Buttermilk Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


Buttermilk Spice Cake with Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting

This has to be one of my favorite cakes. It’s remarkably tender and spicy—and covered in gloriously tangy cream-cheese and butter frosting.

And the best part? It’s ridiculously easy to make. Combine the dry ingredients, beat in the wet ingredients, pop it in the oven and…voila! Slather it with rich frosting, slice off a big hunk and enjoy with a piping hot cup of coffee.

A note on ingredients

Use cake flour. Seriously.

You can totally make this cake with all-purpose flour. And it will be good. But make it with cake flour and it will have a super-tender crumb. (Cake flour is made from soft wheat, which has less protein and gluten—so it’ll produce a finer-textured cake.)

I usually use regular old Softasilk from the grocery store. King Arthur Flour’s Queen Guinevere Cake Flour is lovely, too.

Cake flour

For spices, I love Penzey’s spices.

Fresh ground spices

OK. On to the cake!

Buttermilk Spice Cake

spray oil
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 Tbls. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
8 Tbls. butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs

Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 pound cream cheese
12 Tbls. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 pound powdered sugar

Buttermilk Spice Cake: Prep your pan

Grab your pan. (I used an 8-inch x 8-inch pan.)

Prep your pan

Give the entire inside a quick, light spray with oil.

Prep your pan

Cut a square of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Don’t make yourself nuts�it doesn’t have to be exactly square. You just want to cover the bottom.

Prep your pan

Press the parchment to the bottom of the pan. The oil will make it stick.

Prep your pan

Give the paper a quick spritz with spray oil.

Prep your pan

Set the pan aside while you make the cake batter.

Buttermilk Spice Cake: Make the cake batter

Before you start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Toss all of your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, salt, and brown sugar) in the bowl of your stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.

Combine the dry ingredients

Combine the dry ingredients

With a whisk, stir the dry ingredients thoroughly until you have a uniform mixture.

Combine the dry ingredients

It should be an even light-brown color, about like this:

Combine the dry ingredients

Add the butter and buttermilk to the flour mixture.

Add the butter and buttermilk

Add the butter and buttermilk

Beat to incorporate with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer (or with a hand-held mixer if you’re using a regular mixing bowl).

Beat the batter

Mix like this for a minute or two, until the wet ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and the mixture starts to get fluffy.

Beat the batter

It will be really thick. You want it to look about like this:

Beat the batter

Add the eggs to the batter.

Add the eggs

Add the eggs

Beat for a minute or two to combine the eggs and whip some air into the batter.

Beat in the eggs

It’ll be kind of like the texture of homemade whipped cream. You want it to look about like this:

Beat in the eggs

Pour the batter out into your prepared pan.

Pour out the batter

Mmmm, cake batter

Sometimes, cake batter looks so good that I want to jump in the pan and swim around a little. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Mmmm, cake batter

With a spatula, smooth down the surface of the batter a little.

Smooth down the batter

You want it to look about like this:

Smooth batter

Smooth batter

Buttermilk Spice Cake: Bake the cake!

Pop the pan into your preheated oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake.

Baking Tip
While the cake is baking, avoid slamming anything around in your kitchen (i.e. close cabinets gently, don’t breakdance in front of the oven, etc). Big vibrations can cause a cake to flop before it’s completely set.

Into the oven!

If you use a different size pan, adjust your time up or down accordingly and keep a close eye on it near the end of the baking time.

When your cake is done, it should be golden brown on top and firm to the touch.

Hot out of the oven!

When you press on the top with a finger, the indentation should spring back nicely.

Hot out of the oven

Your cake might develop a few cracks on the top like this. That’s just fine.

Hot out of the oven

Set the cake aside to cool completely in the pan.

Set the cake aside to cool

Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting: Make the frosting.

+The cream cheese and butter need to be at room temperature to make this frosting.
+Make the frosting in a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer.
+The sugar measurement is approximate and produces a fairly stiff frosting. Adjust the frosting thickness by adding more or less powdered sugar.
+The pictures below show a double recipe of frosting (as I had a great need for frosting).

Grab your powdered sugar. Place a sieve over a bowl. Put the sugar in the sieve and shake gently to sift.

Sift the powdered sugar

This will only take a minute, but is important because it’ll help ensure your frosting isn’t lumpy.

Sifted sugar

When your butter and cream cheese are at room temperature, put them in the bowl of your mixer.

Butter & cream cheese

Butter and cream cheese

Add the vanilla. Beat to mix combine well.

Beat the butter & cream cheese together

Add the sugar in batches to the butter and cream cheese mixture. (This is to further ensure there are no lumps, and also to keep the mixer from making a giant mess from dealing with too much sugar at once.)

Add the sugar

Beat well between each batch.

Add the sugar to the butter and cream cheese in batches

When the frosting is done, it should hold up in soft peaks, like this:

Soft peaks of frosting

Buttermilk Spice Cake: Frost the cake

In terms of timing, you want your cake to be cool and your frosting to be at room temperature.

Run a knife in between the cake and the pan to loosen it.

Remove the cake from the pan

Place one hand on the top of the cake.

Remove the cake from the pan

With your other hand, lift the pan up and flip it over, so the cake is resting on your palm. Because you lined the pan with parchment, then ran a knife around it just now, it should slip right out.

Remove the cake from the pan

Place the cake on your serving platter.

Remove the cake from the pan

Since this isn’t a super fancy cake, I like to frost it on the platter I’m going to use to serve it. In my book, it’s easier to clean the plate up than to move a fully frosted cake.

Ready to frost

Drop a couple of big spoonfuls of frosting in the center of the cake.

Mmmm, frosting

Frost the cake

With a spatula, spread the frosting around. I like to do the top and let it run down the sides a bit. You could totally frost the whole cake, as well. You could make a double batch of frosting, slice the cake in half, fill it with frosting�and then frost the whole cake.

Frost the cake

Frost the cake

When you put the cake in the fridge, the frosting will stiffen up considerably.

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting

Slice and serve!

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Old-Fashioned Cream Cheese Frosting


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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. You know, I’m kind of a fiend for cream cheese frosting, and it makes me sad that my low-carby ways prevent me from eating it. But it occurs to me that switching out the sugar for Splenda (although less of it, as it’s so much sweeter) might produce something not-bad that would satisfy the craving.

    Ponderings. I may have to come borrow your mixer.

    • Or you could try truvia, its a great sweetener that is less harsh on the intestines, that comes from a plant instead as an offshoot from sugar. =) It works best for some of my family and hopefully you’ll like it too! =)

  2. Jessie! This looks fabulous! I always pick recipes for cake that use buttermilk. There’s something about it that, to me, just makes a richer moister cake. This one’s a keeper! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Thanks, guys!

    Alisa–Definitely grab some cake flour the next time you’re at the store. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it’ll change your life. 😀

    Leana–Yep, yep. 8×8 pan. Just updated the post with that info, too. Thanks!


  4. I added coffee liquer soaked currents to the batter. Topped it with fresh whipped cream and laddled current/liquer on top of that. No cream cheese frosting at all. So spicey and moist. Will try rum next time. Thanks for the recipe, Jessie!

  5. I made this cake for my whole family, and everyone loved it! thanks so much for the awesome pictures! i will definitely make this again!

  6. Hi,
    What sugar is used in this recipe? i assume you are referring to white granulated I would like to make a darker looking cake, so would a light or dark soft brown sugar work well in this recipe?

    • Hi Leone,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      The recipe as it stands includes a mixture of white sugar and brown sugar (a little further down).

      You could definitely substitute dark brown sugar for some or all of the sugar if you like. It will change the flavor a bit (make it more mollasses-y), but it should still be good. It *might* make it a bit more moist and dense.

      Let me know how it goes if you try it?


  7. This is a wonderful recipe..the best and you have made it so easy and desirable…the pictures are also fantastic…WELL DONE!!!!

  8. This looks amazing. Have you ever made it in a 9×13 pan? Wondering if there is enough batter for that (obviously a thinner cake slice)

    • Ditto on the ginger. I assumed that the 2 tablespoons (2T) was supposed to be 2 teaspoons (2t), so I did the latter, and it was still too much ginger! But I’m sure if I take it down a little, I’ll get the taste I’m hoping for. Jessie must REALLY like ginger.

  9. This looks fantastic. I was kind of hoping to convert this recipe into cupcakes, think that’ll work? Any idea on baking time? Definitely going to try it, thank you! 🙂

  10. This recipe looked wonderful to me today when I was looking for a spice cake recipe. As I write, my cake pans (I doubled the recipe) are in the oven baking It smells wonderful! I will finish it with the cream cheese icing as well. If I wasn’t serving this to company tomorrow I would have ventured with the use of Splenda like one of your other readers had mentioned. I will write a review after this birthday cake is consumed! Yum!

  11. My son requested a spice cake for his birthday so I tried this recipe. I’ve never been one to eat cake batter but this one smelled so delicious I just HAD to try it. OH MY GOODNESS, SOOOO GOOD! I followed the recipe exactly and baked it in 2 9″ rounds for 25 minutes. Everyone loved it. This is one recipe I will be adding to my recipe box!

  12. It is baking right now! I added just a TAD bit more clove because I just LOVE clove. Yummy Yummy! I did try the batter, SOOO GOOD!!!! I will have to try Cupcakes next time though! Thanks for the idea Mary-Walker! I feel like I’m using way too many !!. LoL But really, seriously, awesome.

  13. I just finished eating a slice of this cake and it’s wonderful! My only problem was my gas oven, the cake rose to high in the middle, and the edges were done too soon, maybe the heat was too high? But the flavor was immensely delicious. Thanks for posting it!

  14. I’m looking forward to making this cake, but I’m wondering if I could add some raisins to the mix. If so, how much and when should I mix them in? Thanx for the awesome play by play photos, and the clear instructions. Well done!

  15. Amazing cake, the frosting will also be my new go to recipe for cream cheese icing for everything else, rich and creamy and light, delicious. I wish I can print just the recipe without 10 pages of photos

  16. I made this cake last night!!! FANTASTIC!! I used bread flour instead of cake flour and also added lemon juice to the milk since I did not have any buttermilk. Other than that, I followed the recipe closely and it was perfect. Thanks for the great recipe. This is a keeper. =)

  17. This was super easy to make and was a hit with the crowd. I love light, moist cakes that go well with tea / coffee, and this was certainly one of those. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand so substituted with milk/lemon juice + 1 tsp of buttermilk flavour. Thank you for a keeper!

  18. I edited the spices in the recipe, and it tasted amazing!
    Here are my revisions:
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

    1/2 tablespoons nutmeg
2 tablespoons allspice

  19. Hi – I wonder about starting the process with the dry ingredients in the mixer, then adding butter. Hmm-mm… All the other cake recipes I know involve creaming the butter with sugar first, then adding the flour, etc. So I did it the way I’m used to doing it. I thought that the recipe called for too much ginger, as did another reader, and wish that I had used half the amount. However, more importantly, the cake was very dry. Not moist at all. I’m trying to figure out if I can use the cake in a trifle. Hopefully that will take care of the problem. Do you think I did anything wrong? I saw another reader or two who mentioned the dryness of the cake. Help!

    • Shelby, I found that this cake cooked in 18 minutes in my oven as I also used a larger pan. So definitely keep an eye on it & check it after 15 minutes to give you an idea of how fast it will bake. If I had left it in for even 40 minutes (let alone 50mins), I would have gotten a dry cake. But at 20 minutes, it was fully cooked, browned and the softest “just moist” cake I’ve ever made (people were literally amazed at how soft it was.. and I’m just an amateur baker!)

    • Cathy, I followed the process exactly as laid out.. I’ve made it a couple of times and its come out beautifully each time except that I don’t get an even rise (my oven’s tilted a little and I need to rotate things around.. at the suggestion of my sister, I might also use a little self-raising flour next time to help give it a boost).

      Yesterday, I made it again (was craving for cake and it had me preparing this at midnight LOL) but forgot the baking soda until the wet ingredients were in.. I still added it, mixed well and it worked out.

      For my ingredients: I reduced the 3/4 cup white sugar to 1/4, substituted “all spice” for the nutmeg and grated fresh ginger (abt 1 tbsp worth.. didn’t really measure). I don’t have a sweet tooth so this might be too little sugar for some.

      However I must stress that in my oven, this cake cooks in 18 to 20 minutes. I’m always surprised when I do a spot check – but the toothpick tells the truth, even though its way ahead of time, I take it out. So maybe you might want to check on the baking times.

  20. My son and fiancé want spice cake with cupcakes for their wedding. Any idea how this recipe will work as cupcakes? Cooking time?
    I’d love any comments. Thanks

  21. Hi – Had to tell you that I came across your recipe last year while helping my daughter look for Spice Cake recipes for the State Fair Cooking Contest. She ended up not making a spice cake, but I took this recipe on and made it myself. It is so gosh darn good! I made it several times last fall and it will be my GO TO fall dessert recipe from now on!! Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  22. Delicious! Made this for my Mom for Easter as spice cake is her favorite thing to eat. She LOVED it! I baked it in 2 9in cake pans and they took about 30 minutes to cook. Thank you for the recipe. I will be making this one again. 🙂

  23. Delicious cake! Spice cake is my moms favorite cake and she said she hadn’t had a homemade spice cake in a very long time. I made this for her for Easter and she loved it. I baked it in 2 9-inch cake pans for about 30 minutes and it came out perfectly. I topped it with a very old family recipe for buttercream frosting. It was a big hit. Will definitely be using this recipe again. Thank you for sharing!