The quatre épices in this cake is the perfect gingerbread spice with a grown-up pepper kick
French Four-Spice Cake with Browned Butter Spice Frosting
Yunhee Kim
French four-spice cake with browned butter spice frosting

This cake starts out tasting like citrus and sweet spices, then builds to a gentle pepper glow if the quatre épices is made with white pepper, or a good kick if it’s based on black pepper.



  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 11/3 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tsp. quatre épices
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. each baking soda and salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk


  • 2/3 cup butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tsp. quatre épices
  • 2 tbsp. half-and-half
  • 1½ tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-in. square pan.

2. Make cake: Beat butter, brown sugar, and zest in a large bowl with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well blended. In another bowl, combine flour and other dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to butter mixture one-third at a time, alternating with buttermilk half at a time, and beating on low speed after each addition until blended. Spread batter in pan.

3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack, 10 minutes. Loosen cake from pan with a slender spatula, then invert onto a rack. Re-invert onto another rack; cool completely.

4. Make frosting: Cook butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into a mixer bowl, let cool, then chill until firm enough to beat, about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except for nuts and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, occasionally scraping inside of bowl.

5. Split cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Lift off top layer with 2 wide spatulas. Set bottom layer on a platter, then spread with half of frosting. Replace top layer. Spread top of cake with remaining frosting, then sprinkle with nuts.

PER SERVING 490 Cal., 44% (215 cal.) from fat; 4.5 g protein; 24 g fat (13 g sat.); 68 g carbo (1.3 g fiber); 348 mg sodium; 85 mg chol.

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