Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting

This Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting is legendary in my family.  For as long as I can remember, it has been my dad’s favorite cake.  There were several times a year when the cake was made and enjoyed.  When we made it growing up, it was always from a cake mix.  The only alteration was that we added a ton of raisins per my dad’s request.  When I made my wedding cake, the top and bottom layers were the same spice cake.  When my dad married my stepmother, the groom’s cake was a spice cake.  We just love it.

Now I know this isn’t a summery cake or anything.  But I’m thinking about Father’s Day coming up next week and this cake always reminds me of my dad.

When we made it at home when I was growing up, we always used a cake mix.  I never knew anyone who made a cake from scratch.  Using a cake mix was making a cake from scratch.  As you know, I rarely, if ever, use cake mixes now so I have started making this cake from scratch.

I alter my favorite yellow cake recipe from American Classics by the editors of Cooks’ Illustrated magazine.  That recipe is the bomb dot com.  (Does anyone even say that anymore?  Am I giving a huge clue that I’m a total dork and not up on popular slang?)

Truthfully, this time I made it it ended up a little too dry.  My husband said it could do with a good dousing of a spirited sugar syrup.  (Meaning rum.)  I’ll confess that I left it out on the counter all night and didn’t cover it.  Utah=dry, dry summers.  It totally dried out and it was totally my fault.  I know when you make it, you’ll be sure to cover it up tightly in plastic wrap, won’t you?

The best part of this cake is the Penuche Frosting.  My old edition of the red and white Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook calls it Caramel Butter Frosting, and the new edition calls it Penuche.  Same recipe, different name, same great taste.  I did alter the original recipe just a bit to make the frosting a little more creamy and fluffy so it was easier to spread on a two-layer cake.  Usually we made this cake in a 9 by 13-inch cake pan and poured the warm frosting on top.  I’ve included the directions for both ways should you decide to make one larger cake.

Beyond that, I think the only thing left to address is the raisins.  Do you like them or hate them?

There are two types of people in this world, right?  Those who hate raisins and those who don’t.  I fall into the latter camp and love them in everything.  If that’s not your thing, leave ’em out.  Or replace them with dried cranberries or even cherries.  Any dried fruit would be great.  Because I knew I was making this for a certain crowd, I also left out the nuts I would normally add in.  Pecans, walnuts or sliced almonds are all great.

If you’re gluten-free like I am, and looking at these pictures of delicious cake is torture (raising my hand too), don’t worry.  I made a similar cake last year that is just as good, albeit a little different.  (There’s peanut butter in that frosting.  I know.)  That cake was also the bomb dot com.  (There I go again…)

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Spice Cake

A moist, tender spice cake that is delicious served with penuche frosting.

  • Total Time: 40 mins
  • Yield: One 9-inch two-layer cake 1x


Units Scale
  • For cake:
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sifted plain cake flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened, cut into 16 pieces
  • 1 cup raisins softened in hot water for 5 minutes and drained well
  • extra flour, for dusting


  1. For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9″ round cake pans, line with parchment, grease parchment and dust the insides of the pan with a little flour. Set aside while preparing cake.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract. Place the flour, sugar, spices, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer). Turn mixer on to low to mix the dry ingredients together.
  3. With the mixer running on low, add pieces of butter one at a time to the dry ingredients. Let mix on lowest speed until butter and flour begin to look sandy and pebbly, with some larger pea-sized pieces, about 30-40 seconds. Add about one cup of the egg/milk mixture to mixer and mix on low speed until incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn mixer off and scrape down sides. With mixer running, add the remaining egg/milk mixture to the mixer in a slow, steady stream. But until thoroughly combined and the batter starts to look slightly curdled, about 15 more seconds.
  4. Toss the drained raisins with a little flour to coat them. This will keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Fold into the batter with a large silicone spatula.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the tops are nicely golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then run a thin knife or spatula around the edge to loosen and transfer cakes to a cooling rack to finish cooling. If making cakes ahead of time, be sure to wrap well with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.
  6. Prepare frosting just before ready to assemble cakes. It’s better used when fresh rather than made ahead.
  7. To assemble: Peel the parchment away from the cake layers. Place one layer on a serving platter or cake stand. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the frosting and spread over the top and to the edges of the first layer. Top with a second layer. Spread another 1/2 cup or so thinly over the entire surface of the cake to seal in the crumbs. (This is called a crumb coating.) Spread the remaining frosting over the cake decorating as desired.
  8. Chill cake or keep at room temperature until ready to serve.
  • Author: Lindsey Johnson
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 25 mins
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

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Penuche Frosting

An incredible brown sugar-based frosting that melts on your tongue.

  • Total Time: 20 mins
  • Yield: 2 1/2 cups 1x


Units Scale
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, divided
  • 1 cup packed dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream, divided
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (Confectioner’s sugar)


  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, melt one stick of the butter over medium heat. Add the packed brown sugar, corn syrup, if using, and salt. Let come to a boil. Cook for one minute and remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup of the cream. Let cool slightly. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer.
  2. To the mixing bowl, add 1-2 cups of the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on to low speed and beat until all the powdered sugar is mixed in. Scrape down sides and add the remaining powdered sugar. Beat until the frosting cools.
  3. If you want a fluffier frosting, add the extra stick of butter and keep beating until very light and fluffy, adding the extra 2 tablespoons of cream if necessary to make it more spreadable. If it’s too thin to spread, add a little more powdered sugar and chill before using. It really does set up, so don’t let it get too cold before using it. It’s really better used immediately.
  • Author: Lindsey Johnson
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 5 mins
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

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  1. This was a hit – a friend remembered his mother making this cake for his birthday many many years ago, and this was a fabulously delicious version. I substituted molasses (blackstrap) for the corn syrup, which gave the frosting a bit more complexity – thanks – will be making again!

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