A soft, flavorful, easy spice cake recipe is filled with fresh pear compote and covered in a nutty and caramelized brown butter frosting.
Posted: 1/1/2021; Updated: 11/18/2021
This quick and easy spice cake recipe is made completely from scratch in less than two hours. The spice cake is cinnamon and ginger spiced with a touch of nutmeg, and is most akin to a classic old fashioned spice cake (though this one is made without applesauce).
What I love about this recipe is that it's made as one cake in an 8-inch cake pan, but gets split and filled with a juicy, lightly sweet, and refreshing pear compote. You get the best part of a layer cake with one pan and minimal effort!
Finally, the cake gets covered in a light and fluffy brown butter vanilla frosting, which adds a touch of extra nuttiness and caramelized flavor that pairs perfectly with the warm spiced slices. I like to keep this cake rustic, so no fancy piping tips or tools needed!
Ingredient & Tools Notes
- Pears. Ripe ones! You can use any type of pear you'd like. I typically use a Bartlett pear, as they are always available in my grocery store. You'll need 3 medium to large pears or 4 smaller pears.
- All-purpose flour. For the cake batter - it gets mixed with the baking soda, salt, and ground spices.
- Baking soda. Only one teaspoon is needed for this recipe to help the cake rise.
- Ground spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
- Corn starch. This is necessary to thicken the pear compote.
- Sugars. Light brown sugar for the cake and filling, powdered sugar for the frosting.
- Large egg. Only one! At room temperature so it incorporates into the batter nicely.
- Dairy. Sour cream and whole milk (room temperature). While this recipe does not use buttermilk, you could also substitute the combined amount of dairy for buttermilk.
- Unsalted butter. For the cake and the frosting. The butter for the frosting will get turned into brown butter and re-solidified.
For this recipe, your main piece of equipment is an 8-inch cake pan. It will also be helpful to have a piping bag (but a ziplock bag is also perfectly fine) and an offset spatula.
How to make Pear Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt and set aside.
In another bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk and sour cream.
STEP 2: Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides.
Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one more minute, then scrape down the sides again.
With the mixer running on low speed, spoon in the flour mixture until almost combined, then drizzle in the sour cream and milk until the batter is completely smooth and homogenous.
STEP 3: Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cake has slightly pulled away from the sides of the pan and is no longer sloshy in the middle. I like check the cake about 5 minutes prior to the lowest baking time. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to a wire rack to finish cooling.
While the cake is baking and cooling, make the brown butter and pear compote.
Making the Brown Butter
STEP 4: To make brown butter, place the butter in saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Stir the butter every once in a while so the milk solids on the bottom of the pan don't burn.
You will start to see the milk solids turn brown and will notice a delightful change in smell – be careful not to burn it, but definitely make sure they're brown. It will melt, bubble, foam, and then settle down and that's when you know it's about done.
Check out my post on How to Brown Butter for step-by-step details and pictures of the process.
For this recipe, transfer the butter to a heat proof bowl (be sure to scrape out all of the brown bits form the bottom) and place the bowl in the fridge. You want the butter to mostly solidify, but it should still be soft. I like to stir mine every once in a while to help it along.
Remove it from the fridge when it gets to this point. It will be opaque and a butter knife will relatively easily scrape through it. If it feels too hard, let it sit a room temperature for a bit.
Making the Pear Compote
STEP 5: Peel, core, and dice the pears and add them to a medium saucepan over medium heat with the brown sugar and ¼ cup of water and stir. Cook until juices are released and the pears soften. Lightly mash some of them with the back of a spoon or spatula to help them break down.
Combine the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup of water and stir into the pears. Let it bubble and thicken while stirring for about a minute, then stir in the vanilla and transfer to a heat proof bowl to cool.
I like to add my bowl to the fridge and stir it every 15 minutes to help the cooling process. You want it to be room temperature or cooler before adding it into the cake.
Brown Butter Frosting
STEP 6: Add the re-solidified brown butter to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or to a bowl if using a handheld mixer).
Add one cup of the powdered sugar and mix on medium speed for one to two minutes. On low speed, add in the second cup of powdered sugar, followed by half of the heavy cream and the vanilla and turn to medium high for 30 seconds.
Turn back to low and add the final cup of powdered sugar and the final half of heavy cream. Turn to medium and whip for a final 30 seconds.
If you don't have heavy cream, you can also use milk, but you will likely need less than the recipe calls for. Test the frosting - if it feels too thick, add a bit more liquid. If it feels too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar until it becomes a nice spreadable consistency.
Assembling the Pear Spice Cake
STEP 7: With a large serrated knife, slice the cake evenly in half on the horizontal. I like to get down closer to eye level and place a hand on top of the cake, lightly score my border the whole way around, and then I gently pull the knife towards myself in one motion while also putting pressure inwards as I move it towards the center of the cake.
Continue pulling the knife and continue this motion until the halves are separated. Feel free to also remove the dome on top if you want a perfectly level cake, but I like to leave it as is for this rustic recipe.
STEP 8: Place the bottom layer (with cut side up) on your serving plate and pipe two dam borders one on top of the other around the edge. If you don’t have a piping bag, use a ziploc bag. This does not need to be fancy, we just need a border to hold in all of the delicious pear filling!
Add the pear filling to the center of the cake and work it out to the edges of the buttercream dam. Be sure the filling doesn't go up over the dam. If you have leftover filling, save it to eat with a slice of cake!
Add the top layer and gently push down slightly. Use the remaining brown butter frosting to completely cover the cake. I like to do this with an offset spatula but you can also use a rubber spatula or even a butter knife.
Store the cake, covered in plastic wrap, in the fridge for three days. Any longer, and the pear compote starts to deteriorate the cake. Be sure to allow the cake or slices to come to room temperature before eating. Note that this can take up to two hours, so plan accordingly!
FAQs & Tips
Yes. You can substitute the full amount of sour cream and milk for buttermilk.
Spice cake gains its flavor by using warm, ground spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sometimes cloves and/or allspice.
This frosting tastes like a traditional buttercream, however, due to the browning of the butter, it takes on a caramelized, nutty flavor. This is because the milk solids in the butter have taken on color (aka browning) and creates a delicious flavor!
More One Pan Cake Recipes
- Chocolate Snack Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting
- Lemon Pound Cake with Blueberry Glaze
- Carrot Snack Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Pear Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
- 8-inch cake pan
- Stand mixer with paddle attachment, or handheld mixer
- Offset spatula or butter knife
- ¼ cup unsalted butter room temperature (57g)
- 1 cup light brown sugar (200g)
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (180g)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ cup sour cream room temperature (120g)
- ½ cup whole milk room temperature (120 ml)
- 3-4 pears peeled, cored and diced (450-500g)
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar (38g)
- ½ cup water divided (4 fl.oz)
- 1.5 tablespoons cornstarch (12g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
Brown Butter Frosting
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter browned (127g)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar (360g)
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream (60ml)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- Preheat the oven to 350℉/177℃ and parchment line the bottom of one 8-inch cake pan.
- Into a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
- In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, mix together the room temperature sour cream and whole milk.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed for one minute, then scrape down the sides.
- With the mixer on low speed, spoon in the dry ingredients until completely combined, then drizzle in the sour cream and milk mixture until the batter comes together.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 30-40 minutes. Check first around 25 minutes. When done, the cake should slightly pull away from the sides and the middle should not be sloshy. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean with a few moist crumbs.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
- While the cake bakes and cools, make the brown butter and pear filling.
- To make the brown butter, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir the butter every once in a while so the milk solids on the bottom of the pan don't burn. You will start to see the milk solids turn brown and will notice a delightful change in smell – be careful not to burn it, but definitely make sure they're brown. This could take anywhere from 5–10 minutes depending on your stove top.
- Pour the butter into a heat proof bowl and place in the fridge. You want the butter to mostly solidify, but it should still be soft. I like to stir mine every once in a while to help it along. Remove from the fridge when it gets to this point.
- Peel, core, and dice the pears. Add to a medium saucepan with the brown sugar and ¼ cup of water and cook on medium heat. Stir occasionally until the pears begin to soften. With the back of a wooden spoon, mash up some of the pears, leaving it relatively chunky.
- Stir together the remaining ¼ cup of water and cornstarch then add to the pears and stir in immediately. Allow it to bubble and thicken for about a minute while stirring, add the vanilla, then transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool completely.
- To speed up this process, add the pears to the fridge and stir it every 15 minutes until cool.
Brown Butter Frosting
- Add the softened brown butter to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld mixer). Cream the butter and one cup of the powdered sugar on medium speed for 1 minute.
- On low speed, add in the second cup of powdered sugar, followed by half of the heavy cream and the vanilla and turn to medium high for 30 seconds.
- Turn back to low and add the final cup of powdered sugar and the last half of heavy cream. Turn to medium and beat for a final 30 seconds.
- The frosting should be a light, spreadable consistency. If it's too loose, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it's too stiff, add a bit more heavy cream (or milk or water).
- With a large serrated knife, slice the cake evenly in half on the horizontal. If you want to remove the dome on top for a perfectly flat cake, you can follow the same method to trim it. I leave the dome for a rustic finish on this one.
- Place the bottom layer of the cake (with cut side up) on your serving dish and pipe two dam borders one on top of the other around the edge. If you don’t have a piping bag, use a ziploc bag.
- Add the the pear filling to the center of the cake and use a spoon to push it out so it meets the edges of the dam. You don’t want the pear filling to be higher than the frosting dam or else it will squeeze out of the sides.
- Place the top layer on and gently press down. Add the buttercream to the top of the cake and use an offset spatula, rubber spatula, or butter knife to completely cover the cake.
- Slice, and serve.