Pecan Spice Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Several traditional southern themes — pecans, Caribbean spices, and, of course, thick, tangy cream cheese frosting — come together in this gorgeous layer cake that’s both down-home and elegant. The cake and frosting were prepared by The Astronomer’s talented mother Jane in Birmingham, Alabama. Assembly and consumption took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our team effort, spanning across two states, resulted in a beautiful and delicious cake for our favorite Astronomer’s 23rd birthday.

For cake

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces and softened, plus additional for buttering pans
  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 3/4 cup pecans (3 ounces), toasted, cooled, and finely chopped

For frosting

  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 3/4 cups confectioners sugar (from a 1-pound package)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/3 cups pecans (5 ounces), toasted, cooled, and finely chopped

Special equipment: 2 (9-inch) round cake pans (2 inches deep)

Make cake

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour cake pans, knocking out excess flour.

Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a large bowl.

Beat together butter (1 1/2 sticks) and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and sour cream alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth. Mix in pecans until just combined.

Spoon batter evenly into pans, smoothing tops, then tap pans once or twice to expel any air bubbles. Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edge of pans, then invert racks over pans and reinvert cakes onto racks to cool completely.

Make frosting

Beat together cream cheese, butter, and zest in a bowl with clean beaters at medium-high speed until fluffy 1 to 2 minutes. Sift in confectioners sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined, then add lemon juice and beat at medium-high speed until frosting is smooth.

Assemble and frost cake

Halve each cake layer horizontally with a long serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion. Put 1 layer, cut side up, on a cake stand or large plate and spread with about 3/4 cup frosting. Stack remaining cake layers, spreading about 3/4 cup frosting on each layer and ending with top cake layer cut side down. Spread top and side of cake with remaining frosting (about 3 1/2 cups) and coat side of cake with pecans (1 1/3 cups), gently pressing to help them adhere.

Makes 10 servings.

Gourmet, April 2007

More notes from Gourmet:

  • Cake layers (not split) can be kept, wrapped individually in plastic wrap and placed in large sealed plastic bags, chilled 1 day or frozen 1 week. If frozen, thaw in bags at room temperature, about 2 hours.
  • Frosting can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature, then stir until smooth before using.
  • Cake can be assembled and frosted 8 hours ahead, then kept, loosely covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature.
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