Magical Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream

This spice cake reminds me of the one my grandmother used to make when I was a child. The recipe was lost years ago, and I make this cake now to remind me of her TLC in the kitchen, and the eggnog she loved to drink during the holidays!


Dr. JJ’s Brown Butter Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream

Browned Butter Spice Cake Ingredients

1 ½ cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter

1 ½  cups granulated sugar

¼  cup brown sugar - packed

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups cake (pastry) flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

2 ½  teaspoons cinnamon

1 ½  teaspoons ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 1/4 cups eggnog


To Make the Brown Butter Spice Cake:

The night before baking the cake, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Swirling occasionally, continue to cook until fragrant and browned.  The butter will foam up a bit and little bits of browned butter will sit at the bottom of the pan when done.  Remove from heat and transfer to a heat-safe container.  Chill overnight or until the consistency of softened butter. When ready to start baking take 1 cup of the browned butter out of the refrigerator and set out until soft. Reserve the remainder for the frosting. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and set aside. Place browned butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, mix until smooth. Add in the white and brown sugar and increase speed to medium-high.  Continue to mix for about 3-5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer on medium-low, add in the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time.  Once incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients and eggnog in three alternating additions – starting and ending with the flour mixture.  Mix on medium-low for 30 seconds or until combined. Evenly distribute the batter between the three pans.  Bake for about 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean or with few crumbs.  Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.


Eggnog Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package), softened

Remainder of softened brown butter PLUS 1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter

8 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

3 ounces eggnog

1  teaspoon cinnamon

Scant 1/2 teaspoon (preferably freshly grated) nutmeg

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or bourbon - your choice!


To Make Eggnog Buttercream:

Place the cream cheese and butters in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix until smooth.  With the mixer on low, gradually add in the remaining ingredients until incorporated.  Turn up the mixer to medium-high and mix until light and fluffy.

Spread a thick layer of Eggnog Buttercream on top of 2 cakes and stack all 3.  Next, add a thin “crumb coat” of frosting to entire cake and put in the refrigerator for an hour or 2 to set.  Remove and frost entire cake with remainder of Eggnog Buttercream (there may be enough left over for a small batch of cupcakes, or a gaggle of grandkids - just make sure you have enough beaters to go around!).


Do-Ahead Decorations

Fresh sprigs of Rosemary, 10-12 cranberries

2 egg whites – beaten lightly

pastry brush

sanding or white sugar

1 small bag raw slivered almonds

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 dozen truffles or pieces of fudge at room temperature

1.            Pine cones – take 10-12 chocolate truffles, soften to room temperature and roll each between hands into an oval shape with a tapered tip. Carefully insert raw slivered almonds into each truffle, layering one line over another, until it resembles a pine cone. Once all are assembled, refrigerate until ready to use.

2.     Christmas trees – melt semisweet chocolate chips over a double boiler or in a microwave until soft. Pour into an icing bag with a small tip or into a ziplock bag (then seal – cut a tiny corner off the bag when ready to pipe). With a pencil, draw pine trees of various sizes onto the back of wax or parchment paper. Put parchment on to a cookie sheet and pipe chocolate onto the reverse side of the wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate until set. Carefully peel off trees and adhere to side of freshly iced cake.

3.    Branches and berries – wash and dry rosemary sprigs and cranberries. Brush lightly with egg white using a pastry brush.  Roll into sanding or white sugar, shake gently, and let dry at room temperature.

To Assemble

Place cake on a platter lined with either coconut (snowy) or coarsely ground chocolate cookies or graham crackers (like a forest floor). Unmold chocolate trees and apply to the sides of the cake. Place truffle pinecones at bases of trees, and a few atop the cake. Embellish branches with sugared cranberries. Enjoy!