." I will think of this icing and think of this cake. In addition, I am from the South (of India) and we have a fudge that tastes similar to this icing, which reminds me how small this world really is. Thank you!


over 3 years ago ENunn

Wow, I am so glad people are still trying this. I made it over Christmas for my brother in law, and we all flipped for it again. I always have to add a little bit of extra cream to the caramel icing to get it to cover the cake.

Also: this is off the topic, but I have never really thought Brad Pitt was all that cute.


over 3 years ago Wicko

I've made this twice now and it is extraordinarily delicious. Thnx!


over 3 years ago matthewddsg

I'm new to baking and decided to tackle this cake on the weekend for dinner with a friend. It is, as you say, rather addictive. I dare say I will be making it again and again.


over 3 years ago rukahn

What size tube pan? 9"? Does anyone know a non-dairy substitute for heavy cream? coconut cream (unsweetened?) I am totally dairy allergic. Or how to make a vegan caramel icing? will margarine brown, as does butter? (Until this allergy affliction hit me I was a total butter person, but no more.)


over 3 years ago Katie

This cake was delicious and oh, so flavorful! The icing was my favorite part; it was the perfect texture and just the right amount of sweet. This recipe will go into my archives to make again!


over 3 years ago Jenniferruth

GREAT recipe! A big hit at Thanksgiving.