Thanksgiving is just a week away, but fear not, I’m here to help with your holiday dessert decisions. This Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake is the answer– trust me. You already know that we’re a cake-crazy family (just take a look under the recipe section if you need proof), but this is one of our all-time favorites. I’ve already made it several times this year– most recently for my husband’s birthday a week ago. It’s beautiful, tastes as good as it looks, and screams ‘celebration’. Why fall back on the old standards of pumpkin or apple pie, when you can end your Thanksgiving meal with this stunner?
The key component in this cake is brown butter. I’m of the opinion that it makes everything better. Brown butter has a complex, nutty, almost caramel-like flavor. Here, you’ll find it in both the cake and the frosting. It adds those wonderful, layered flavors that set this cake apart from a typical pumpkin dessert. And then there’s the nuts. I’ve topped this cake with a mountain of pecans, pepitas, and ginger– all enveloped by melted brown sugar. Sublime. If you don’t want as many nuts on your cake (what’s wrong with you?), you can half the amounts and sprinkle them in a circle design on top. I like the grandness of the big pile on top, plus they’re an addictive snack that you’ll munch on as you assemble this beauty.
I’ve always made this cake with a homemade pumpkin puree. Aside from the freshness of doing it this way, it’s rewarding to do something with all of those pumpkins that have been decorating the house. If you have too many things on your plate (yes, I realize that’s a poor pun), feel free to use canned pumpkin puree. As always, try to use organic and make sure it contains only pureed pumpkin. Make this cake, and you’ll impress your guests– I promise.
The Recipe: Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake
For the Puree
1 medium-large Sugar Pie pumpkin, cut in half and seeded (large enough to yield 1 1/2 cups of puree)
For the Cake
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for pans
9 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for pans
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk (Note: to make your own add 1 teaspoon white vinegar to 1/3 cup milk and let stand for 10 minutes)
For the Topping:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups pecans halves
1 cup roasted and salted pepitas (raw and unsalted will work, too — just toast them a bit more with the pecans)
4 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
For the Frosting
4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 ounces (1 1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar
To make the Pumpkin Puree: Preheat oven to 350°F. Position racks in the center of oven. Place pumpkin in a baking dish covered with lid or aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool. Scoop pumpkin flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth. You will need 1 1/2 cups of puree for the cake. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Position rack in the center of the oven. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans by buttering them liberally, lining with parchment paper, buttering once again, and flouring the pans. Make sure to tap out any excess flour.
To make the Cake: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the butter occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups of the pumpkin puree with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until blended well. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until fully incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.
Bake the cakes until the a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let the cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove parchment paper, and cool completely.
Make the Topping: Melt the butter in a large 12-inch skillet. Add the pecans and cook until they brown slightly, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar, pepitas, and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. Remove from heat and let cool in skillet.
To make the Frosting: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the butter occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pout into a small bowl and let stand until all of the brown solids settle to the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer bowl to freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving behind the brown solid bits. Discard the brown bits.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1-2 more minutes.
To assemble the Cake: Place one layer of cake on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of frosting on it. Sprinkle 3/4 cup (scant) of the nut mixture (rough chop this small amount, so it stays in the cake better) over the frosting and top with another layer of cake. Frost the top and sides of cake and place remaining nut mixture on the top. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Serve at room temperature. Will keep well for a few days. Enjoy!
Source: Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Oct/Nov 2010
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