This is one of my family’s very favorite cakes. My dad and my brother request it for pretty much every birthday, and we’ve been known to eat it for breakfast simply because we can’t resist. It’s an old family recipe (which probably means my Nana found the original in a magazine 50-odd years ago) and I’ve never tasted anything similar. It’s a mocha spice cake, but not your usual spice cake, either. I don’t know why it’s supposedly “Arabic,” but it is really, really good.
The original cake recipe tends to get dry easily, so I’ve tweaked it somewhat and made it a little moister. The frosting is another story – it’s a mocha frosting, and the original recipe calls for raw egg yolks, which of course is a no-no these days. My mom and I make the frosting slightly differently every time we make it, because it’s one of those that you can get right only by tasting it. This time the frosting was perfect, but of course I didn’t write down exactly what I did! So I’ve given guidelines below, but I’m sure I’ll change it next time I make it.
Arabic Spice Cake
adapted from my Nana’s recipe
(original source unknown)
3/4 c butter (room temperature)
1-1/2 c sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon extract (I have also successfully used 1 tsp lemon juice, since I’d run out of lemon extract)
1/2 c finely chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and vegetable oil. In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In a third bowl (or liquid measuring cup), mix together the wet ingredients.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with two batches of the buttermilk mixture, beating until just combined after each.
Fold in the walnuts.
Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center is just clean. Do not overbake or it will be dry. Cool in pans on rack for 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely.
Frosting (A Guideline)
1 cup butter, room temperature
3-4 Tbsp natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-process, and sift it if it’s lumpy)
1.5-2 lbs powdered sugar
Really strong coffee/espresso – I use approx. 2 Tbsp espresso powder in 4 Tbsp hot tap water. I’ve also used Starbucks Via packets with great success.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter until it’s glossy. Add 3 Tbsp cocoa, approx. 1lb of powdered sugar, and the pinch of salt. Beat until combined. Add about 3/4 of the coffee.
Here’s where it becomes more guideline than recipe: from this point on, you’re trying to get both the flavor (strong coffee and strong chocolate – you don’t want the predominant flavor to be “sweet”) and the texture right. So you’ll add more of the cocoa, powdered sugar, coffee, and milk as you aim for that balance. I’ve also used chocolate syrup with success, when I wanted more chocolate flavor but I didn’t want it to get any drier.