Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving 101 - Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

The Comfort Family's Farm on Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton. A great place to get your pumpkin if you are lucky enough to live on the East End.  
           Beyond Roast Turkey and Stuffing, there's nothing that says Thanksgiving more than pumpkin.  But this year, instead of pumpkin pie, how about a phenomenally delicious Pumpkin cake?  This one, with it's brown butter frosting and pecan topping, really does take the cake.  
        For Thanksgiving, Andrew is always bitten by the pumpkin bug…well, not literally, but he goes into high pumpkin mode.  With help from Fine Cooking, the magazine we really think would make a terrific addition to your kitchen, he made this  remarkable cake:  

 Two layers of spiced pumpkin cake frosted with brown butter and cream cheese icing, layered with gingery glazed nuts and for good measure completely topped with even more nuts—including pepitas or pumpkin seeds.  Now what’s also remarkable about this cake is that until very recently, Andrew wouldn’t touch pumpkin.  We can’t quite get to the bottom of why pumpkin was off the menu for so many years.  Andrew’s sister Lauren was also a pumpkin-phobe.  He believes this family aversion likely came from an encounter with a particularly unappealing pumpkin pie at an early age.   All I can say is thank god that’s over.  It's another example of some dim bad food taste that, once our palates have grown up, it might be time to give another chance.   Because this cake was the hit of last year's Thanksgiving  dinner party.  And the true test of its success was that it was eaten by at least one person who never touches dessert.  Oh, and, by the way, Lauren called to say she made Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf this weekend.
     Since I am not the family baker, I'm always astonished at the length Andrew goes to when baking.  Take the pumpkin puree here.  The purist may want to go to the trouble of making it, but, I am happy to say, Andrew opted for pure pumpkin puree in a can.  But don't mistake this for Pumpkin Pie filling. They are decidedly not the same thing.  

For the Pumpkin Puree
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium-large Sugar Pie pumpkin, cut in half from stem to bottom and seeded
Looks a lot like homemade, doesn't it?
Tip:  Please substitute 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin purée for homemade, by all means.

For the cake
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

For the topping:  Here Andrew doubled the recipe to completely cover the cake with this crunchy delicious topping.  You should too!
1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2/3 cup pecans
1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger
For the frosting
4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

Make the pumpkin purée...if you must.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Brush a 9x13-inch baking dish with the oil. Put the pumpkin halves in the dish cut side down and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Peel the pumpkin and purée the flesh in a food processor until smooth. You’ll need 1-1/2 cups of the purée for the cake. Refrigerate or freeze any remaining purée for another use.

Make the cake
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan 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 purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

Make the topping
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

Make the frosting
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake

Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the frosting and top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Arrange the remaining topping in a ring 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the cake and serve.  Serves 8 – 12.


  1. Wow - I knew this was an "Andrew" as soon as I saw the photo. Gorgeous and so mouthwatering. I love that you gave us the freedom of canned Pumpkin puree - I give you Thanks, tis the season after all. C: Pepitas, I would have never guessed, but love it. Thank you both!!

  2. Ana, you are are number one fan and we love you for it. This cake is outrageously good. Hope you'll have an opportunity to try it. And the happiest of Thanksgivings to you and yours. XOXO Monte

  3. This cake looks great. I love pumpkin now but am surprised how many people don't even want to try it. BTW, the chocolate pumpkin loaf from Baked is one of the easiest and most delicious desserts ever. It is now my fall tradition.

    I love your Thanksgiving blogs.

  4. So normally my sister gets all the kudos for the deserts at the holiday meals...BUT...thanks to this recipe...THIS YEAR...I was the talk of the table. Thanks so much for all the hard work.