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Today is National Cake Day, so it seems fitting to tell you about my favorite cake*. I love this recipe so much. Pumpkin cake or muffins are pretty hard to mess up, in my opinion, and the brown butter makes this extra-special. I am a sucker for a good cream cheese frosting, so this is one of a handful of frosted cakes that is dangerous to have on hand– I can ignore most of the four-layer, chocolate and peanut butter and caramel and more concoctions my husband asks for on his birthday, but I am willpower-less to resist this pumpkin cake. For this very reason, I wait until I have some roasted sugar pumpkin on hand and make it once a year, maybe twice, and make sure to give some as gifts. I haven’t heard anything less than rave reviews. It’s a perfect, nicely spiced, just sweet enough, delicious dessert.

I follow a recipe from Fine Cooking; the only real change is that I prefer to make a single-layer rather than two-layer cake the original recipe describes. Most recently, I made one 8″ x 8″ square cake and 3 mini loaves to give as gifts from this recipe, with a bit of extra frosting left. You can also use a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, and that’s what I suggest and call for below. If you want something a little fancier, take a look at the original recipe and consider making the layer cake with the pecan topping. It’s a bit too much for everyday, but I did make it once for a dinner party and it was spectacular, the hit of the meal.

My Mom makes a delicious pumpkin bread in mini loaves and, every December, gives some to our neighbors, friends and family members. Her pumpkin bread and thoughtfulness are legendary. Someday I hope to follow in her footsteps and spend days and days baking for everyone I know; when that day comes, I’d like to think this cake will be what I am known for.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake (from Fine Cooking)

  • 12 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 c. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. butter

For the frosting:

  • 8 T. unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 12 T. butter; swirl the pan occasionally and continue cooking until the butter turns golden-brown. This process took 5 mins. for me, from the point when the butter was completely melted to the point when it was brown. It’s important to stay right there, monitoring the progress– it seems that, just as you’re convinced it’s not doing anything, the butter browns quickly. As soon as it’s golden, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly, 10-15 mins.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, sugar and brown sugar; add the eggs and buttermilk. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the flour mixture. Carefully stir in your browned butter until it is completely incorporated. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and cook for 35-45 mins., until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack until it’s at room temperature before frosting.

While the cake cools, prepare your frosting, starting with the brown butter. Melt 8 T. butter in a saucepan over medium heat, using the same technique you did for the cake. When the butter is brown, pour it into a small bowl (clear glass is a good choice, so you can see what’s happening) and let it sit for 5 mins., until the solids settle to the bottom of the bowl. Put the bowl into the fridge for about 20 mins. until the butter is firm. Remove the butter from the bowl and scrape away the browned solid bits; these can be discarded. Put the brown butter into a mixing bowl and allow it to soften slightly at room temperature. Add the cream cheese and use a stand or electric mixer to whip them together; add brown sugar and whip for another 2 mins. to dissolve, then add in confectioners’ sugar.

Serve the frosted cake at room temperature. The pumpkin cake can be frozen, unfrosted, for up to 3 months and will keep, covered and refrigerated, for several days.

*I reserve the right to change my mind in favor of the salted caramel cake my husband made one time, or my Mom’s coconut cake, or my Nana’s chocolate cake…