If you’ve got a taste for a dessert that’s a wee bit adventurous and decadently delicious, then this moist Chinese five spice cake with rich ginger buttercream and candied ginger is definitely one for your recipe box!
Dessert Gets a Little Adventurous with Chinese Five Spice Cake
If you were to take a little peak inside the cabinet just to the right of my stove, you’d see a wide variety of international spices, or what I like to refer to as my “magical powders”.
I’m a spice fanatic, no question about it. And if you’ve spent enough time on this website, or have prepared my recipes over the years, you most likely know that I’m big on bold, complex flavors and that my dishes so very often call for a pinch of “this” or a pinch of “that” to awaken the palate.
I love unique flavor combinations, and I’m definitely partial to warm spices that invigorate not only one’s tastebuds, but their spirit as well. I simply adore being surprised by the delicious results that so often come about from interesting spices being used in unexpected ways.
Enter this Chinese five spice cake… a moist, sweet, rich spice cake unlike any you’ve tried before.
Are you intrigued?
What Exactly Is Chinese Five Spice, Anyway?
Chinese five spice powder is meant to embody the five basic flavors of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, which is a word often used to describe the flavor of “savoriness”.
The components of Chinese five spice powder are cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, and peppercorns ground up finely to form a spice powder that is readily found in the spice section of local markets.
This combination of spices creates a rich and deep flavor profile, one that is typically used in more savory Chinese-style recipes; but it’s rife with potential when added into a sweet spice cake recipe like this one, in my humble opinion.
A Traditional Spice Cake with an Untraditional Twist
The beauty of using Chinese five spice powder in a spice cake is that it already contains two very familiar spices, cinnamon and cloves. The star anise, fennel, and peppercorns simply add a different-yet-complimentary note, and a hint of actual spiciness, delicious in dessert.
To compliment this particular flavor profile, I created a ginger buttercream frosting (with a tiny hint of cream cheese added in!), and chose a garnish of candied ginger sprinkled over top to tie the flavors together and keep this cake’s slightly “Asian” theme going.
Sure, this Chinese five spice cake with ginger frosting may sound a little different, and you’re right, it is!
But it’s deliciously different, with both traditional and not-so-traditional flavors, and perfect for those occasions when you’re craving being a little adventurous with your dessert!
Tips & Tid-bits for Chinese Five Spice Cake:
- Where to find Chinese five spice powder: You can find Chinese five spice powder ( or “five spice powder”) at most grocery stores these days; it’ll be in the section with the rest of the spices and seasonings.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet: It’s easiest when you prepare your dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and then just add them at once into the wet ingredients, and fold them together. There’s no need for the stand mixer with this recipe, only a whisk and spatula!
- Your choice of apples: I use grated apples in this recipe for a bit of extra moisture, and because they have a neutral flavor. I like to use gala apples for their texture and sweetness, but feel free to use your favorite variety.
- Prepare your cake ahead: You can bake your cake off a day or so in advance. Once cooled, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap. When ready to serve, prepare the frosting and frost the cake. (You can also prepare the frosting in advance and keep it in the fridge, but know that it will become stiff and will need to be re-whipped with the hand mixer to make it fluffy again.)
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
Chinese Five Spice Cake with Ginger Frosting
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: 18 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 3/4 teaspoons five spice powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 2 large gala apples, peeled and grated
• Candied ginger (minced), as garnish on top of frosting
• 4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temp
• 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temp
• 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
• 3 tablespoons milk or half & half
• 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 (heaping) teaspoon grated ginger
–Preheat the oven to 350°, and line a 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment and spray with cooking spray.
–In a bowl, whisk together the flour, five spice powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt, and set these dry ingredients aside for a moment.
–In a separate bowl, whisk together the brown and granulated sugars with the eggs, then add in the oil and vanilla, and whisk those in to combine; add the dry ingredients into these wet, and now using a spatula, gently mix and fold the ingredients together until mostly combined; add in the grated apples, and fold those in.
–Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and bake for about 38-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; allow to cool for 10 -15 minutes in the pan.
–While the cake bakes, prepare the ginger frosting by adding the softened cream cheese and butter into a large bowl; using a hand mixer, mix the two until light and creamy; add in the powdered sugar in increments, and mix that in; add a little of the milk or half & half at a time until you reach your desired consistency; add in the vanilla and grated ginger, and mix that in until completely combined and fluffy; set aside.
–Carefully turn the cake out of the pan (or, you can leave it in the pan, as well) and place onto a tray or wire rack, and allow to completely cool before frosting.
–Finish the cake by garnishing with the minced candied ginger. Enjoy!