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. - ENunn —EmilyNunn
Test Kitchen Notes
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
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time.
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.
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.