This brown sugar cinnamon layer cake is full of autumn flavor and spice, with moist cake layers, candied pecans, and the fluffiest buttercream frosting.
If fall were a cake flavor, this would be it. I’ve been dreaming of it for weeks, trying to decide just how to put it all together. Finally, I landed with this beauty.
This cake is all about the brown sugar + cinnamon combination. And both flavors are carried through the whole cake— the cake layers, the simple syrup I use to keep everything moist, the filling, and the frosting! These flavors go so well together and the whole ensemble is beautiful and delicious. Not to mention, perfect for fall.
I served this cake at a dinner party earlier this week and everyone raved about it. That’s one of the reasons I make layers cakes is because it’s always special, and always a crowd-pleaser. And this one especially, it’s one everyone will love!
How to Make This Brown Sugar Cinnamon Layer Cake
Layer cakes are a labor of love, it’s true. And while this is far from the most complicated cake I’ve shared on the blog, it does require some time and commitment. But like all beautiful and delicious cakes, it will be worth it in the end!
There are 4 components to this cake:
- Brown sugar cinnamon cake layers
- Brown sugar cinnamon simple syrup
- Candied pecans
- Brown sugar buttercream frosting
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Cake Layers
It all starts with layers of soft and tender butter cake scented with brown sugar and plenty of cinnamon.
The cake recipe uses the reverse creaming method, which means all the dry ingredients are beaten together with the butter before the eggs and liquids are added at the end. (It’s the same way I make my beloved coconut cake.) It’s not any more difficult than using the traditional creaming method, and I like how light and tender the cake layers turn out.
Bake the cake layers in advance if you want (I always bake mine at least 1 day ahead of when I will assemble the final cake) and store in the fridge for up to 5 days and in the freezer for a month or more. See my tips on how to store cake layers here.
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Simple Syrup
I love the flavor that butter adds to cake, but sometimes cakes made with butter instead of oil can taste a little dry. Especially if you accidentally bake it a few minutes longer than you should (we’ve all been there!). My #1 secret for boosting flavor and moisture in a layer cake is to brush the cake layers with a little simple syrup as you’re putting it together.
It’s simply a mixture of water, sugar, and any other flavorings/extracts/liqueurs (I used water, brown sugar, and cinnamon for this cake) and it takes less than 5 minutes to make. This little extra step is optional, but can make a big difference.
I was planning to make these myself, but then I realized I was doing enough already. Thankfully, you can find candied pecans quite easily at most grocery stores (I got mine at Trader Joe’s).
I like the added surprise crunch of the nuts between each layer and the candied pecans also add a little extra carmel-y flavor!
Brown Sugar Buttercream
This stuff is literally the icing on the cake and it’s my new favorite. This buttercream is incredible! All I did was take my famous whipped vanilla frosting and add brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon.
It’s so light and fluffy, and the brown sugar flavor is just so darn good, and the perfect finish to this fall cake.
This frosting is used both as the filling and final frosting, with just enough extra for a little decoration if you’d like. More candied pecans, cinnamon sticks, and/or a dusting of cinnamon are great finishing touches for this cake too.
My Best Layer Cake Tips
- If you’re new to baking layer cakes or need a little help, be sure to check out my complete guide for how to build a layer cake. It’s got everything you need to know!
- This cake recipe uses cake flour to achieve the lightest and most tender crumb. For best results, don’t substitute for all-purpose flour. You should be able to find it any any grocery store or you can even make your own.
- For the absolute best results, have the butter, buttermilk, and eggs at room temperature before mixing the cake. This will help the ingredients combine better, which affects rise and texture.
- Both light and dark brown sugar will work in this recipe, but I always use dark brown sugar (also sometimes called old fashioned brown sugar) in my baking for the most flavor.
- You can use either 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans. (These are the pans I have and love.) 8-inch pans will yield a taller cake, 9-inch will yield one that’s wider. You can also use more or less pans for a 2, 3, 4 (or more) layered cake. I baked this cake in 2 8-inch pans and split them into 4. See my tip for how to split cake layers, it really is quite easy!
- Do your cakes tend to stick inside the pan? See how I prepare my cake pans so they come out clean every single time.
- If you need a little help frosting your cake like a (semi) pro, see my full tutorial.
- I like to store assembled cakes in the fridge to keep them firm, fresh, and safe from little hands. They will be freshest within 2-3 days of assembly but can be stored for up to a week. Pull the cake out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Other Fall Cakes To Love
- Pumpkin Caramel Poke Cake
- Sweet Potato Spice Cake
- Maple Bundt Cake
- Bourbon Butterscotch Layer Cake
- Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake
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Brown Sugar Cinnamon Layer
For the cake layers:
- 3 cups cake flour , measured correctly (336 grams)
- 2 cups packed light or dark brown sugar (440 grams)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup unsalted butter , softened to room temperature (2 sticks, 226 grams)
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk , divided (375 ml)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the simple syrup (optional):
- ¼ cup water (60 ml)
- ¼ cup packed light or dark brown sugar (55 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the frosting:
- 4 cups powdered sugar , sifted (640 grams)
- ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar (110 grams)
- 1 cup unsalted butter , softened to room temperature (2 sticks, 226 grams)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup heavy cream (60 ml)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup candied pecans , roughly chopped (120 grams)
To make the cake layers:
- Place oven rack in the center of your oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 or 3 8 or 9-inch round cake pans (see Notes) and line bottoms with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter and 1 cup of the buttermilk.
- With the paddle attachment, beat mixture on low speed until moistened and combined. Increase speed to medium high and beat for several minutes until smooth and creamy, scraping down the bowl once or twice.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ½ cup buttermilk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.
- Add the wet ingredients to the mixer in 3 additions, mixing and scraping the bowl down after each. Mix on medium speed until smooth.
- Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.
- Bake until edges come away from the pan, and center feels firm and bounces back when gently pressed, 20-25 minutes. (Time will depend on size of pan and how many you're using. I recommend only baking 2 at a time on the center rack, if using more than 2 pans bake in 2 batches.)
- Let cakes cool about 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out to a wire rack to cool completely.
- I prefer to completely chill cake layers before assembling the final cake. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days, or double wrap and freeze for several months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before using.
To make simple syrup:
- Combine water, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth.
- Cool completely. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
To make frosting and assemble cake:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add sifted powdered sugar, brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon, heavy cream and vanilla.
- Mix on low speed until moistened and combined. Increase speed to medium high and beat for 4-5 minutes until smooth and very light and creamy. Scrape the bowl down a few times as needed.
- Place one cake layer on a stand or plate and use a pastry brush to lightly coat it with simple syrup. Then cover with about ½ cup of frosting. Top with ⅓-½ cup frosting (depending on how many layers you have).
- Repeat with remaining cake layers.
- Frost entire cake with remaining buttercream and decorate as desired.
- This cake can be baked in either 8 or 9-inch pans. You can use 2 or 3 pans, depending on the look you're going for: double layer (2 pans), triple layer (3 pans), or quadruple layer (2 pans, then slice each layer in half). If your 8-inch pans are only 2-inches high, you will probably want to bake 3 or 4 layers in batches to prevent overflow (Mine are 3-inches high).
- Butter, buttermilk, and eggs should be at room temperature for best results. Just pull them out of the fridge 30-60 minutes before you make the cake.
- Cake flour produces the tenderest cake. You can make your own if you can't find it at the store.
- Make ahead: All of the components of this cake can be made ahead of time. Store wrapped cakes in the fridge for up to 5 days, and in the freezer for 1 month or more. Simple syrup and buttercream can be stored in the fridge for a week. Let buttercream come to room temperature and beat with an electric mixer before frosting the cake.