Brown Butter Spice Cake

Temps des Fêtes 2016
food and drink

BY: Joanne Yolles

This single-layer, tender and subtly spiced cake borrows the spice blend normally associated with pumpkin pie. Heating the spices while browning the butter enhances the flavour, and in my books, any excuse for cream cheese icing is a good excuse. These days, it seems you don’t have to look in specialty stores for cake decorations. Fancy sprinkles, beyond the usual, seem to be popping up at regular grocery stores. A small rose piping tip adds flare to the finished look, but use your imagination to create your own design.

½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
½ vanilla bean
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 tsp (5 mL) whole cloves, crushed
⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) nutmeg
⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) allspice
1¼ cups (310 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) loosely packed light brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
½ cup (125 mL) whole milk, at room temperature

¾ cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (375 mL) icing sugar
2 pkgs (each 250 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
½ tsp (2 mL) vanilla

1 Place the butter in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the black seeds into the butter; add the vanilla pod. Add the crushed cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and allspice, then place the pot over medium heat. Cook the butter until it is foamy and a nut-brown colour, about 5 to 7 minutes. (The spices will automatically darken the butter, so check the colour near the bottom of the pot—it should be golden brown.) Remove from heat, cover the pot and steep for 15 minutes. Strain the butter into a small bowl, pressing on the solids, then chill butter until firm, about 2 hours.

2 Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line the bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.

3 Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

4 In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the chilled brown butter on medium speed. Add the brown sugar and continue beating until fluffy and lightened in colour, about 5 minutes.

5 Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk then add them gradually to the butter mixture, beating to combine.

6 On low speed, add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop the mixer before the last addition of flour is fully incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing with a rubber spatula. Spread the batter into the pan.

7 Bake until golden brown on top, and just until the edges are beginning to come away from the sides of the pan, about 35 minutes. Cool the cake on a wire rack. The cake can be baked 1 day ahead, wrapped and stored at room temperature. It can also be frozen.

8 For the cream cheese icing, place the butter and icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium and beat until completely smooth.

9 Add the cream cheese, beat until combined and very smooth, then beat in the vanilla.

10 Remove the cake from the pan and, if necessary, level the top with a serrated knife. Place on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of icing over the top and sides to set the crumbs, then finish only the sides with more icing to cover. Transfer the remaining icing to a piping bag fitted with a rose tip (or any other decorative tip) and, beginning in the middle of the cake, pipe the icing in a continuous concentric swirl from the centre to the edge. (A cake turntable makes this step a little easier.)

11 The cake can be refrigerated, but bring to room temperature (about 1 hour) before serving. Decorative sprinkles can be added at the last moment. If done too far ahead, they tend to “bleed” into the icing.

Serves 10 to 12

What to Serve