Elementary School-Style Spice Cake

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles. Several pieces have been cut from the cake to be served.

Jordan: The elementary school Kitra and I went to had one, and only one, variety of celebratory cake: spice cake. I always found this to be completely inexplicable.

Kitra: I don’t know, it makes sense to me for an elementary school. It has applesauce in it! It is the most wholesome of the cakes! Chocolate feels too over-the top. Vanilla feels too overtly like sugar. Spice cake is a middle ground. And it’s no one’s favorite, so you can serve it to children without them losing their minds.

The thing is, I have almost never encountered spice cake outside of my elementary school cafeteria. I know, vaguely, that it exists, but it doesn’t show up on restaurant menus or in cupcake shops or anywhere else. No one actually eats it. It’s not that they dislike it; it’s just that the opportunity is never there.

I feel like spice cake just… is. But in the same way the place that you put mail when you walk in the door just is. You’re aware that it exists if you think about it, but you don’t really think about it. You’re never surprised to find it, because it makes perfect sense.

Kitra and I are struggling to properly express the conundrum that is spice cake, but the point is this: of all the basic cakes, spice cake is the most underrated, and that should change.

But, because spice cake is some sort of cryptid, I only ever understand its presence on or around March 2nd.

Known and beloved by millions of children as Read Across America Day, or Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The day when you wear pajamas to school, wear silly hats, and most importantly for us, eat spice cake at lunch. (Even if you brought your own lunch—what a glorious day!)

I forgot almost all of that stuff (I only remember our beloved local news anchor wearing fun ties for it [moment of silence to remember Ron Brown]), but I. Remember. The. Spice. Cake. Damn. It.

Consider this our nostalgic contribution to bringing spice cake back into the birthday cake rotation. It’s a simple, no-frills cake that is still far more interesting than your standard vanilla or chocolate.

Plus, when you’re not endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, it’s a great opportunity for a straight up cream cheese frosting. And those rock. (If you are endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, then we’ve got you covered here with good old fashioned shortening.)

Put on your pajamas, grab a book to read while the cake is baking, and get ready for some good old-fashioned cafeteria cake, in the best possible way. Sprinkles optional, but strongly encouraged.

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles.
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Chai Creme Brulee Pie

Kitra: It’s November, which is when we reveal ourselves to be traitors.

Jordan: The truth is, we both prefer pie to cake in almost all cases.

I feel that way about cake compared to… Most desserts. Ice cream? Hell yes. Flan? Sure. Cookies? Totally. Cake? Eh, depends.

Which is actually part of why this project exists. We’ll make pie on our own, given even the slightest reason to do so. But cake? We really would only make cake for birthdays (of people who don’t like pie), and we had a few go-tos that we didn’t stray far from.

We weren’t developing a massive backlog of unmade pies. But we both had dozens of cake recipes that seemed interesting but we had no occasion for.

However, in November we shake it up. It’s almost Thanksgiving! No one is making cake in November. November belongs to pie.

It’s the perfect excuse for us to unzip these human suits and reveal ourselves to be the pie lizards that we actually are.

This creme brulee pie turned out to be on both of our “to make” lists. I love a good custard pie, and Kitra loves setting things on fire.

That is wildly incorrect.

But it was funny. In reality, Kitra hates fire but puts up with it for the sake of creme brulee.

We made this week’s decision over “breakfast” (it was noon, okay) in my local cafe/spice shop, where the idea of not throwing a handful of spices into an otherwise classic creme brulee seemed like a PROBLEM.

This was the result. Imagine a cross between your favorite chai latte and a perfectly smooth pumpkin pie, and then cover it in not-quite-burnt sugar.

Or, imagine creme brulee, and I guess put some pastry around it so you can pick it up in your hand and get it into your body faster. 10/10.

Kitra’s first words upon taking a bite were “I love this. This is a perfect pie.” And while there is room in this world for many perfect pies, I agree that this is definitely one of them.

If you don’t already have a deep need to be eating creme brulee pie, please reassess your priorities. Because you’re wrong, and probably a bad person. I don’t make the rules.

We’re signing off here before Kitra gets even more aggressive, but we’ll leave you with the recipe. Enjoy.

You know what needs to be done.

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Molasses Coffee Spice Cake

Molasses cake with sauce on the side

Kitra: Welcome to fall.

Jordan: Kitra claimed a copy of Everyday Dorie from our father and if ever there was a cookbook made for fall, it’s this one. Glancing through it, every recipe that jumped out at us just screamed FALL.

I had bookmarked a couple of fall baked goods to start with, including this cake which just fascinated me. It looked so simple and yet had a combination of very strong ingredients. Seemed like as good a place as any to hop in.

For a cake with (as Kitra says) very strong ingredients, it’s surprisingly subtle. There’s molasses, there’s coffee, and there are tons of spices, but none of them particularly stand out from the rest. This is not a molasses cake, or a coffee cake, or a spice cake. It’s all of the above.

It comes together as… Brown and warm. You can’t quite tell how or why, but that’s what you know about it. Which makes sense, given the number of warm brown ingredients.

We’ve been trying to find a good way to describe it, and I think the best we can do is “comforting.” It’s not flashy, it’s not extravagant. It’s a cake that is there for you when it’s raining outside and you just want to eat something kind-of-but-not-too sweet.

And because it’s both pretty thin and not too sweet, it’s easy to imagine eating a bunch of slices at once.

Though it doesn’t demand that you eat it all at once. We’ve made those kind of cakes before (hello, pecan browned butter cake) but this isn’t one of them. This is a cake that allows you to have a slice and walk away satisfied. Which, as anyone who has ever eaten way too much sugar at once and suffered the consequences later knows, is sometimes a good quality in a cake.

And if you leave it be for a day or two, you’ll be rewarded. The flavors settle into each other on the second day, and the glaze settles into everything, creating a slightly moister cake.

Is it our favorite cake we’ve ever made? Not necessarily, but sometimes you just need a cake that feels like a reliable lumpy sweater, and this is that cake.

Molasses cake with sauce on the side
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