This is my idea of the perfect Spice Cake. It's super moist and packed with the rich flavors of cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.
Dark brown sugar, applesauce, yogurt and plenty of vanilla add even MORE flavor, while also keeping it moist and extremely tender.
Why This Recipe Works
When I set out to create this recipe, I envisioned a cake that was intensely flavorful, supremely moist, rich and decadent, and super tender.
As I discovered, baking an intensely flavorful spice cake is NOT simply a matter of increasing the amount of spices in the batter. Ground spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg have a drying effect on cakes and adding too much of them results in a gritty, somewhat parched texture. Not really what I was going for.
After baking cake after cake after cake, I settled on a few techniques and ingredients that result in what I consider to be the Perfect Spice Cake....
- Cooking (also called "blooming") the spices in oil intensifies their flavor and distributes their flavor more evenly throughout the cake.
- Using a varied mix of spices - cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger - creates a complex, warm flavor with surprising depth.
- Using vegetable oil instead of butter creates lofty layers with a super moist, even crumb.
- Greek yogurt and applesauce add flavor and contribute just the right amount of acidity to give the cake a soft, tender, almost silky texture.
- Dark brown sugar also helps to keep this cake moist while adding even more flavor.
- Vanilla brings out the flavor in the spices while also rounding them out and bringing their different flavors together.
- A touch of almond extract adds (you guessed it!) even more flavor as well as some nice complexity.
How to Bake an Intensely Flavorful Spice Cake
In cooking, there's an amazing trick to getting as much flavor as you possibly can from ground, dry spices: Cook them for a minute or two in fat. On my other cooking-focused recipe website (alittleandalot.com) you'll see this technique in nearly every recipe where dry spices are involved because it makes such a big difference to the flavor of a dish.
Cooking spices in a bit of fat is called "blooming" and it's essential if you want to coax every little bit of flavor from them. The process does two things:
- Heat causes ground spices to release fat-soluble flavor compounds that would otherwise remain bound up inside the spices and hidden from your tastebuds
- Fat molecules trap all that flavor and distribute it throughout the dish.
Fat is a fabulous conductor of flavor, trapping flavor compounds and distributing them throughout foods so that they make contact with our taste buds in every single bite. So, when you heat spices in butter or oil for a few minutes, the flavor compounds in the spices transfer to the fat, which then happily spreads them around throughout the other ingredients.
As I was trying to figure out a way to add more spice FLAVOR without increasing the amount of spices to the point of creating a dry, gritty texture, it occurred to me that that the answer was as simple as employing a technique I use practically every night while preparing dinner: let the spices bloom.
Happily, the technique works every bit as well in cake batter as it does in soup, sautés, and stir-fries.
The process is simple....
- Add some oil to a small skillet or saucepan and stir in the spices.
- Heat the pan over medium heat until the oil begins to simmer.
- Cook the spices in the oil for a minute or so, then remove the pan from the heat and let the oil cool to room temperature.
After that, you simply mix it into the batter with the rest of the oil and let those fat molecules do what they do best - distribute all that flavor. Speaking of oil...
Why this Spice Cake Recipe Uses for Oil Instead of Butter
Like Olive Oil Cake, and my all-time favorite Ridiculously Good Carrot Cake, this spice cake recipe uses oil instead of butter. When compared to butter, cakes baked with oil are loftier, have a more even crumb and stay moist and fresh tasting much longer.
So, why don’t all cake recipes use oil instead of butter? Because butter adds flavor.
Because I want it all, I often use a combination of butter and oil. Two of my other favorite cake recipes - Red Velvet Cake and Devil's Food Cake - use a combination of butter and oil that works like magic. You get the flavor of butter in a gorgeously tender, moist cake.
In this cake, I decided to go with all oil because I wanted a super moist cake AND there is already SO much flavor in the other ingredients - spices, applesauce, yogurt, brown sugar, vanilla and almond extract - that the flavor contribution of butter wasn't really going to matter.
Two Ingredients for a Tender, Moist, and Flavorful Cake
- Greek Yogurt
Most varieties of cake benefit from a touch of acidity. Even slightly acidic ingredients add flavor and create a soft, tender crumb. In this recipe, most of the acid comes from Greek yogurt and applesauce.
Neither of these ingredients are super acidic, so they enhance the flavor of the cake rather than taking over.
In addition to adding flavor and tenderness, both Greek yogurt and applesauce help create a super moist cake that will stay that way for several days.
What Kind of Frosting is Best with Spice Cake?
The idea of combining warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg with chocolate is not unusual in many places around the world. For example, Mexican chocolate includes cinnamon and sometimes other spices like nutmeg or allspice. And Moroccan chocolate desserts often include cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel.
So, icing a cake that’s packed with the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, and ginger with chocolate buttercream is really not a unique idea. And, I really hope you'll hear me on this - The combination of flavors is interesting, complex, and absolutely delicious.
But also... Cream Cheese Buttercream on Spice Cake rocks.
Cream Cheese Buttercream is one of those magical confections that is as delicious as it is simple and easy to make. You basically put all the ingredients into a bowl, whip them together, and you’re done.
My FAVORITE recipe for Cream Cheese Buttercream includes equal amounts of butter and cream cheese and a touch of sour cream, which adds a lovely, subtle tang.
Three other delicious buttercream options:
- American Buttercream. This classic American Buttercream recipe only takes a few minutes to make and is silky smooth and flavorful thanks to butter, heavy cream, vanilla and a touch of almond extract.
- Italian Meringue Buttercream. Italian Meringue Buttercream is my all time favorite frosting for most cakes and cupcakes. It’s silky smooth, incredibly creamy, and absolutely gorgeous to work with.
- White Chocolate Ganache Buttercream. This White Chocolate Ganache Buttercream tastes just like the inside of a really good white chocolate truffle. It's impossibly rich, and so smooth and satiny that it literally melts on your tongue.
More Popular Cake Recipes:
Spice Cake is a Building Block Recipe
Building block recipes are tried-and-true recipes that I consider foundational to great home baking. They are the kind of recipes I come back to over and over again, sometimes baking them as is, but often using them as a jumping off point to create something new. > Scroll through all Building Block recipes.
- 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ¼ teaspoon table salt (2 teaspoon kosher salt)
- 1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar (light brown sugar is also fine)
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- ⅔ cup plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt, preferably full fat (reduced fat is fine, but do not use non-fat)
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional; you can add another teaspoon of vanilla instead)
- Add ¼ cup of the vegetable oil to a small skillet or saucepan. Stir in cinnamon, caramom, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg and set the pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the oil begins to simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute longer. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit until it's just slightly warm. (Letting it sit longer, is fine. Just don't add it to the batter while it's really hot.)
- If baking a layer cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch cake pans, lining the bottoms with parchment paper. (Here's how to grease and flour pans and line them with parchment paper.) If making cupcakes, heat oven to 400 degrees, lightly spray the top of two cupcake pans with non-stick spray, and line the cavities with paper liners.
- Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
- Scrape the cooked spices (after they've cooled) into a large bowl, using a spatula to transfer all of it from the saucepan to the bowl. Add the remaining vegetable oil, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, grated ginger, yogurt, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat vigorously with a wire whisk until well combined.
- Add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until the batter is smooth and most of the lumps are gone. It's ok if there are a few lumps here and there, but the batter should be 90% smooth.
- Distribute the batter between the two pans, or amongst the cupcake pans. Cupcake cavities should be approximatly ¾ full.
- If baking a layer cake: bake the cakes for 40 - 43 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in one of the layers comes out without any raw batter on it. If baking cupcakes: bake cupcakes for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature of the oven (leaving the oven door closed) to 350 degrees and bake for 17-20 minutes longer. (Be very careful to not let them overbake!) The cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cupcakes comes out without any raw batter on it.
- Let the cakes cool in their pans for about 5 minutes, then gently flip them out onto wire racks and let cool completely before filling and frosting. Let the cupcakes sit in the pans until cool enough to lift out. Let cool completely before frosting.
This cake will keep (unfrosted and well wrapped) at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Once frosted, the cake will also keep well for 2 days - but if frosted with a buttercream, be sure to refrigerate it.
Favorite Frosting Options:
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 slice (unfrosted)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 193Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 47mgSodium: 352mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 1gSugar: 22gProtein: 5g