French Four Spice Cake with Browned Butter Spice Frosting

We recently got a subscription to Sunset Living, even though we live on the East Coast. We used to live on the West Coast and hope to one day move back. So, when we had SkyMiles that were going to expire and no chance of flying at the moment, we got a few subscriptions. Sunset Living was one of them. At least we can now pretend to be on the West Coast!

After daydreaming about all the spas I would like to frequent, I saw this cake recipe. First thing, it was rustic looking, which I loved. It’s nice to see a cake in a magazine that looks like anyone can do it, yet still looks so pretty. Second, the whole “spice” part really sounded appealing.

I had no idea what French Four Spice was, but thankfully we have our trusty Google search (seriously, how did anyone survived before Google?) and I found it is a spice blend made with pepper (all black or white and black), and a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or cloves. I was out of cloves, so my four spice blend had black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. The dominant ingredient is the pepper.

I admit, this scared me. Pepper in a cake? That’s different. And the icing – YUM. Browned butter? Ok! The icing ended up being my favorite part. No surprise there! But, the pepper -it was different. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t something I crave, or maybe even make again. The pepper part was just too overpowering for me. But, I’m glad I tried it. Something new! But next time I think I will leave out the pepper and have “Three spice cake”. That’s more my thing. Or maybe just add about half as much pepper so that you still get a hint of pepper, but it isn’t the dominant flavor.

My husband, who is a pepper fanatic, really liked this cake. He loves the pepper and he too loved the icing. So, if you’d like to try something new that is easy, different, and not overly sweet, definitely give this cake a try. It might surprise you.

Find the recipe here

French Four Spiced Cake with Browned Butter Spice Frosting

Sunset Living


  • 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.


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