March 16, 2011

Spiced Layer Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Childhood birthday traditions never die. There will always be something special about the cake your mom used to make for you on your birthday (even if it came from a box). No one can take that away from you. When Mark was little, his mom made him a spice cake on his birthday. Now whenever I ask him what kind of cake I should make for him, it always comes back to spice cake.

One year it was a firecracker apple spice cake---which turned out to be actually a little spicy-hot which took some getting used to. It was different, but quite amazing once you got over the shock of it. This year--surprise!--I ended up making another spice cake for Mark's birthday. We briefly considered having a maple cake, but you know a birthday wouldn't be a birthday without a little tradition.

In the end we went with a spice cake adapted from Cook's Illustrated. I added a little bit more spice, made it a layer cake, filled with with maple whipped cream and added maple cream cheese frosting. Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty sure you can never go wrong with maple. Add maple cream cheese frosting to my list of favorites. You know I am a sucker for cream cheese frosting, but this really was fantastic.

Don't just trust me on this one--try it! You might inadvertently create a brand new tradition for yourself.

Spiced Layer Cake with Maple Filling and Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake: (I used slightly rounded measurements for all the spices and the ginger.)
  • 2  1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for cake pans
  • 1  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground gloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1  3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (I like using the butter wrappers for this) and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in a small, light colored skillet or saucepan over medium heat until melted--1 or 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter is light brown and has a nutty aroma, another 2 to 4 minutes. Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly for another 15 seconds (this allows the spices to "bloom"). Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla to combine. With a mixer, cream remaining 12 tablespoons of butter with sugar and molasses at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during mixing. Reduce to medium speed and add cooled butter and spice mixture, ginger and half of egg mixture. Incorporate and scrape down sides before adding the rest of the egg mixture.
  4. Reduce to low speed and add one-third of the flour mixture. Add half of the buttermilk and mix until just incorporated. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the rest of the buttermilk. Scrape down the bowl and add remaining flour mixture. Mix on medium speed until combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter a couple of times to incorporate any remaining flour.
  5. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans. To remove air bubbles from thick batter, drag a butter knife through the batter in both pans in a zig-zag motion. Tap both pans on the counter a few times as well.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on a wire rack.
  7. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen. Put both cakes on a parchment lined pan and freeze for about a half an hour. (The cold cakes are easier to work with.) Using a long serrated knife, cut the top off of one of the cakes, creating a flat surface. Place cut cake on a large plate. This will become your bottom layer.
For the maple whip filling:
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  1. Chill mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer. Pour whipping cream into bowl and beat on high speed until it forms soft peaks. 
  2. Add maple syrup and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
  3. Spread a thick layer filling on bottom layer of cake. Top with remaining cake.
For the maple cream cheese frosting:
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces and softened
  • 1  1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped and  toasted pecans
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add maple syrup, vanilla, maple extract and powdered sugar. Beat until well combined.
  2. Scoop out most of the frosting onto the top of the cake. It is easier to spread the frosting without picking up crumbs if you have a lot to work with. With an offset spatula, spread frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Coat sides and sprinkle top of frosted cake with toasted pecans.


  1. hi, can you tell me how many eggs in this recipe I'm a little confused as ingriedents list 3 egg yolks but recipe instructions say whisk egg,egg yolks and vanilla, just want to make sure its only the yolks used or are there whole eggs as well

  2. Sorry for the delayed response and thank you for pointing out that error. I skipped the "2 large eggs at room temperature" when I first typed up the ingredients list. I have now updated the recipe. So there are 2 eggs plus 3 egg yolks in this cake. I hope you get a chance to try this recipe! Enjoy!

  3. Hi - I love the flavor of this recipe! However, I made cupcakes (instead of a whole cake) and the cupcakes baked up nicely flat and then sunk in the middle. Also, the top of them were pretty chewey. The batter was nice, thick cake batter and not runny. I do know that some recipes don't transfer to a cupcake, just wanted to make sure. Thank you.

  4. Just made this today, and for fun I made it side-by-side to the Cook’s Country Spice Cake and an old recipe from Better Homes and Gardens that I made probably 15 years ago. I loved the BHG recipe then, but boy were these new recipes better! The Spice Cake recipes from Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country both tied for first place in my book :) This CI version was the spiciest of the bunch, with a medium crumb, and I loved the frosting from their original recipe with it's spices added in. The CC version had that perfect cake crumb that I’ve tasted before from this company, with a more mild spice flavor, but still a buttery delicious cake. And great minds think alike ... I also made a second frosting, the Cook's Country Maple-Brown Sugar Frosting, the perfect maple-y topping to any spice cake, pumpkin cake, maple cake, or yellow/white cake! I will definitely be making BOTH of the spice cakes and both of the frostings again! I just love Cook’s Country – Cook’s Ilustrated – America’s Test Kitchen!

  5. P.S. I think you're right about the maple! You can never have too much :) Or too often.


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