Serves a Crowd

Faulknerian Family Spice Cake, with Caramel Frosting

November 21, 2009
15 Ratings
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 10-12
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. - 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
—The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • valmangual
  • Megan
  • Jackie Brooks
    Jackie Brooks
  • Shirley Graham
    Shirley Graham
  • MelanieCurry

144 Reviews

Alan S. November 6, 2023
I've stayed away from baking because it always struck me as too formulaic, so I concentrated on cooking where I felt more freedom to experiment. But at the ripe old age of 74 I decided "what the heck", I'll give it a spin, and now I'm having a ball because, if nothing else, it's "the new frontier"! AND, I believe I may actually have something to offer to the making of this wonderful cake: 1) It's called Cake Flour people! I was surprised by how many people used AP, Self-rising, etc.,and had problems (I sifted 3 cups of cake flour resulting in the most beautiful crumb), and 2) an old-fashioned, less sweet (the original Red Velvet icing) icing in complete harmony with spice cake, called Urmine Icing. You must try this icing!
JNunn January 18, 2022
Incomparably the most delicious cake of this type that I have baked in my sixty years of experience! I'm crazy about it, and the cake makes a beautiful presentation.
Amy February 1, 2021
I made 4 recipes of this for a community meal (needed to serve about 100 people) and it really is a lovely cake. I made them into cupcakes and got about 27 cupcakes per recipe (could probably have done 24 per recipe by filling them a little fuller or using slightly larger muffin papers--mine were pretty small). I used the icing recipe as a frosting--I was able to frost 4 recipes of cupcakes with 3 recipes of frosting. It's hard to give advice as to baking temp and time because I baked them in an industrial oven. I think it would be around 325-250 F for about 25-27 minutes, but start checking them a few minutes earlier. Both the cake and the frosting are great on their own, but together they are really amazing!
Maggie January 15, 2020
Light or dark brown sugar for the icing?
claireinaustin February 24, 2019
I am making this now for the first time, and just realized there is no information in the recipe about what size pan to use. Are all tube pans the same size? If so then what is that size? I have a bundt pan but it seems too small for the amount of batter I have. I see from the comments that some people used a 9 x13 and it turned out ok, so I guess I will go that route. But would be grateful for any guidance.
MelanieCurry February 24, 2019
I have a 10-12 cup bundt pan and it works for every recipe I’ve encountered. All pans are not the same size. Online there are some conversion tips on switching to loaf, cake, and other pans. Good luck!
claireinaustin February 24, 2019
Thank you so much, Melanie. Based on your feedback, and those measurements, I feel sure that the pan I first picked out would have been way too small. The cake is now in the oven baking in a 9x13, so fingers crossed over that. (it smells amazing, btw!)
VF July 29, 2018
WOW! Made this cake for the first time today. First, it was straightforward to make. Second, the icing perfectly compliments the cake. It is a moist, light, flavorful cake. I read through the comments and like many suggested, upped the measurements of the spices. Also, I used a 9x13-inch pan and cooked for the same amount of time. It came out perfectly. This is one recipe that will be a family favorite! Oh so delicious...I am trying hard not to go back for another piece.
valmangual March 11, 2018
Thank you ENunn and Food 52 for a perfectly sweet and spicy cake! I made it yesterday for our friend's birthday and it was a big hit, and there was enough for everyone to take some home for breakfast this morning. The texture of the cake and the icing are perfect. I did use rounded teaspoons of the spices for the cake and unsalted butter for the icing. Taking the idea from the comments, I added a little salt to the caramel icing. I will be making this cake again for a big crowd. Delicious!
valmangual March 11, 2018
I forgot to ask. The icing I made was a matte color, not shiny like the photo here. What can I do next time to get that nice shinny sheen?
Soozll November 15, 2018
1. Add a tablespoon of corn syrup to the butter and sugar and cook them all together. 2. Don't over beat the frosting.. When a spoonful of frosting will lay a ribbon of frosting on top of the frosting in the bowl which blends in slowly, it's ready to spread over the cooled cake. Be quick! If I does set up while spreading, add a few DROPS of very hot water and stir it again and spread it on the cake.
Tom February 11, 2018
I've been wanting to make this cake for years and finally did. I bought fresh spices and used the amounts called for in the recipe. The results were perfect. I poured the still-warm icing on top of the cake and nudged it over the edge with an offset spatula to allow it to coat the sides. I did have to spackle a few bare spots.
Megan January 17, 2018
This may have been the first recipe I ever saved on Food52 and 8 years later I finally made it!! I was generous with the spices as others suggested. I didn't have the right pan available so I ended up using a 9x13. The texture was excellent- very soft and somehow both dense and light. In the center, it was denser and more moist. It rose nearly out of the pan, then settled down with a light crisp layer of cake on top. The icing is really good. I actually enjoyed this cake more on the second a,d even third days. So glad I finally tried it!
Kathy November 21, 2017
Is the cream in the icing heavy or light?
altamama October 3, 2016
o.k. I have a favorite spice cake with caramel icing recipe, but the icing is a real pain because you have to use a candy thermometer to make it - this one is so much simpler and quicker, no more standing over a hot stove for ages! Thanks for that. Hey the cake's not bad either.......
chessiebakes June 2, 2016
This is my absolutely favorite caramel spice cake. Do NOT skip the mace, and do NOT skimp on the spices. (I always do a "rounded" measurement.) he first time I made this, I used self-rising flour and skipped the baking powder/salt. The cake rose so high it overflowed the pan (I had a mess!) and then settled back down leaving a wonderful crispy crunchy top. Everyone loved it so much that I only make it this way now. I have to pour out about a cup of batter to make sure it does not overflow (I just make a small cake in a little pan) but it is the most deelish cake and the frosting is just divine.
Jackie B. December 23, 2015
Would this work in a bundt pan? Would it change the baking time?
cory L. June 22, 2015
I'm from Falkner's home town of Oxford , MS.. a touch of bourbon might be needed :)) Bourbon and caramel are good buddies
Green R. March 5, 2015
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?
Nancy February 26, 2015
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.
Shirley G. February 8, 2015
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.
RipleyRocket February 8, 2015
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?
MelanieCurry February 8, 2015
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.
chessiebakes June 2, 2016
Never heard "sad streak: before, but that is usually where the cake fell. I prefer it when this happens!
clintonhillbilly December 2, 2014
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!
Baywife November 25, 2014
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.
EmilyNunn November 26, 2014
Thank you for your thoughts.
chessiebakes June 2, 2016
It is most certainly not "bland". This is the best spice cake I have ever made. If it was "leaden", then you beat it way too long.