Cakes Icing + Frosting

spice cake with cardamom-coffee frosting

spice cake with cardamom-coffee frosting | the vanilla bean blog
I’ve been sick for quite some time – going on 6 weeks, in fact, with this on again off again cold and cough nonsense. I’ve spent the last 3 days under my covers, rereading comforting books and pinning my little heart out. I have lots of things racing through my mind (it always seems to happen when I’m sick), but I just don’t quite have the energy to articulate them. Somehow I did find the strength to sneak out of bed and bake a cake, but, well, I just couldn’t help myself.

So, here is a cake, and here is a recipe. My thoughts I’ll keep for now.
spice cake with cardamom-coffee icing | the vanilla bean blog

spice cake with cardamom-coffee frosting | the vanilla bean blog

Spice Cake with Cardamom Coffee Frosting
adapted from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland by Lucia Watson and Beth Dooley
I haven’t changed much from the original recipe here; I swapped out some all-purpose flour for whole wheat, and added a bit more cardamom to the frosting. This is a lovely cake, and stays moist for several days. It has a great, but subtle spice flavor, and the cardamom-coffee icing compliments it nicely. I was highly inspired by Beth and Molly’s cakes – I love the ‘naked’ cake look. I didn’t have any fancy flowers on hand, but there was still some thyme peeping out of my garden boxes, so that’s what I wrapped the cake with.

I also made this a ‘mini’ cake – baked in three 6-inch pans (well, one 6-inch pan, baked three times). I was able to get 6 layers total – I used 4 for this cake, and then had 2 left over.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 8 inch round cake pans (make sure cake pans are at least 2 inches tall). Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans (if you need a visual on this step, here is a You Tube video that is helpful.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugars together in a standing mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. On low speed, beat the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. When the flour is totally combined, increase the mixer to medium high and beat batter until smooth, about 30-45 seconds. Pour the cake batter evenly into the pans. Bake until the surface of the cake gently springs back when touched with your fingers, 30-35 minutes (or, you can use a toothpick to check doneness). Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert on a wire rack and continue cooling.

cardamom-coffee frosting
I’ve made this cake quite a few times, but I have on several occasion had trouble with the frosting; mainly, that it curdled on me. I’m sure it’s my own fault, but I just want to warn you. The coffee-milk mixture needs to be added slowly to try and prevent the curdling. If you feel nervous about things, you could always use the frosting from this post, which makes a lot more frosting in case you want to get fancy with things (the frosting listed below will give you just enough to cover the cake). I would add 2 teaspoons cardamom and 3 tablespoons strong coffee to that recipe, and omit the food coloring (which is listed as optional).

I didn’t have espresso powder on hand, so I mixed 1/8 cup whole milk with 1/8 cup cold press (a very strong coffee). I really liked the flavor. If you don’t have cold press, you could substitute any strong coffee that has been cooled to room temperature.

1/4 cup whole milk (see note)
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (see note)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2-2 teaspoons cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a good pinch of salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Heat the milk and dissolve the coffee in it, then set aside to cool. Beat together the butter, cardamom, vanilla, and salt, then add the powdered sugar and beat until combined. Slowly add the coffee mixture and continue beating until fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Place one layer of the cake, flat side up, on a plate. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with the frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
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  • Reply
    Friday, August 25, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    Looking forward to trying this cake. Really wish you would update recipes with measurements in weights. Once you start weighing your ingredients it’s hard not oo!

    • Reply
      Sarah Kieffer
      Sunday, September 17, 2023 at 1:25 pm

      Yes – a lot of older posts don’t have weight measurements, and I haven’t had time to go back to all of them and update them. I do have that on my to-do list, but I’m still in the middle of a cookbook and it will be some time before that happens. But I appreciate your feedback!

  • Reply
    Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 12:15 pm

    Looking forward to making this cake. Is there a printable version somewhere? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Monday, March 14, 2022 at 7:47 pm

    Hi, I’m making this for my birthday, I have high hopes it will be as amazing as it looks! Can I ask does this frosting work for piping or is it too thin?

  • Reply
    Tuesday, September 22, 2020 at 1:22 am

    Hello! Does this frosting keep for a few days? If so, how long do you suppose? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Friday, January 11, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Gourgeus!!! The pics are amazing! <3

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    This cake is absolutely stunning, as is your entire blog. I seriously spend hours on here a week, dreaming about making everything and feeling comforted and inspired by your posts.

    I am planning on making this for a Friday event but will have to make it the day before. I’m considering making the layers and icing on Thursday, saran wrapping them separately and refrigerating them overnight. I will have to travel with them in my car for 4 hours after that though and assemble the cake when I arrive at my destination. Is that a terrible idea or could it actually work? I know you’re probably very busy so I understand if you don’t get to this is time. Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you!!

    • Reply
      Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      I just sent you an email! 🙂

      • Reply
        Sunday, November 21, 2021 at 4:20 pm

        I also do a lot of baking ahead – would love to hear what advice you have on this!

  • Reply
    Patrice Seibel
    Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Hi! Cake is currently in the oven. My batter was quite thick and heavy. Wondering if I overmixed — I was very careful, or if this is the way the batter is supposed to be? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 9:14 am

      Hi Patrice – I’m sorry to be replying so late! How did the cake turn out?

  • Reply
    Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    This cake is wonderful and was devoured and loved by the family (including my three-year old). A perfectly spiced moist cake with a great frosting (I used a little leftover espresso in place of the instant coffee.) – thanks for such a great recipe.

  • Reply
    Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I recently made this cake and it turned out great! I made it into two two-tiered mini cakes, used some glass pyrexs to bake and they were the perfect size for our small gathering. For the frosting, I just finely ground up some coffee and steeped it in the milk, they added a lovely speckled detail to the frosting. Also topped the cake with raspberries around top rim and ran halved raspberries around the bottom.

    Thanks for sharing this, I can wait to make/eat this again!

  • Reply
    Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    For curdling problems there are usually cures, in this case an option of 3. If it gets too warm and that causes the curdle I would just put it in the fridge and let it chill for a while; then gently beat it, don’t whisk it, back together. Nothing with those ingredients, if they split, is ever lost. If you start with room temp it should all work fine – if need be add a tiny touch more icing sugar. If it’s really cold and it’s curdling use the opposite, sit it over a pan of boiling water – about an inch in the pan, with the pan small enough that your bowl rests on top. Watch your fingers! And slowly mix it all together until it gels, then take it off and let it cool. Even chocolate ganache responds to the three cures above! Things are rarely curdled beyond repair, just allow time for the fix if you have to use it. 🙂

    • Reply
      Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks Natalie! Good tips for next time. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    This is the most beautiful cake I have ever seen. Hands down. I hope to one day make a cake this beautiful.

  • Reply
    Friday, January 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    This is mouth watering and so pretty. I can not wait to get my hands on some baking again soon and try this.

    Thanks so much for sharing friend.

    S Alchmist.

  • Reply
    Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Such a delicious cake! Love the cardamom and coffee frosting. This is my new favorite. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Such a beautiful cake full of flavor. I love the combination of cardamom and coffee as well as the rustic look of this cake!

  • Reply
    Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    You are an artist! Well done.
    Please consider taking some of the thyme and making yourself a cup of tea with it, love, tea with oregano, rosemary, thyme and honey is so healing and balancing to the body and cleaning for the blood. xx Wishing you health and joy.

  • Reply
    Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I wanted to try and make this cake for a friend’s birthday this weekend, but I had a quick question. Is there a knack to the thyme decoration? Or do you simply buy sprigs of twine and stick them on? It looks so beautiful.

    • Reply
      Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      Hi Skye – I had overgrown thyme in my garden, so it was really long and I was able just to wrap it around the cake, and then just pressed them gently in the frosting to stick. I think you could have the same luck with store bought – it won’t be as long, but you could make it look pretty. 🙂 I hope that helps!

      • Reply
        Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 8:52 am

        Oh, thank you! I will give it a try and let you know how it goes…

  • Reply
    Natalie @ Obsessive Cooking Disorder
    Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 12:34 am

    What brand is your 6 inch pan? I have 3 and 9 inch springforms and looking for a good in between size (cake rings? springform?)

    the decoration is just lovely btw!

    • Reply
      Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Natalie – it’s a 6 inch cake pan, I believe by Wilton. I found it at Michael’s. I hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Iris - Writer/Photographer
    Monday, December 2, 2013 at 11:45 am

    This cake is just SO BEAUTIFUL… Beautiful food really just warms my heart – and you put so much effort into it… Wonderful job.

  • Reply
    Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Saving this one for a Christmas dessert, it is just so stunning and delicious-sounding! I’m a little late to it, but I do hope you are feeling better!! There are some terrible colds going around up here too, ugh. Be well.

  • Reply
    erin @ yummy supper
    Monday, November 25, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Sarah, I’m totally impressed that you can create such deliciousness ( and beautiful images too) when you’re not feeling well. No fun at all.
    I’m really feeling the cardamom coffee frosting – yes!
    Feel better,

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    This is such a beautiful cake. Its flavor is perfect for the season. And that thyme-wrapped, exposed body makes me think of winter, and makes me dislike the season a little less. Please feel better.

  • Reply
    Angela Brown
    Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    What a sweet little cake! I love all those tangles of herbs — so pretty! Feel better 🙂

  • Reply
    Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Love everything about this cake, the cardamom, the “naked” look and that gorgeous thyme wrapped so beautifully around! Hope you’ve turned the corner and are feeling better…

  • Reply
    Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    feel better!

    i’m giving away a kitchenaid mixer on my blog! i’d love it if you came by and said hi!:

  • Reply
    Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    GORGEOUS! This cake is a must make for me. Love the way you wrapped it in thyme. Get well soon!

  • Reply
    Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 7:01 am

    If this is what you bake when you’re sick, I can’t imagine what you come up with when you’re feeling well.

  • Reply
    Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles
    Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Hope you’re feeling better! Love this cake, it’s gorgeous!

  • Reply
    Brian @ A Thought For Food
    Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Rest up, my friend! Hoping this bug goes away soon! Sometimes a little rest, a slice of cake, and a hot toddy do the trick. Doctor’s orders. 😉

  • Reply
    Katie @ Butterlust Blog
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    beautiful cake! I have never baked with cardamom and I feel like something may be missing from my life, especially now that you’ve paired it with coffee! Feel better soon!

  • Reply
    Beth | {local milk}
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Being still + racing thoughts, oh yeah. But! What a cake. I’m…I don’t know. I just love it. I love the wild, brambly thyme wrapped around it. It’s a rather witchy cake! (which is a major plus in my book! ) It just has such a magical, fairy tale feel which I can only imagine is accentuated by the cardamom which has always seemed like such a story telling spice to me. I do hope you feel better soon, of course. I’ll say a prayer!

  • Reply
    Melissa@Julia's Bookbag
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    BOO on being sick that long! Get better sweet Sarah!!!!! This is beautiful beautiful. The perfect autumnal cake. You rock.

  • Reply
    Molly Yeh
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Feel better, lady!!! This cake looks and sounds amazing. Cardamom is having a moment in my kitchen, so I will have to try this.

    Sending you thoughts of soup and tea!

  • Reply
    Sandy @ ReluctantEntertainer
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Beautiful. Sorry you’ve been sick, girl.

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

    The cake looks and sounds awesome. I’m so sorry to hear you are going on week 6–yikes. Feel better soon.

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 10:16 am

    A nagging cold is the worst, Sarah! I hope you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel This cake looks incredible! xo

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

    saved to my cake wish-list (and pinned) – love cardomom and love your images of the cake . . . as enticing as the recipe.

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

    That cake is not only gorgeous, it sounds amazing. Feel better soon! Lots of tea & pinterest! 🙂

  • Reply
    Jen @ Savory Simple
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I hope you feel better soon, Sarah! This cake looks heavenly and you can keep pinning as much as you like. You may have noticed I like your pins 🙂

  • Reply
    Shanna Mallon
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:23 am

    You made-when-I-was-sick cake put most other cakes to shame! Gorgeous. Hope you feel better soon, S!

  • Reply
    Kiran @
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

    You’ve styled this cake so beautifully, being sick and all. Get well soon, friend 🙂

  • Reply
    Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Get well soon, Sarah! This cake is absolutely breathtaking. I love the flavors, too.

  • Reply
    Marta @ What Should I eat for breakfast today
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

    This cake looks beautiful. I’d have a problem to cut it, I’d rather look at it.

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Hello Sarah,
    I think cold and cough is troubling everyone around the globe. Hope you are well now. This cake is so simple, so flavourful and so attractive. You’ve done justice to it with your lovely pictures, and thyme around it makes it look so majestic! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Oh my sweet Lord Jesus this looks delicious!

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 5:48 am

    This cake is SO beautiful. I really love how you entwined thyme all around it. So evocative and so simple.
    Hope that you feel better VERY soon!

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:39 am

    I love the look of a ‘naked’ cake and I love the way you wrapped the thyme around it too, so pretty. The flavours inside the cake sound so delicious! I do hope you feel better soon, being sick is miserable!

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:24 am

    I really like the simple elegance of naked cakes and yours looks beautiful! Love the sound of combining a spice cake with a cardamom coffee frosting – the love for cardamom is growing stronger day by day around these parts.

    Hope you feel better soon, nothing is more annoying than a cold that drags on and on!

  • Reply
    Monday, November 18, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Sometimes baking is the best gateway to health, even if the final product happens to be a delectable cake, full of spice, slathered in icing, and twined in thyme. How you managed something so beautiful whilst having a cold is beyond me, but I do hope it helps you feel better!

  • Reply
    Heather @ French Press
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    such a pretty cake – and while being sick is certainly no fun, I wold love a day spent reading in bed

  • Reply
    Mallory @ Because I Like Chocolate
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    How pretty! I love the thyme wrapped around it. Hope you start to feel better soon!

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Same here with the ‘forever cough’ – throwing in the towel and calling the dr for antibiotics tomorrow. But the good news is that I’ve been collecting quite the kitchen to-do list for this winter and my family is loving all the incredible food I’ve been turning out since I want to just stay home! 😉 Hope you’re better soon ~A

  • Reply
    Melissa // The Fauxmartha
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    So so beautiful, Sarah. Get well soon my friend!

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    This is so pretty! I would say cake, bed and books sound like a good way to recovery. I hope you feel better soon!

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Beautiful effort! Hope you feel better soon

  • Reply
    Michelle @ Hummingbird High
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Gorgeous cake! Love the way you’ve styled it. Get well soon!

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    this is beauty.

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Here’s wishing you a full recovery – good cake and good reads sounds the the perfect way to cope in the meantime. What a lovely little project!

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Such a gorgeous cake. Love this recipe!

  • Reply
    Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    What a cake, lady! I love the caramel colored layers paired with the frosting – so pretty. Wishing you health and wellness. And another piece of cake. 😉 XO

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