Old Fashioned Spice Cake (with Cream Cheese Frosting)

This deliciously rich spice cake is a vintage favorite that has been passed down through my family. Topped with a simple cream cheese frosting, my old fashioned spice cake has all the tastes of fall that you love!

old fashioned spice cake cut into slices in the pan and topped with cream cheese frosting

As soon as September hits, my craving for baked goods with all those glorious fall spices goes into overdrive.

It’s not just how delicious they taste, but the smell throughout my house while they bake is divine – a scent no fancy candle can replicate.

My love for spice cakes, pumpkin whoopie pies, pumpkin muffins, mini pumpkin pies and other fall desserts comes from all the amazing recipes that my mom and grandmother shared with me.

And while this old fashioned spice cake recipe has no pumpkin in it, it has all the other flavors of fall that we all crave. This recipe has been passed down for generations; from friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, grandmother to grandchild — and for very good reason!

Why This Recipe Works

slice of old fashioned spice cake on a plate with cinnamon sticks
  • It has all your favorite fall flavors
  • The spice cake itself is not overly sweet and is well balanced by the cream cheese frosting
  • It’s relatively quick to make and can be served right from the cake pan!


ingredients for old fashioned spice cake recipe

Fall spices: It wouldn’t be a spice cake without cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.

Brown sugar: Light brown fluffy helps create a soft, moist crumb with the need for oil.

Buttermilk: Buttermilk helps keep the cake moist, but it’s also an essential ingredient to activate the baking soda to aid the cake in rising.

Eggs: This recipe separates the eggs, using the yolks as part of the batter and then beating the egg whites until they’re stiff, and folding them into the batter to aerate the cake and help it rise.

Unsalted butter, flour, vanilla and baking soda round out the ingredients list.

slice of old fashioned spice cake on a plate with a fork


  1. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans into the batter for a textural element
  2. A 1/2 cup Raisins or golden sultanas could also be added for a sweeter touch to the cake.


steps 1 to 4 of making the spice cake recipe
  1. Grease an 8 x8 cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Set aside.

3. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.

4. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on, add the brown softened butter and brown sugar.

steps 5 to 8 of making the spice cake recipe

5. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy.

6. Stir in the egg yolks until well blended.

7. In a separate bowl, mix the baking soda with the buttermilk.

8. Add the buttermilk mixture to the batter along with the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

steps 9 to 12 of making the spice cake recipe

9. Add the flour and spice mixture to the batter, mixing thoroughly.

10. Once the flour is mixed in, turn the mixer off.

11. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

12. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and level off the top with a knife.

spice cake when it comes out of the oven and is golden brown on top

13. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan, on a wire rack, before frosting.

old fashioned spice cake in the pan with cream cheese frosting

Making The Cream Cheese Frosting

ingredients for the cream cheese frosting

Cream cheese frosting is the perfect complement to the rich fall spices in this old fashioned spice cake. This frosting recipe makes exactly enough for one cake.

how to make cream cheese frosting for the old fashioned spice cake
  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and cream cheese together.

2. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add in the powdered sugar and pinch of salt.

3.Once the sugar begins to get incorporated, turn the mixer to high and beat it for another 2 minutes. If the frosting is too thick, or you want it a little creamier, add 1 – 2 teaspoons of milk, then beat again until combined.

4.Smooth the frosting over the top of the cake. Optional: top with chopped walnuts or pecans

spice cake in the pan with frosting and walnuts on top


The frosted cake can stay out at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Alternatively, it does really well in the fridge and will last up to a week.

You can also make the frosting ahead of time, put it in a container in the fridge, and frost the cake right before serving.

slice of cake removed from the cake pan and on a plate

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to use buttermilk?

Yes! The buttermilk is essential in order for the baking soda to work. It also adds a subtle tang and helps to keep the cake moist.

Why does my batter look curdled after I add the buttermilk?

It’s normal! Buttermilk is more acidic than regular milk. Ignore the curdling and keep going – it won’t impact the cake!

How do I fold in the egg whites?

Gently and very carefully!! Use a spatula to cut through the center of the batter, pulling the egg whites through. Use large circular motions to keep the air in the whites. Continue folding them in until all white streaks have disappeared. The more gentle you are, the better your cake will rise.

fork digging into slice of old fashioned spice cake

This old fashioned spice cake recipe has all of the tastes that are associated with this time of year, including lots of cinnamon and cloves. Plus, one slice will surely satisfy your sweet tooth!

If you’re looking for something different to serve at your next family gathering or even Thanksgiving dessert, be sure to give this vintage recipe a try — it may become an annual tradition in no time flat!

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Old Fashioned Spice Cake Recipe

old fashioned spice cake in square pan
This richly spiced cake is a tasty recipe that has been passed down for generations. Topped with a delicious cream cheese frosting, this is a recipe that will quickly become a fall fall in your home.
Jenna Shaughnessy
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Serving Size 9


Spice Cake

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon all spice
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs separated
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter softened

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • ¼ cup butter softened
  • ½ cup cream cheese softened
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon milk (optional)


To Make The Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a 8 x 8 cake pan.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and all spice. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  • Cream the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Stir in the egg yolks until well blended.
  • Add the baking soda to the buttermilk.
  • Pour the buttermilk and soda mixture, plus the vanilla, into the sugar and egg mixture. Blend thoroughly. The batter will look curdled. Don't panic!
  • Add the flour mixture and mix thoroughly.
  • Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter, until no more white streaks are visible.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, leveling the top with a palette knife.
  • Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick insert in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Allow the cake to cool fully in the pan before frosting.

To Make The Frosting

  • Beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.
  • Add powdered sugar and salt. Mix on medium to high speed for 2 minutes.
  • Add the vanilla and milk, and mix until thoroughly combined.


The buttermilk activates the baking soda, so it cannot be substituted for regular milk. 
It’s really important to gently fold in the egg whites, or the cake will not rise correctly. The correct method for folding is to cut the spatula through the middle of the batter, pulling the egg whites through. Continue to do this until all the whites have disappeared into the batter. 
The milk is optional for the frosting, but I like how it thins it out a bit and makes it just a touch creamier. 
The cake can be removed from the pan, but I find it easier to frost and serve directly from it. 
The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days, but also does great in the fridge as long as it’s in an airtight container. 

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