The BEST homemade spice cake is bright with autumn flavor! And it is super moist. This recipe has sour cream, oil, and buttermilk. Say no to dry cake! To bring out the flavor of those beautiful spices, toast them on the stove before adding to the batter. Layer the cake with cream cheese frosting for the best combo ever! Originally published October 11, 2020.

slice of 3 layer homemade spice cake with cream cheese frosting on a plate.
Table of Contents
  1. What is Spice Cake?
  2. Homemade Spice Cake Ingredients
  3. How to make Spice Cake
  4. What frosting is best for a Spice Cake recipe?
  5. How to serve Homemade Spice Cake
  6. How to store Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  7. Spice Cake Recipe from scratch FAQ
  8. More homemade cake recipes you are going to love!
  9. Best Spice Cake Recipe from Scratch Recipe

It’s been forever since I went shopping. I finally decided to order from Costco on Instacart. (Does a Costco run take a year and a half for anyone else?? I think it’s because I get completely lost trying to decide between 5,000 packs of fruit snacks, or the 10 pound jars of Nutella. Tough life decisions, you know.)

Anyway, Javier was our shopper:

text conversation about ordering butter from Costco.

“You will be getting 64 sticks of butter.” I love that he calculated it out. I can just see Javier in the Costco aisles, debating: “Surely no sane person actually needs 64 sticks of butter!” Oh, how little you know Javier.

This is not the first time my purchase requests have been questioned by shoppers or clerks, especially when it comes to butter. People just don’t understand how to live their best lives. WITH BUTTER, THAT’S HOW.

close up photo of layered spice cake with cream cheese frosting.

Happy birthday to The Food Charlatan! Nine years ago, I wrote my first post here on The Food Charlatan. I can’t believe it! I have a hard time remembering what life was like before the blog. Time flies!

homemade spice cake frosted with cream cheese frosting.

To celebrate, I’ve come up with 9 things I’ve learned over the last 9 years of blogging.

  1. Butter makes everything better. (See above.)
  2. Instagram will always make you feel like your life is not that cool, but it’s a lie. You are actually pretty cool.
  3. Cookies and cakes get more clicks on the blog than a healthy dinner. Are you really surprised by this?
  4. Grocery store clerks will always, always be shocked by the amount of food that I buy.
  5. When strangers ask what I do for a living, I have no idea what to say. Most people assume “food blogger” means that I review restaurants. Funny, right? The next question is how much money I make. UMM, how much money do YOU make? Ha!
  6. Some commenters have let me know that they think I over salt my food. They are wrong.
  7. My kids think it’s totally normal for their mom to make the same dish 4 times in a row.
  8. Sometimes, it’s okay to throw away food. I know, I know, this sounds terrible. But I only have so many parameters I can work within at a time. Managing food for my large family and food for the blog works in tandem a lot of the time: my kids really will eat Easy Mac and Cheese every night for a week. But four entire Apple Pies in one week? I have my health to consider! And guess what, I asked, my neighbors did not want my first 3 reject pies, and I didn’t have time to deliver them to someone else. Food waste used to really bother me, but I’ve come to be more zen about it. It’s just a part of my job.
  9. Food blogging is SO MUCH FUN! Seriously. I feel so lucky I get to call this my job. If you told me 9 years ago that this would be my life, I would have laughed in your face.
a slice of homemade spice cake with cream cheese frosting from scratch on a plate with bites taken out of it.

Here are links to all my anniversary (ish) posts, if you want to take a walk down memory lane!

(2011) The first blog post on The Food Charlatan: Pumpkin Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies
(2012) The Food Charlatan 1st Anniversary: Cake Mix Coffee Cake
(2013) The Food Charlatan 2nd Anniversary: Pumpkin Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies (I did a reshoot of my first recipe, which I totally regret!)
(2014) The Food Charlatan 3rd Anniversary: The Food Charlatan’s New Blog Design
(2015) The Food Charlatan 4th Anniversary: The Best Chocolate Cake I’ve Ever Had
(2016) The Food Charlatan 5th Anniversary: Death by Chocolate Bundt Cake
(2017) The Food Charlatan 6th Anniversary: Upside Down Almond Crunch Cupcakes
(2018) The Food Charlatan 7th Anniversary: Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
(2019) The Food Charlatan 8th Anniversary: Sour Cream Coffee Cake, with a Ridiculous Amount of Streusel (this recipe was just featured in The Pancake Princess’ Coffee Cake Bake Off!)

To celebrate my blog’s birthday, I decided to make a cake! With LOTS of butter! It’s one of the best cakes around: Spice Cake. With cream cheese frosting! Who can say no to this combo??

spice cake with cream cheese frosting on a plate with a fork in the cake.

What is Spice Cake?

Spice cake is an autumn flavored cake. It’s made with all your favorite pumpkin-y spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, cardamom. Not every recipe uses every single one of these, but I love an extremely flavorful spice cake, so I use them all! It’s perfect for fall and winter! But really I could eat it any time. Especially when you add cream cheese frosting.

spice cake with cream cheese frosting on a white plate with a fork in the cake and a bite removed.

I adapted my favorite Homemade White Cake for this recipe. I swapped out some of the sugar for brown sugar, added molasses and almond extract, and of course all the spices. It’s such a warm, welcoming cake.

Homemade Spice Cake Ingredients

Here’s a quick shopping list to help you gather your ingredients. See the recipe card below for the full ingredients and instructions!

  • Oil (vegetable oil or a light flavored olive oil will work)
  • Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cardamom, allspice)
  • Butter
  • Brown sugar
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk
  • Mexican vanilla
  • Almond extract
  • Molasses
  • Sour cream
  • All-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Baking powder
  • Frosting (you’ll need a double batch of homemade cream cheese frosting!)

How to make Spice Cake

First, let’s start with the SPICES.

spices including nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and cardamom in a bowl

Here they are: cinnamon on the top left, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and cardamom in the middle.

toasting spices in oil in a small frying pan.

Warm up some neutral oil in a small pan. I like to use light-flavored olive oil, but canola oil, vegetable oil, etc will all work fine. Once the oil is warm, add the spices and let bubble for about a minute. Be careful and do NOT let it burn. I burned it the first time I tried this. Be careful, a minute is plenty of toasting. It should smell AMAZING. Let cool completely. I stuck my spiced oil in the freezer for a couple minutes.

Just like when you “bloom” spices in oil for cooking, we are doing it for this cake. Heating them in a bit of fat helps them wake up a bit and enhances the flavor. I’m never going back!

creaming butter and sugar, adding toasted spices and oil to the batter.

Cream together your butter and sugar, then add the cooled oil. Hot oil will mess with your beautifully creamed butter and sugar so be patient and let it cool.

sifting flour, dry and wet ingredients ready to be mixed in a  copper stand mixer.

Mix together your flour (be sure to sift it) and other dry ingredients, then all the wet ingredients in another bowl, preferably one with a spout. Eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, molasses, almond extract, vanilla extract, oh my! It’s why this cake is so moist. Mix in a bit of the flour, then a bit of the wet ingredients, and so on. It’s best to alternate. Once the batter comes together and you scrape the bottom and sides, stop mixing.

lining a cake pan with parchment paper, spice cake batter in a pan.

Line your pans with parchment paper if you know what’s good for you.

flat layer cake on a cooling rack.

This cake bakes up perfectly flat.

frosting a 3 layer spice cake with cream cheese frosting with an offset spatula.

Stack them all together and frost with cream cheese frosting! It’s seriously the best combo. Here’s how I like to frost the edges of my cake, starting from the top and moving down.

three layer spice cake recipe with cream cheese frosting with bites taken out of it.

What frosting is best for a Spice Cake recipe?

Someone messaged me after I posted a picture of this cake on Instagram and told me that her mom always made spice cake with peanut butter frosting! I never would have thought of that combination, but it sounds pretty amazing. What do you think? Chocolate buttercream would also be good on spice cake, or caramel frosting would be delish too. Update: someone commented about maple frosting and I totally forgot to recommend this Maple Pecan Frosting. It would be amazing on this cake! There’s even a cream cheese version for my Carrot Cake that would be great too.

3 layer spice cake frosted with cream cheese frosting with a chunk missing.

Try not to let your heavy wooden board that you are using as a backdrop fall on your cake when the wind blows. Kind of a bummer, haha. The good news is that it automatically turned it into one of those kind of days where I take a fork directly to a 3 layer cake instead of bothering with a slice. You know those days, right? No, just me? Whoops.

How to serve Homemade Spice Cake

You can totally leave your spice cake plain, but I think it’s just next level slathered with homemade cream cheese frosting.

Aside from that, spice cake is delicious on its own, lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar, or next to a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Vanilla or salted caramel would be delicious!

How to store Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Because of the cream cheese frosting, your finished spice cake must be stored in the fridge, where it will last for 5-6 days. 

If you want to store it for longer, I recommend baking and cooling the cake, then storing the individually wrapped layers in the freezer for up to 3 months. To assemble and serve, simply thaw the layers and add the freshly made frosting.

slice of spice cake with cream cheese frosting being lifted from a whole cake.

Spice Cake Recipe from scratch FAQ

What is the difference between carrot cake and spice cake?

Carrot cake and spice cake are essentially the same thing, aside from one key difference. Carrot cake has carrots! Surprise. Both cakes are moist, spiced cakes, but a carrot cake is made with shredded carrots.

Where does spice cake come from?

Humans have been pretty obsessed with spices for a loooong time. In Ancient Egypt, early cakes were made with grains, honey, and spices. The Greeks sacrificed honey cakes to the gods, and the Romans made sweetened cakes with dried fruit and pepper. In Medieval times, an iced currant and spice cake was dubbed “Excellent Cake.” Well said, medieval people! Spice cake IS excellent. 

What does spice cake taste like?

Let me answer that question with another question: what does Christmas smell like? You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what that warming, comforting, gingerbread-y smell is, but it probably comes at least in part from the spices often used in holiday baking. Spice cake is infused with tons of flavor thanks to cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and allspice. It also gets delicious flavor from Mexican vanilla, almond extract, and molasses.

homemade 3 layer spice cake with cream cheese frosting with slices cut out of it.

More homemade cake recipes you are going to love!

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Best Spice Cake Recipe from Scratch

4.66 from 40 votes
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 27 mins
Chill Time: 35 mins
Total: 1 hr 22 mins
Servings: 12
The BEST homemade spice cake is bright with autumn flavor! And it is super moist. This recipe has sour cream, oil, and buttermilk. Say no to dry cake! To bring out the flavor of those beautiful spices, toast them on the stove before adding to the batter. Layer the cake with cream cheese frosting for the best combo ever!

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or light flavored olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 cup butter, (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Instructions

  • Start by toasting your spices. Heat a small pan over medium heat and add 1/2 cup neutral oil. In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 3/4 teaspoon cloves, 3/4 teaspoon cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice. When the oil is hot, add the spices all at once and toast for about 1 minute. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. It will bubble a little bit. Take it off heat after about a minute, when it smells very fragrant. Let cool completely. I stuck mine in a bowl in the freezer.
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Trace the outline of 3 9-inch cake pans on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place in the bottom of each cake pan. See photos. With the paper in the bottom of the pan, use nonstick spray to grease each cake pan very well, including up the sides.
  • In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat 1 cup softened butter until is is smooth. (You can actually start with cold butter if you have a stand mixer. Just beat a couple minutes, scraping sides, until it’s smooth.)
  • Add 2 cups packed brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar. Beat butter and sugar for 2 minutes, stopping once to scrape sides and bottom.
  • When the spiced oil is cool, add it to the butter mixture and beat well.
  • In a medium bowl with a spout (or in one of those giant 8 cup glass measuring cups), add 5 large eggs. Beat with a whisk until smooth. Add 1 cup buttermilk*, 2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla, 1 teaspoon almond extract,** 2 tablespoons molasses, and 1/2 cup full fat sour cream. Whisk it all together until smooth.
  • Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Spoon and level 3 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour into the strainer. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon baking powder. Stir until it has all gone through the strainer and is sifted well.
  • Alternate adding the egg mixture and the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating every time. I added half the liquid, stirred, half the flour, stirred, then repeated.
  • Mix ONLY until just combined. Scrape the bottom and sides to make sure it’s all incorporated.
  • Divide the batter between the 3 prepared pans.
  • Bake the cakes at 325 for about 27-30 minutes.
  • Notes on baking: I like to bake my cakes one at a time because my oven is not exactly amazing. I’ve also done 2 cakes at a time though. I wouldn’t do all 3 cakes at once, unless you have a pretty stellar oven that you trust.
  • However you choose to bake, make sure you rotate them 2/3 of the way through the bake time. This means turn the pan 180 degrees if there is one cake, or if there are two cakes, switch their places. The cake pans should NOT touch the edge of the oven.
  • Do NOT open the oven door at all, except for when you need to rotate the pans. Rotate the pans at about the 22 minute mark. If the whole top looks completely liquidy, do not rotate yet. You don’t want to deflate your cake by moving it. Again, the total bake time for each cake is about 27-30 minutes.
  • Remove the cake/s from the oven. Let cool on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edge of the cake from the pan. Use your hand to invert the cake onto the cooling rack and continue cooling. At this point I often put them in the freezer for 20 minutes or so to speed up the cool time.
  • When the cakes are cool or partially frozen (I find it easier to frost frozen cakes), frost with a DOUBLE batch of this Cream Cheese Frosting. You will need 2 sticks of butter, 2 packs of cream cheese, and 5-8 cups of powdered sugar, depending on how thick you want your frosting. For the cake in these photos, I used 5 cups of powdered sugar in a double batch. Click the link for recipe instructions.

Notes

*Cheater buttermilk will do just fine! I tried it. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to a 1 cup measuring cup, then fill it to the 1 cup mark with milk. Use the highest fat content milk you have, whole milk is best. Stir it together and let sit a couple minutes to thicken up.
**You can replace the almond extract with vanilla extract if you prefer. You can also use regular vanilla instead of Mexican if that’s what you have.

Nutrition

Calories: 1318kcal | Carbohydrates: 197g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 59g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 17g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 126mg | Sodium: 812mg | Potassium: 271mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 165g | Vitamin A: 681IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 164mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 1318
Keyword: Cake, Cream Cheese Frosting, homemade, spice
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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Comments

    1. Hi Alaina! I think there is too much batter in this cake for a bundt pan, but I haven’t tried it. Let me know how it goes!

  1. 5 stars
    Absolutely PERFECT!!! I didn’t toast the spices and didn’t go through all the steps to mix the wet and dry ingredients. I mixed the butter and sugar. Alternated putting the egg and buttermilk in and then added in sifted dry ingredients until just mixed. I used my kitchenaid mixer. I split the mix into 3 – 9″ pans and it was absolutely perfect! It was moist, cooked evenly and the spice mix was remarkable. I love cardamon which is what drew me to the recipe to begin with. Thanks for a fabulous recipe.

  2. This recipe does not work ! I bake a lot and baked 12 cupcakes first , they would not get done . I followed the recipe exactly as posted . Now I have a 13×9 in the oven and don’t know what I’m going to get . Very disappointed. What a waste of time and good ingredients . I believe it’s not enough flour for this cake . 

    1. Hi Debbie, I’m so sorry this recipe didn’t work for you! actually just made this recipe a few weeks ago as described (3 layers) for my 10th blog anniversary party, and it worked out perfectly. I’m confident in the recipe. I’m wondering if you overfilled your muffin tin? I haven’t made these as cupcakes. If you add too much batter to the 13×9, it won’t bake right either. I think overfilling might be the issue!

    1. Hi Ken, I’m so sorry to hear that it sunk! Is it possible it was underbaked? Did you open the oven door a bunch of times? Both of those things can lead to sunken cakes.

    1. Hi Bonnie, yes it can! Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. You will have to guess on the bake times! Start at 18-20 minutes. Don’t take them out until a toothpick comes out with no batter on it. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Peggy! I think this is probably too much batter for a bundt pan. The cake would definitely bake just fine in a bundt pan, but don’t fill it more than 2/3 of the way with batter. Enjoy!

  3. What thoughts or advice would you give, if making this in a half sheet pan? Should it be increased? I could do a two layer with the frosting. Someone wants me to make two for a graduation in a few weeks. Your recipe sounds delicious. 

    1. Hi Mari! This cake is actually a little big for a sheet pan. This recipe makes a 3 layer cake and has 3 cups of flour (my favorite sheet cake uses 2 cups of flour for a half baking sheet. You could always adapt the white sheet cake into a spice cake by adding in some spice!

    2. Hi I really want to make this cake but was wondering if the step of toasting the spices was a must or optional!? If it really makes a great difference I will do it but I wasn’t sure I they could be added in the dry ingredients. Thank you excited to try this!

  4. I tried this recipe a few weeks back as a test run for a Thanksgiving dessert as spice cake is my husbands favorite.   However, my attempt was a classic pinterest fail!  Let me clarify.  The cake and frosting were delicious.  it was just not pretty like yours.  We live at 6,000 feet elevation.  I went to rotate my pans at 22 min (I cooked 2 at a time) and first noticed the cake was still a little to liquid and when I shut the oven door, they immediately fell.  Any tips on adjusting for elevation?  I have done some research on my own and am going to reattempt by making the adjustments recommended by Utah State University for my elevation, but thought I would ask the expert of this recipe just in case you had your own experiences.  I also plan to take your recommendation of cooking the cakes individually.    

    1. Hi Heather! I’m glad it tasted good at least! I am inexperienced at baking at high elevation, I’m so sorry, I don’t have much info for you. I would look up some general info from a source you trust about baking at high elevation and make the changes it suggests for cake. I think King Arthur Flour has a good guide. Good luck!!

      1. Thank you for following up.  I had much better success a second time around and this cake is amazing and the frosting…. Can’t wait to serve it up tomorrow.  I wanted to share what I did to adjust for high altitude as it was a simple adjustment and the cake was perfect.  We are right at 6,000 ft.  I decreased the sugar by 2.5 tablespoons and had to make an adjusted the baking powder by 1/2 Tsp.  

        Love this recipe.  Thank you for sharing!  Happy Thanksgiving.  

        1. I’m so happy it worked on a second run Heather! That’s so awesome. Thank you for sharing your high elevation tips! That is super helpful! Happy Thanksgiving :)

  5. This sounds wonderful.  Reading this recipe made me think of the burnt butter frosting my aunt used on an apple spice cake.  Something else to consider. Really yummy.

    1. Burnt butter frosting, is that the kind with coconut that you broil? My mom used to make that all the time. I bet it would be so good. Great idea Peggy!

  6. Hi Karen,
    I understand about the butter. When it’s on sale I buy copious amounts and put them in the freezer. I have often – especially at holiday time – bought large amounts of butter, brown sugar, flour, chips of various flavors and colors, sweetened condensed milk, etc., etc., and had clerks ask me what the heck is going on at my hours. “My family’s coming for Christmas and we bake and eat a LOT of sugar.” Apparently, not everyone does this.

    This cake looks amazing and I want to make one, except I do not do layer cakes, under almost any condition. I’m super, super bad at them so I just don’t bother. Can I bake this in a 9×13 pan instead? And I do love cream cheese frosting, but my favorite on a spice cake is Penuche, which is probably similar to your Caramel Frosting – brown sugar, butter and cream. It’s similar to my mom’s Fudge frosting, no powdered sugar in it – basically a brown sugar fudge frosting. I swear I could eat an entire spice cake covered with it.

    1. I knew someone would ask me this Kris, and I knew I wouldn’t know the answer, haha! I did not test this in a 9×13. I think it will be too much batter. I mean it might work, you would just have a reeeally tall sheet cake, and I’d be worried it would fall? Or worse, overflow. This recipe is based on my white cake recipe, which lots of people have made and reviewed. Someone just commented today that she made 24 cupcakes and a 6 inch round cake with this amount of batter. 24 cupcakes worth of batter would be enough to fill a 9×13. So I don’t know Kris, maybe just leave out some of the batter, or add 2/3 to a 9×13 inch pan and add the rest to a round cake pan. Let me know how it goes! The penuche sounds amazing.

  7. Congrats on your blog birthday yesterday :)

    Since today is my actual birthday (and I’m a lot older than your blog’s 9 yrs!) I’m going to spoil
    myself with this yummy looking cake. Can’t wait to try it and I like the idea of adding maple to the frosting, yummers!

  8. I am have never thought to add almond extract to my spice cake! Definitely giving that a shot. I love maple buttercream with my spice cake too!

    1. Maple buttercream! Yes please! I mean I love me some cream cheese frosting but I do totally want to start trying different frostings with spice cake. I feel like we are limiting ourselves here! And do try the bit of almond extract next time, it enhances the flavor in just the right way. I love it!

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