Faulknerian Family Spice Cake, with Caramel Icing

By • November 21, 2009 124 Comments

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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
The Editors

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.

More Great Recipes: Cakes|Desserts|Rice & Grains

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Comments (124) Questions (16)

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2 months ago cory lewis

I'm from Falkner's home town of Oxford , MS.. a touch of bourbon might be needed :)) Bourbon and caramel are good buddies

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6 months ago Green Rider

I've made this cake many times and I love it! It is delicious and the icing is simply divine (although I have cut down on the confectioners sugar).
But my question is this...why does he top of the cake always turn out like a thin cookie? What causes that to occur?

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6 months ago Nancy

Nancy is a trusted home cook.

Your family name is Nunn, but the cake is Faulknerian Family cake. Just to check what may be obvious to all, is this because - like poor Quentin in the sound & the fury - he has the whole dark South fighting inside him? Or that in the South, the past isn't even past? Yours truly, a former Virginian.

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7 months ago Shirley Graham

I do think there's a difference. But I think it's just a matter of personal preference. I only use Dutch Farms and Land O lakes.

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7 months ago RipleyRocket

Hm. Cake was great flavor, with butter and Crisco. But I had to cook it an hour and 30 minutes, and the top burned, had to slice it off, and the cake wasn't light at all and had what my grandma called a "sad streak"... like a pound cake. Any idea what I did wrong? Does the brand of butter make a difference?

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7 months ago MelanieCurry

It should not have made a difference in this recipe even though all butters are not created equally. Perhaps your oven is not heating properly or evenly.

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9 months ago clintonhillbilly

Made this for Thanksgiving and loved it! The cake came out light and moist, and the icing layer was thin and tasty, and not overpoweringly sweet as I had feared. Followed the spice measurements except the mace, which I doubled because it was old, and grated fresh nutmeg. The spices really came through. I can see this as a nice coffee cake if you leave off the icing, and with the icing on it was a worthy holiday dessert. Thanks!

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9 months ago Baywife

Very disappointing cake, but the icing was fabulous. I agree with the comment about doubling the spices -- it's very bland as written. I'm not sure I'd call it a "spice" cake at all. I used King Arthur AP flour and it was leaden. I did all the sifting required, but it's still very dense. Definitely not worth the expense.

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9 months ago ENunn

Thank you for your thoughts.

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9 months ago clintonhillbilly

Thinking about making this for Thanksgiving, but concerned about it being too sweet with the icing. Would it be a sin to use a different icing, like a sour cream icing or cream cheese icing?

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9 months ago Yazoolulu

I made half the icing because I had run out of powdered sugar and drizzled it like a glaze. It was very good - I can't imagine it with a full load of icing. This would be great for Thanksgiving.

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9 months ago majority leader

Tasted just like a Dunkin Donuts cinnamin muffin - or a box cake with a bunch of pumpkin pie spices dumped in - if you're into spending a few hours obtaining that sort of thing you'll enjoy

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11 months ago Shirley Graham

Thanks Manhattan Tart. I bake a lot of cakes and always use cake flour because of the lighter crumb. If I were to use regular flour it would be The White lily brand. It's a softer flour and I've had great success using it. I'll let you know how my comes out.

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11 months ago Shirley Graham

CAN CAKE FLOUR BE USED INSTEAD OF REGULAR FLOUR?

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11 months ago Manhattan Tart

In my experience the two are interchangeable for baked goods; I think cake flour is simply triple-sifted flour with a bit of cornstarch added. AP flour has a bit more protein in it so I'd think that replacing AP with cake flour would just make for a lighter crumb in the finished product. I'd skip the sifting step and instead just whisk the spices & leavening into the cake flour. Please post how your substitution works when you've given it a try; I'll be interested to hear!

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about 1 year ago Braeden Elizabeth

If I were to make cupcakes instead of a solid cake, how many would many would this recipe yield? How long would they bake? At what temperature? Thanks!

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about 1 year 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?

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over 1 year 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!

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over 1 year 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.

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over 1 year ago Phyllis Grant

this sounds wonderful

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over 1 year 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!

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over 1 year 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.

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over 1 year ago ENunn

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

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over 1 year ago catherine

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

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almost 2 years 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.

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almost 2 years 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..).