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.
For spices, I love Penzey’s spices.
OK. On to the cake!
Buttermilk Spice Cake
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
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.)
Give the entire inside a quick, light spray with oil.
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.
Press the parchment to the bottom of the pan. The oil will make it stick.
Give the paper a quick spritz with spray oil.
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.
With a whisk, stir the dry ingredients thoroughly until you have a uniform mixture.
It should be an even light-brown color, about like this:
Add the butter and buttermilk to the flour mixture.
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).
Mix like this for a minute or two, until the wet ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and the mixture starts to get fluffy.
It will be really thick. You want it to look about like this:
Add the eggs to the batter.
Beat for a minute or two to combine the eggs and whip some air into the batter.
It’ll be kind of like the texture of homemade whipped cream. You want it to look about like this:
Pour the batter out into your prepared pan.
Sometimes, cake batter looks so good that I want to jump in the pan and swim around a little. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
With a spatula, smooth down the surface of the batter a little.
You want it to look about like this:
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.
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.
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.
When you press on the top with a finger, the indentation should spring back nicely.
Your cake might develop a few cracks on the top like this. That’s just fine.
Set the cake aside to cool completely in the pan.
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.
This will only take a minute, but is important because it’ll help ensure your frosting isn’t lumpy.
When your butter and cream cheese are at room temperature, put them in the bowl of your mixer.
Add the vanilla. Beat to mix combine well.
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.)
Beat well between each batch.
When the frosting is done, it should hold up in soft peaks, like this:
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.
Place one hand on the top of the cake.
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.
Place the cake on your serving platter.
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.
Drop a couple of big spoonfuls of frosting in the center of 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.
When you put the cake in the fridge, the frosting will stiffen up considerably.
Slice and serve!