Pumpkin Brown Butter Layer Cake

For Thanksgiving this year I originally intended to make a marbled pumpkin cheesecake, but my seven-year-old responded with a firm “no,” insisting on cake. Since she’s been getting into baking lately, I figured I’d enlist her help to make this one, which has a lot of components (you saw a few of them already) but ends up looking and tasting really impressive. The pumpkin cake is lovely and moist, and the candied nuts add a wonderful textural contrast. The decorative garnishes were just icing on the cake!

That being said, I really like using brown butter in recipes, but I have to admit that while the batter smelled amazing I couldn’t really taste the flavor in the cake itself. The frosting had more brown butter flavor, but again it wasn’t prevalent enough to really make it worthwhile, particularly when the cream cheese kind of took over. In the future I’d probably use regular butter in the cake, at least.

Pumpkin Brown Butter Cake (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Cake

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and prepare pans with nonstick spray and parchment. I used three 7″ pans, but you could use two 9″ pans as well.

2. Melt butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat and swirl the pan occasionally until the butter turns golden-brown (about 4 minutes). Pour into a bowl and let it cool for about 15 minutes.

3. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.

4. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves.

5. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Add brown butter and stir until incorporated.

6. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely.

Candied nut filling

  • 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup pecan pieces
  • 1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped crystallized ginger
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. (note: if you substitute pre-roasted pecans and pepitas, you can skip this step and just combine everything in the skillet)
  3. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are coated, about 2 minutes. I will note that my nuts never got smoothly coated– the sugar stayed kind of grainy. Still tasty, though.
  4. Stir in the chopped ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Frosting

  • 8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 10 oz. (2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tbs. heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Brown the butter as you did for the cake (or you can do all the butter at once if you like, and divide it afterwards) 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.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, salt, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes.
  3. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust texture with cream and additional powdered sugar, until you’re satisfied with it.

Note: This amount of frosting will cover a 3-layer 7″ cake, though it won’t be a thick layer. It should be plenty for a 2-layer 9″ cake.

To Assemble:

1. Level off your cake layers with a knife if necessary. Spread a thinnish layer of frosting onto the first layer, top with a handful of candied nuts, and press into the frosting. Add a bit more frosting on top to promote adhesion, then top with another cake layer. Repeat with your next layer.

2. Coat the cake with a thin layer of frosting, then chill 15 minutes to seal. Once chilled, add more frosting to get a nice, smooth surface.

3. Garnish with extra candied nuts, or desired extras– I used a salted butter caramel drip, autumn leaf tuiles, and chocolate acorns made from Hershey’s kisses topped with mini Nilla wafers!

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