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Three Extra Ingredients Can Change Everything
Longing for the flavor of an old-fashioned spice cake but don't want to take the time and trouble to bake one from scratch? If all you've got in the pantry is a plain vanilla, yellow or white cake mix—go ahead and indulge your craving by adding just the right combination of allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg to your cake mix. No allspice? No problem, as long as you have ground cloves.
Read ahead for both versions (the allspice version and the ground cloves version), each of which allows you to easily turn a plain boxed cake mix into something really special.
A Decades-Old, Tried and True, Tested Recipe From McCormick Spice Co.
Many years ago, I was throwing a dinner party for my brother, who had just become engaged. The dinner party was to be the first meeting of our parents and his fiancé's parents—so I wanted everything to go just right. I remember the menu included roasted salmon with ginger, and I was stumped as to the perfect dessert to serve. On the day of the dinner party, I decided the perfect dessert for this meal was a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. I was in the thick of cooking and cleaning and didn't have time to make a cake from scratch. I did have a yellow cake mix and a spice rack stocked with an array of little glass bottles, so it seemed perhaps a spice cake was possible.
This was the pre-internet era, so there was no "Googling" for "cake-mix hacks." Luckily, when I pulled out my little metal tin of McCormick ground allspice, there was the very recipe I needed, right on the box. Fortunately, I had all the ingredients: cake mix, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The recipe was incredibly quick and easy, and that evening we all enjoyed a slice of "homemade" spice cake with our after-dinner coffee.
Although that tiny tin of allspice has been empty for years, I've kept it solely for the recipe printed on the back. I have made this spice cake many times over the years, and have finally decided I need to put this recipe to paper (and the world wide web) so that it is not lost forever if someone comes along and throws the empty tin away.
This McCormick recipe is tried, true, and tested, surely by McCormick before they printed it on their spice tins, but also by me—many times! The spice amounts are just right. They add plenty of flavor to the cake, yet are in amounts delicate enough to allow the buttery taste of a yellow cake mix, as well as buttery frosting, to shine through. This cake and its mixture of spices are even better when topped with cream cheese frosting, brown sugar frosting, caramel frosting, or a simple vanilla buttercream frosting, with cream cheese being my personal favorite. At the bottom of this article is a recipe for basic cream cheese frosting—you'll find it quick, easy, and delicious.
- 1 boxed cake mix, yellow, white or vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice, (see below for substitute)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- water, as directed on cake mix box
- eggs, as directed on cake mix box
- oil, as directed on cake mix box
- Set your oven to 350°F so that it can preheat while you mix up your cake batter. If you're using nonstick, dark-colored, or glass pans, preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Prepare baking pan or pans by spraying the inside bottoms and sides with cooking spray or Baker's Joy, which is a cooking oil spray that also contains flour.
- Dump the dry cake mix into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the cake mix. Blend the dry ingredients if you like, but there's no need to, as the mixer does a great job of this once you add the wet ingredients.
- Follow the instructions on the cake mix box regarding wet ingredients, which are typically water, oil, and eggs. While making the cake pictured, I used a Betty Crocker Super Moist yellow cake mix, which called for 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of oil, and 3 eggs. Add wet ingredients into the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients.
- Use an electric mixer to mix together the wet and dry ingredients. Follow the instructions on the cake mix box regarding mixing speed and mixing time. The Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix I used instructed me to mix the ingredients on medium speed for 2 minutes.
- Pour into prepared baking pan or pans.
- Bake, again as instructed on the cake mix box. I made two 9-inch layers, which I baked for 24 minutes at 325°F because I used gray nonstick pans rather than light-colored steel or aluminum pans.
- If baking layers, allow them to cool for about 15 minutes, then turn the layers onto cooling racks to cool completely. If baking layers, do not allow them to completely cool in the pans, or they may stick and become difficult to remove. Many cooks prefer to leave a 13x9 cake in its pan for serving and storing—and this is perfectly fine; there's no need to remove a 13x9 cake from its pan unless you want to frost the sides and present it on a cake platter rather than in the baking pan. No matter what size or type of cake you made, make sure it cools completely before frosting. Even a slightly warm cake will cause the frosting to melt and slide off.
No Allspice? No Problem!
Allspice is made by grinding dried allspice berries from the Pimenta Dioica plant, which is often grown in Jamaica, among other tropical locations. Before being ground into powder, the dried berries resemble dried peppercorns, which is why allspice is sometimes called "Jamaica pepper." Allspice has a warm, slightly peppery flavor which is similar to a blend of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg—the typical spices that go into pumpkin pie, cinnamon bread, or similar dishes.
If you don't have allspice on hand, you can make a spice cake using the above directions by substituting ground cloves in place of the allspice and adjusting the amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg just a bit. Instead of the spices as indicated above, use these spices and amounts:
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Basic Cream Cheese Frosting
Cream cheese frosting goes especially well with spice cake. While your cake is baking in the oven, whip up your frosting. It is simple:
With an electric mixer, whip together:
- 2 sticks of real butter, softened
- 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla
- 4 cups of powdered sugar
Whip until light, fluffy, and spreadable.
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