The farmer’s market is full of pumpkins – tall and narrow, fat and round, these cheery orange orbs represent the change of seasons and the coming of Halloween. While they are great carved and lit with a candle, they are also a symbol for bakers. Their ridged, plumped presence is an early nod to pies and other treats imbued with the earthy flavor of fall. I’ll cover tips for making the best pumpkin pie in a few weeks, but for now, we’ll explore other options..
Pumpkin puree makes super moist, richly flavored baked goods. It is nearly always paired with the spices of pumpkin pie – that is, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. So closely related are these spices with the flavor of pumpkin that Starbucks named a coffee drink “pumpkin spice latte,” a title that prevented me from trying the concoction for years. The thought of pumpkin and coffee together was just too disgusting for me. It was only later that I realized it was only the spices that were in the coffee, and not the flavor of pumpkin (whew!).
Aside from coffee, pumpkin is a welcome addition to my fall kitchen baking. Not only does it improve the moistness and keeping qualities of breads and pastries, but everyone is crazy for it this time of year. Pumpkin cookies, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin flan…it shows up in nearly every sweet imaginable. And even though it’s available canned year round, no one is much interested in pumpkin once Christmas is past. I’ve never understood this – after all, the beauty of pumpkins is that they hold all winter long, sustaining people through a bleak time of year when fresh-picked prospects are few. I mean, we eat apples all year and they are a late summer, early fall crop as well. No matter - we’re not pioneers anymore, and we get lovely produce all year long. I accept it. In fact, I’m glad that pumpkin is savored with such gusto during a single season.
Pumpkin spice cake layered with maple cream cheese frosting is one of my favorite party cakes in the fall. It’s gorgeous and inviting and colorful and absolutely delicious. You can make it as a layer cake, or bake it into cupcakes. It’s Halloween week, and no doubt you have a party or two to think about. For kids, make the cupcakes and top them with little candy pumpkins, black and orange sprinkles, or Halloween-themed cupcake toppers. For adults, go for the layer cake. It’s relatively easy as layer cakes go, and so tender and moist you’ll find yourself slicing away at it for days (if there’s any left at all). The dusky orange crumb is perfect for a spooky night, and the comforting flavors will have you settling in with a sigh of contentment.
I love caramel with pumpkin, so I suggest going a step beyond the layer cake below by leaving off the pecans on the sides of the cake and adding caramel to the top. Pour about ½ to ¾ cup of room temperature store-bought caramel sauce over the top of the cake. Use a small offset spatula to spread it evenly across the surface, letting it drip down the sides. Put a couple of teaspoons of store-bought chocolate sauce in a ziptop bag, squeeze it into one corner, then snip off the tip. Pipe it in a spiral beginning in the center of the cake and ending at the outer edge. Use the tip of a toothpick or paring knife to drag lines from the center of the spiral to the outer edge of the cake, about ½ to 1 inch apart. Instant spiderweb. Chill to set the frosting and caramel glaze, but be sure to remove it from the refrigerator at least 40 minutes before serving, so it has time to come to room temperature. Not creepy enough? Add a plastic tarantula as garnish.More Pumpkin Spice Party Cake ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves 8 to 10
When the leaves are falling and the air is crisp, this cake will warm the kitchen with the fragrance of fall. The comforting flavor of spiced pumpkin in a soft and tender cake is layered with a luscious cream cheese frosting sweetened with real maple syrup. Be sure to use the darkest, most flavorful maple syrup you can find—look for Grade C, which is not an indication of quality but of darkness and intensity of flavor.Equipment 9 by 1¾-inch Round Cake Pan, Parchment Paper, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment or a Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Small Bowl, Fine-Mesh Strainer, Medium Bowl, Whisk, Cooling Rack, Food Processor (Optional), Thin and Flexible Knife or Spatula, Two (9-inch) Cake Cardboards or Tart Pan Bottoms, Serrated Knife, Icing Spatula, Thin and Sharp Knife
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened (65° to 68°F)
- 1½ cups (12 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (8 ounces) canned pumpkin puree (not spiced pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¹⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ cup (4 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- ¾ stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (6½ ounces) pure maple syrup, preferably Grade C
- 1¾ cups (5¼ ounces) sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 1 cup (4 ounces) pecan pieces, toasted and finely chopped, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat the pan with melted butter, oil, or high-heat canola-oil spray and fit it with a round of parchment paper.
- Cream the butter with the sugar: Beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer on medium-high until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
- Add the eggs: Beat the eggs and vanilla in the small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the pumpkin and blend well.
- Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately: With the fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves into the medium bowl and whisk to blend. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk; repeat, then finish with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.
- Bake the cake: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
- Make the frosting: Place the cream cheese and butter in the cleaned bowl of the mixer or a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners’ sugar and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the bowl with a clean spatula and blend again briefly.
- Unmold the cake: Run the thin, flexible knife or spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a cake cardboard or tart pan bottom on top of the pan, hold the two together, and flip over. Lift the pan off the cake, leaving the parchment on the cake. Flip again so the cake is right side up. Level the cake, if necessary. Using the serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally into two layers.
- Assemble and frost the cake: Place a cake cardboard (or plate) on your work surface. Using the second cardboard or tart bottom, transfer the cake’s top layer to the assembly cardboard, cut side up. With the icing spatula, spread a generous ½ cup of frosting evenly over the surface. Flip over the bottom layer of cake, slide it into place on top of the frosting, then remove the parchment paper. Voilà!—a crumb-free surface for frosting. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and side of the cake. Use a spoon to create swirls all over the top by gently pressing the tip of the spoon, rounded edge down, into the frosting in a back-and-forth motion. Press the toasted pecans into the side of the cake. Serve immediately, slicing with a thin, sharp knife, or refrigerate until needed.
Storing: The cake will keep, refrigerated, for 3 days. It is best served at cool room temperature, so be sure to take it out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before serving. Once cut, there is no need to wrap the whole cake with plastic; simply press a piece of plastic wrap firmly against the cut surfaces to keep the cake fresh.
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple–Cream Cheese
Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 standard-size cupcake tins with paper liners. Fill each liner three-fourths full with batter. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes; frost the day you wish to serve them. Cut the frosting recipe in half, or you’ll have a lot left over. Makes 18 cupcakes.
Pumpkin Spice Mini Cupcakes with Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting
Prepare the oven as directed for cupcakes. Spoon the batter into mini-muffin tins lined with paper liners, filling each cup with 1 tablespoon of batter to ¼ inch from the top of the liner. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centers. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Makes about 65 mini cupcakes.Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.