Gorgeously fragrant and richly flavoured with warming spices, this vintage recipe for my Auntie’s Spice Cake has been in my family for four generations.
My maternal Great Aunt, Margaret, whose spice cake recipe this is, was known simply as ‘Auntie’ by her two nieces and five great-nieces. She figured hugely in my mother’s reminiscences about her childhood and my cousins often mention her fondly. Sadly she died before she met her sixth great-niece who is, as you may have guessed by now, me.
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I know Auntie only through the wonderful stories I have been told and a few things left to me. The beautiful burgundy blown glass vase with she gave my mother for her 21st birthday sits on the table beside my bed. I wear the ruby and diamond ring she left my mother from time to time, and wonder what she felt like as she wore it. Did Auntie wear it every day, or just for special occasions as I do? I feel a special connection with Auntie when I sit at her writing desk in our library, pen in hand.
I wonder about the person who had such a profound effect on the women in my family and wish that I had had the chance to know her too.
One thing I do know about Auntie is that she was a very good cook. I have several of her handwritten recipes and this Spice Cake is one of them.
The mixing method is one developed before the days of electric mixers, the eggs whites whipped and then folded in at the end to help the cake rise. It sounds cumbersome, but actually it’s very easy, and it makes a spice cake that tastes better than any I have ever tasted. As I whip the egg whites in the electric mixer, I think of Auntie whisking them by hand in a kitchen back in the 1930’s and 40’s. The world may have changed, but Auntie’s delicious recipe for spice cake has stayed the same.
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
- 2½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 eggs, separated
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup soft brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Grease and flour a deep 8 inch (20 cm) round pan or an 8 x 8 inch square pan. You can use a loose-bottomed pan if you prefer as it makes it easier to remove the cake after baking.
- Whisk the baking soda into the buttermilk or sour milk. Set aside.
- Sift the flour, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Set aside.
- Put the butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and beat together thoroughly.
- Stir in the egg yolks until well blended.
- Stir the buttermilk and soda mixture, along with the vanilla, into the egg yolk mixture. Blend thoroughly.
- Stir the flour and spice mixture into this batter, beating thoroughly.
- Fold the egg whites gently but thoroughly into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, levelling the top a bit with a knife.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
- If you plan to remove the cake from the baking pan, cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack. Otherwise just allow the cake to cool in the pan. (If I make the cake in a square pan I serve it cut in squares straight from the pan. If I use a round pan, I generally remove the cake and serve it from a serving plate.)
- When completely cool you can frost with your favourite buttercream or spiced icing. Browned butter icing is also very nice with this cake.