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Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

This Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting features the coziest blend of warm spices and a sweet, rich frosting. It’s the perfect dessert for your fall and winter celebrations!

Square of spice cake on plate, with another slice on plate in background

Homemade Spice Cake Recipe

I love all kinds of cakes, from Chocolate Chip Cake to Vanilla Cake and even Graham Cracker Cake, but I have a bit of a weakness for old-fashioned spice cake. Its simplicity and bold flavor never fail to please. Plus, it’s comfort food in a big, big way. A recent (and persistent) craving led me to this Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting. And boy, am I glad it did!

It all begins with a simple yellow cake that’s augmented with a bit of brown sugar and lots of spices. It’s amazing how easily those simple additions transform everyday cake into an irresistible dessert!

The cake is soft and moist, with plenty of flavor all on its own, but what’s cake without frosting? Many traditional spice cakes have cream cheese frosting, but I wanted to change things up this time around. I settled on a fairly standard frosting recipe with one little change that makes it amazing. Brown butter! It gives it a rich, nutty flavor and aroma that perfectly complements the spices in this cake. 

(If you’re a traditionalist, though, try using the cream cheese frosting in this recipe: Hummingbird Cupcakes.) 

This is the kind of cake that’s a perfect ending to a meal with family and friends. And with just one layer, it’s easy to transport and serve. I’ll happily eat this spice cake year-round, but it’s an especially good choice for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or most any fall or winter gathering.

Slices of Brown Sugar Spice Cake on red floral-rimmed plates

What Is the Difference Between Spice Cake and Carrot Cake?

Carrot cake is a type of spice cake—and, naturally, it has carrots added to the batter! This gives carrot cake a denser texture than spice cake. Carrot cake may also have pineapple, raisins, coconut, and nuts added to the batter, while a classic spice cake usually doesn’t have any mix-ins.

What You’ll Need

Don’t be put off by the long ingredient list! Most of these items are pantry staples.

For the spice cake:

  • All-purpose flour – Here’s how to measure flour for baking.
  • Baking powder
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Allspice
  • Cardamom
  • Nutmeg
  • Unsalted butter – This should be softened before mixing. Don’t bring it all the way to room temperature, as that’s likely too warm to work well.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Light brown sugar – Light brown sugar is best for this recipe because it doesn’t have as strong of a flavor as dark brown sugar.
  • Eggs – Let these come to room temperature. Warm eggs yield a fluffier cake.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Milk – I recommend using whole or 2% milk when baking.

For the brown butter frosting:

  • Unsalted butter
  • Confectioners’ sugar – Sift this before making the frosting to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Milk

Can I Brown Salted Butter?

Technically speaking, you can brown salted butter, but as the water evaporates from the butter, the salt will become concentrated in the milk solids that are left behind. In other words, brown butter made from salted butter will be salty, which may work fine in a savory recipe, but it can be noticeable in a sweet recipe like frosting.

A slice of Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting served on a red floral-rimmed white plate

How to Make Spice Cake With Brown Butter Frosting

This is a simple snack cake type of recipe, so there’s no need to fuss with layering! Here’s what you’ll need to do.

To make the cake:

Prepare. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9″x 13″x 2″ baking pan.

Mix the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and nutmeg in a large bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to cream the butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk. Mix until just combined.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before adding the frosting. (Learn more: Why Every Baker Needs Wire Cooling Racks)

To make the frosting:

Make the brown butter. Place the butter in a medium saucepan or skillet set over medium heat. The butter will melt and begin to foam; continue cooking until brown specks form at the bottom of the pan and the butter has a nutty aroma. Pour the brown butter into a large mixing bowl and let it cool for an hour.

Finish the frosting. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter for about a minute. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar, mixing until thoroughly combined, then add the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat until smooth, adding more milk if necessary.

Frost the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting onto the cooled spice cake.

How Long Should a Cake Sit Before Frosting?

I recommend letting this cake cool for 2 to 3 hours before adding the frosting. Even cake that’s just a touch warm can melt the frosting or crumble when you’re spreading the frosting onto it.

A slice of Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting served on a red floral-rimmed white plate

Tips for Success

This is a simple spice cake recipe, but these tips will help make sure it turns out perfect!

  • Use a light-colored metal pan. Your cake will bake more evenly and thoroughly than if you use a dark-colored pan. Learn more: How to Choose Baking Pans
  • Adjust the spices if you like. Dial them up or down according to your tastes. You can even use a spice blend if you prefer.
  • Want more frosting? A little of this flavorful frosting goes a long way, but the recipe will easily scale up if you’ve got a hankering for more.

How to Store

Store this cake covered in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. I recommend letting it sit on the counter a bit so it can come to room temperature before serving.

Can This Recipe Be Frozen?

You can freeze this cake for up to 3 months. Wrap it well and when you’re ready to serve it, let it thaw in the refrigerator.

Slice of spice cake on a red and white floral plate
Find more cake recipes in the Recipe Index.

Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

Yield 15 to 20 servings
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

A wonderful blend of spices and a sweet, rich frosting make this Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting absolutely irresistible!

Slice of spice cake with a bite on a fork on a red floral-rimmed plate

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (150g) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) milk

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
  • 2 & 1/2 cups (275g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk

Instructions

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9"x 13"x 2" baking pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk. Mix just until combined.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack.

To make the frosting:

  1. Place the butter in a medium saucepan or skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam.
  2. Continue cooking until brown specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan and the butter has a nutty aroma.
  3. Transfer the butter (including the browned bits) to a large mixing bowl. Allow the butter to cool for about an hour. (It will become somewhat solidified.)
  4. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter for about a minute. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add the vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix until thoroughly combined and smooth. If necessary, add more milk, a small amount at a time, and continue mixing until the frosting is the desired consistency.
  6. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake.

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    12 Comments on “Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting”

  1. Could you include calorie and sodium on your recipes?

  2. I love all the things you bake, and it makes my mouth water every time I open any email from you…. But is there any way you can make a cake recipe with oil instead of butter. I know the butter tastes better, but butter costs a lot where I’m from, so I have to bake primarily with oil. 

  3. i was browsing for a quick easy spice cake recipe and boom
    i came back a second time now because im going to make it again
    it is that good
    i used the standard butter confectioners frosting

  4. Looks like a great recipe! I will be making a cake for a birthday party and will need to double the recipe but not sure how to do that??

    • Oh, Shelley! I somehow missed your question, and I’m so sorry! I’m guessing I’m too late, but I can still offer advice for the next time. Since the cake is already baked in a 9″x 13″ pan, it’s tough to double it and bake all in one pan. Your best bet is to bake it in two pans. 

  5. Delicious. 

  6. I am wondering if Brown Butter frosting on my spice cake require refrigeration ?

  7. I only have salted butter on hand. If I use it, will it ruin the flavor of the frosting?

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