Easy Moist Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
An incredibly delicious, moist, and warm spice cake topped with cream cheese frosting. The spice cake has a tender crumb and the tangy cream cheese frosting takes it over the top!
This spice cake right here was a home run all a round.
There’s something you have to know about me. I love eating layered cakes, but making them is a completely different story. I hate dividing batter out into pans. Using a serrated knife to level off the cake when it’s baked. Then frosting a cake so that the crumb doesn’t get into the frosting. It requires real, hard work. And I applaud those that make the effort to make said cakes.
The cakes that I don’t mind making? My one-bowl chocolate chip bundt cake, my lemon olive oil pound cake, and now this simple spice cake. What do all of them have in common? They’re baked in one pan and don’t require much effort on the bakers part, yet they still taste delicious!
And since Thanksgiving is usually pie overload, I figured why not share a recipe that brings you all the warmth of a pumpkin pie but in cake form.
In full transparency, this cake contains no pumpkin, but it does use all the spices in pumpkin spice. And don’t even get me started on that tangy cream cheese icing. Have mercy! A squeeze of lemon juice in the frosting balances out the flavors in the cake and the sweetness in the frosting.
I got rave reviews from everyone I shared this cake with. It’s a good one, and I hope you’ll give it a go!
What do you need to make spice cake?
- All-purpose flour: I’ve only tested this recipe with all-purpose flour, so I can’t say if any other type of flour can be used here
- Leavening agents: this is baking powder and baking soda. The carbon dioxide that these ingredients release into the cake helps make it light and fluffy.
- Ground spices: You’ll need ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, ground cloves, ground black pepper, and salt for this recipe.
- Dark brown sugar: Adds sweetness and a deep, rich flavor. If I have muscovado sugar on hand, I swap that for the dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar also works for this recipe.
- Oil: You can use canola, vegetable, coconut, or even corn oil for this recipe.
- Flavorings: molasses and vanilla extract help bring flavor to this cake. These work hand in hand with the ground spices we’re using.
- Unsweetened apple sauce: apple sauce helps add moisture to the cake and allows us to cut back on the amount of oil we’re using
- Eggs: eggs play a critical role in this recipe. They add structure and stability to the batter as well as adding moisture to the cake.
How to make the best spice cake:
- Prep it. Preheat your oven and spray a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray. This keeps your cake from sticking, and you get nice, clean slices every time!
- Mix the batter. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, leavening agents, ground spices, and salt. Then, in a medium bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients. This is your brown sugar, oil, molasses, apple sauce, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Pour the wet mixture into the try mixture and fold together using a rubber spatula until combined.
- Bake. Spread the batter into the prepared baking dish. And bake the cake until cooked through. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake. If you find loose crumbs, that’s fine. You don’t want wet batter. I like to refrigerator the cake overnight before frosting it, but you could also let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it for 2-3 hours before frosting.
What do I need to make the cream cheese frosting?
- Softened butter: be sure it’s softened; otherwise, it isn’t easy to mix
- Softened cream cheese: be sure it’s softened; otherwise, it isn’t easy to mix
- Powdered Sugar: also called confectioners sugar
- Lemon Juice: just a couple of teaspoons gives it that signature tang that you get from my 1-hour cinnamon roll cream cheese icing
- Milk: you’ll need anywhere from 1-2 teaspoons. When making frosting, add a tiny quantity at a time. Frosting turns into icing really quick if you add too much liquid
How to make the cream cheese frosting:
This cream cheese icing is straightforward. Allow the cream cheese and the butter to come to room temperature so that it’s easy to mix. Then, combine the two in a bowl with an electric mixer. Stir in the milk, lemon juice and the powdered sugar and continue to mix until smooth! Then, spread the frosting over the cake using a cake spatula.
FAQs about spice cake:
- Can I bake this in a metal cake pan? Yes, the recipe will also work in a metal 13×9 baking pan, but it might take a few minutes less in the oven.
- Can I make this in a different sized cake pan to turn it into a layered cake? Yes, I’m confident that you could turn this into a layered cake by dividing the batter into round pans and baking. However, I have not tested it before, so I can’t say how long it will take to bake if you change to different pan size.
- How do you suggest storing this cake? I suggest storing it in an airtight container (after the initial serve.)
- How long does it stay fresh? The cake stays fresh for about 4-5 days.
- 2 ⅓ cups all purpose flour (spoon and level method)
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon EACH: ground nutmeg AND ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon EACH: kosher salt, ground allspice AND ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon EACH: molasses AND vanilla extract
- 1 cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 5 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1-2 teaspoons milk
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 3 cups confectioners sugar
- PREP: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray; set aside for now.
- BATTER: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ground spices, black pepper, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, apple sauce, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and using a rubber spatula, fold to combine.
- BAKE: Spread the prepared batter into the baking dish. Bake for 38-44 minutes. To test the cake for doneness, insert a toothpick in the center. If you find loose crumbs that’s fine, but you shouldn’t get wet batter. Remove the cake from the oven and set the baking dish on a wire rack to cool completely. I prefer to refrigerate the cake overnight once it's cooled to room temperature and then frost it, but you could also let it cool for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator before frosting.
- FROST IT: Combine cream cheese and butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Stir in a teaspoon of milk, lemon juice, and the powdered sugar and continue to mix until smooth! You might need another small splash of milk to thin the frosting. Then, spread the frosting over the cake using a cake spatula. Place the cake in the refrigerator and allow it to cool before serving. I sprinkled on some chopped pecans, purely for pictures!
- If you have muscovado sugar on hand, I suggest using that in place of the dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar can also be used.