Things have been quite around here for awhile, but what better way to come back than with two of my favorite things: pumpkin and cake! I made this beautiful cake for a friend’s baby shower a few weeks ago and it was so delicious, and quintessentially fall, that I had to share it. Not to mention, I’m loving the semi-naked cake look. It’s elegant and rustic all at the same time!
First, let’s talk cake. A lot of pumpkin recipes can be dense because pumpkin provides extra moisture, but that’s not ideal for a three layer cake. Instead, this cake is fluffy and moist. It’s also loaded with all of the warm, fall spices that we’ve come to know and love as “pumpkin spice”. It may seem like a lot of spices, but I promise they just blend together with the pumpkin and give it that perfect pumpkin flavor.
Pumpkin cake would not be complete without cream cheese frosting, but this frosting brings the cake to a whole new level. I’ve made a lot of delicious frostings, but this one might actually be my favorite. I’m talking about browned butter cream cheese frosting. Yum! Browning the butter gives the frosting a nutty, caramel flavor which pairs amazingly well with the tangy cream cheese. Add in the fluffy, pumpkin spice cake and it’s a match made in heaven!
I know baking a cake isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun afternoon, but this cake is so easy and freezes really well. These turned out great as cupcakes too, if that’s more your thing, or you could even call them “muffins” without the frosting 😉 (check the notes section for adaptations). This cake would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving menu, especially for people who don’t like pie (and you can make it ahead!). It was perfect for a fall-themed baby shower and would even be great on a rainy, fall weekend (I’m looking at you, Pacific Northwest). However and whenever you make this cake, I really hope you do!
Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
1. I scaled this recipe back so it would yield 3, 6-inch layers of cake. The original recipe would have made 4 layers, but 3 layers was tall enough for my liking. If you would like a fourth layer of cake, or extra mini-cupcakes as shown in the pictures, scale the recipe up by 1/3 (multiply all ingredients by 1.333). You’ll find the directions for mini cupcakes below. 2. To make cupcakes or mini-cupcakes, line cupcake pans with liners. Bake regular size cupcakes for 18-22 minutes and mini cupcakes for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing from cupcake pans. Allow to cool completely before frosting. 3. The cake layers freeze wonderfully. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before assembling cake. Recipe for pumpkin spice cake adapted from Half Baked Harvest. Recipe for browned butter cream cheese frosting adapted from Butternut Bakery.
For the pumpkin cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
11 ounce pumpkin puree
For the browned butter cream cheese frosting
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 and 1/2 8-ounce blocks (12 ounces) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
To make the pumpkin spice cake
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 3, 6-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then spray with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the canola oil, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and pumpkin until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients until smooth and no lumps remain in the batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake 25-30 minutes, until the tops are just set, and no longer wiggly in the center. Remove and let cool five minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Cover and let the cakes cool completely before assembling.
To make the browned butter cream cheese frosting
Place 8 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. Melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Allow the butter to brown lightly until it smells toasted, about 5 minutes. Stir often.
Remove from heat, and immediately pour into a heat-proof bowl. Refrigerate until solid.
In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the solid brown butter on high speed until creamed.
Add remaining 4 Tbs room temperature butter and beat until smooth.
Add the cream cheese and beat on high speed until combined, smooth, and creamy.
Add 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 1 minute.
To assemble the cake
Using a serrated knife, cut off any rounded tops on the cake layers, ensuring each layer is level.
Place the first layer on a cake board, plate or cake stand.
Spread 1/3 of the buttercream over the cake. Repeat with second layer and top with third layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow layers to set.
Frost top and outside of cake with remaining buttercream. Use a bench scraper to smooth out the frosting on the sides of the cake. Chill again for at least 30 minutes to set cake.
Serve cake at room temperature. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.