Over the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of embarking on many a baking adventure with my roommate Sarah. While I work on finishing my Thanksgiving recap, Sarah was kind enough to stop by and share this recipe that she made for her own pre-Thanksgiving with friends.
I was delighted to be invited to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with friends the Sunday prior to the actual holiday. As I’m known among friends as a baker, I offered to bring dessert. However, since most of us would be eating the traditional pumpkin (or apple or sweet potato or pecan or mincemeat – yes, I said mincemeat!) pie on turkey day, I decided to break with tradition and whip up a Spiced Pumpkin Cake recipe I found in Saveur magazine.
A quick note about Saveur: I’ve recently subscribed to the magazine, and so far, I love it. In many ways, it reminds me of a food blog, with the focus on great personal stories about food, in addition to recipes. The photography is beautiful, but it doesn’t feel contrived. Saveur has a real sense of honesty and authenticity that elevates it from a typical food magazine. In some ways, I feel like I’m reading National Geographic with recipes.
If the Spiced Pumpkin Cake is a litmus test for the quality of Saveur’s recipes, then I’m very excited, because it turned out beautifully. However, in the process of baking I made some strategic (and some not-so-strategic!) alterations and substitutions. For instance, I didn’t have any ground mace on hand, and I failed to find it in either Whole Foods or Shaw’s. As mace is from the same plant as nutmeg, and has similar qualities, I suppose nutmeg might serve as an apt substitution. However, I decided to leave it out altogether, and was not unhappy with the result. Another change I made was to double the amount of cinnamon, simply for the reason that I like it. Perhaps the most substantive change was my decision to frost the cake with cream cheese frosting, as opposed to the traditional buttercream as outlined in the original recipe. I’ve included the cream cheese frosting recipe, taken from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook below. Finally, after frosting the cake, I sprinkled about ¼ cup of chopped pecans for a little decoration and added crunch. I find having nuts on top of the cake, rather than baked in, is advantageous when making desserts for parties because those who don’t like nuts can easily brush them off.
The resulting cake was flavorful, delicious, and texturally appealing. The cake itself was moist and smooth. The frosting, creamy and light. My friends, who had already eaten their way through a multicourse Thanksgiving meal, ate generous portions. A co-worker who ate the leftovers the next day pronounced the cake “One of the best things I have ever eaten!” Enough said. It was also incredibly pretty, and it made me wish I actually owned a cake plate (hint, hint, Santa!), which would have added to the presentation.
I attribute the success of the cake to a couple key factors. First, I have never worked with cake flour, but after using it in this recipe I am a total convert (I used King Arthur Cake Flour). Curious about what makes cake flour so special, I went to wikipedia and learned that cake flour’s special properties are that it is finely milled and made from soft wheat. It has very low protein content, between 8% and 10%, making it suitable for cakes and cookies. Second, I think there was a nice balance of spice – enough to give it good flavor without tasting like a holiday-themed Glade plug-in. In particular, the ginger gave it a flavor profile similar to pumpkin pie. Finally, I am a huge fan of cream cheese frosting, and I used high quality butter and cream cheese. I really whipped the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla for quite a while before each addition of powdered sugar. The whipping helped aerate the frosting and give it a nice, light texture.
If you’ve had any experience with baking, this cake was straightforward and simple to make, and would be a great addition to a holiday dinner party or gathering, or perhaps for a Fall birthday. I think what surprised me most was how delicious such an elegant and simple cake could be – I hope you’ll bake it and enjoy!
RECIPE: SPICED PUMPKIN CAKE
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 cups cake flour, plus more for pan
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin purée,
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1. Heat oven to 375°. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans lined with parchment paper cut to fit; set aside. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and mace; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat 1/2 cup butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until smooth. Add half the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add pumpkin and milk, and then add remaining dry ingredients; mix until smooth. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with a rubber spatula; bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes; unmold cakes and let cool.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat remaining butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Increase speed to high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy.
3. Place 1 cake on a cake stand and frost the top with 1/3 of the frosting; stack second cake on top and frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Refrigerate cake; let cake sit for 1 hour at room temperature before serving.
RECIPE: CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
5 to 6 cups confectioner’s sugar
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add two cups of 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in additional powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.