A simple and classic spice cake made for a friend’s birthday, photographed on Oct. 21, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

A simple and classic spice cake made for a friend’s birthday, photographed on Oct. 21, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

A simple spice cake for a pared-down Thanksgiving

I know Thanksgiving this year won’t be the same.

By Victoria Petersen

For the Peninsula Clarion

I was racking my brain all last week trying to figure out what sort of Thanksgiving content I wanted to put out into the world. Every year we have Thanksgiving, and every year people feel forced to come up with interesting and new ways of eating this meal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging Americans from gathering with folks outside our households for the holidays. Despite this, I think an estimated 50 million people are going to be traveling for the holiday. With rising cases, it’s a terrifying prospect for the folks left working in short-staffed hospitals.

I know Thanksgiving this year won’t be the same. It might not even happen at all for you and your family. But whatever you’re eating on Thursday, and whoever you’re eating with, we should all find the time to be grateful. This year, I’m feeling extra grateful for my health, my family and the first responders who are doing their absolute best to work during the absolute worst situation. I want to include journalists in that too, who are working to share important public health information — to keep us all safe.

We’re having a small Thanksgiving this year, and we’re planning on smoking a turkey, making salted caramel ice cream, scalloped potatoes and I’m in charge of the stuffing — my favorite part of November. I’m going for classic this year: a crusty loaf of bread, lots of herbs and butter. I called my grandma this week, who is also making stuffing this year. It’s her favorite part of the meal too. She’s also into a classic recipe, no oysters or cornbread or anything like that. I feel like everyone has their own ideas about the perfect stuffing, and who am I to tell you mine is better? So unfortunately, this is not a column about my favorite stuffing recipe. Instead, I’ll be sharing a spice cake recipe.

A couple of months back, our friend was having a birthday and they requested a spice cake. I could see the Betty Crocker mix in my mind, a yellowish crumb and chocolate frosting. I looked for it and couldn’t find it, so then I went to Google. And wow, was I disappointed with the outcome. All of the recipes had a ton of applesauce in the mix. So I tried one with the applesauce we have one hand — a homemade crab apple and cranberry concoction. It totally overpowered the cake with cranberry, and it was not great. I searched and searched and finally found a random YouTube video where the cake was exactly what I was looking for. No pumpkin, no applesauce, just a cake with a nice balance of spice. Who would have thought it’d be so difficult to find?

I didn’t follow John Kanell’s recipe (of the Preppy Kitchen) to a tee, but it helped give me a cake base that was amazing. He layers his cake with a decadent-looking Swiss buttercream and some nice autumn decorations. Instead of buttercream, I made a homemade maple cream cheese frosting to top the cake. I really like this recipe for a winter or fall holiday. It’s universal — it can be for Thanksgiving or Christmas or just because.

Simple spice cake

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger (powdered or freshly grated)

1 teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon cardamom

¼ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup butter, room temperature

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons molasses

¼ cup Greek yogurt, or any kind plain full fat yogurt or sour cream

½ cup whole milk

Cream cheese frosting

1 cup cream cheese

4 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, add all of the spice, flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until combined. In another bowl, add the sugar, butter, molasses, eggs, vanilla, yogurt and milk. Mix until just combined.

Gradually mix in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until they are combined into a cake batter.

Pour the mix into a greased cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. This could change depending on if you’re making cupcakes or using multiple cake tins. Look for the center to be set and for when a knife pushed into the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the buttercream by beating all the ingredients together using a stand mixer, a handheld beater or by hand with a small spoon or fork.

Once the cake has cooled, frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting and top with sprinkles, if you wish.

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