Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake

If you are trying to find a new dessert for the holidays, look no further.  I did not intend on posting this cake until closer to Thanksgiving, but I can't resist anymore.  If you are anything like me, you probably begin thinking about the dessert even before you think about the turkey, and here is a cake for you to think about from now until Thanksgiving Day when you can finally eat and savor it bite by bite. 

This recipe was originally printed in the October/November issue of Fine Cooking magazine.  I saw it last year and wanted to make it but never got around to it.  I actually made it about a month ago with the excuse that I needed to try it before Thanksgiving to make sure it was worthy.  Isn't that a great excuse?  I thought so.  The results were definitely worth making again and will very likely make it to my holiday celebration this year. 

I will say that I do not bake many layer cakes, not because I don't like them, but because they are a bit time consuming (and large) when you only have two people in the house to eat them.  Since I don't bake many layer cakes, I am not the best cake froster or decorator, but this cake came out surprisingly nice looking which I credit to simple directions and steps.  If I can make the cake look similar to the cake in the magazine, anyone can!

This cake does require several steps, and while none of the steps are difficult, they can be a bit time-consuming.  The good thing is that many of them can be done ahead including the frosting and nut topping. 

I started by toasting some pecans and pepitas in brown sugar and butter until the sugar melted and formed a candy coating.  I then added chopped dried cranberries.  The original recipe called for crystallized ginger, but when I went to the store to purchase it, they were sold out.  I am not a huge fan of it anyway, so I opted for the cranberries which still provide the chewy factor while also adding a tart element to the candied topping.  I also opted to use roasted, salted pepitas in the topping rather than raw.  Since they were salted, I left the salt (called for in the original recipe) out.

The cake layers are spiced and extra moist from the added pumpkin puree.  They cooked beautifully and came out of the pan with no problem at all.  I took part of this cake to work and we kept the rest at home.  Covered, it kept nicely for about 3 days without drying out in the least which should give you an idea of how moist these layers really are.

The frosting is made with cream cheese and brown butter.  It is creamy and nutty and could easily be eaten by the spoonful if you don't have a lot of self-control (like me).  I did read a lot of reviews about this cake before, and some people commented that they thought it needed more frosting.  I will say that there is not an overabundance of frosting.  The layer in between the two cake halves is not thick, and there is just enough to cover the outside.  I found that it was enough but there was none to spare.  If you want more, you may want to make 1 1/2 recipes of frosting to have a little wiggle room, but I don't think you need more than that because the frosting is so sweet. 

The most important thing I can say about this cake (aside from the fact that everyone who tried it loved it) is that the nuts are fantastic.  Even though the cake and frosting are delicious, the nuts make it extra special.  We made a double batch of the nuts to have enough to cover the top of the cake.  We still had a few left which made an excellent snack during the week. 

I am really making myself hungry for a slice of this right now, so I am going to end this post with the recipe.  Enjoy!

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake- only slightly adapted from Fine Cooking
serves 8-12

Cake Layers:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pans
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)

Topping (This is doubled to cover the entire top. If you just want to decorate the edge of the cake with the nuts, make only half this amount):
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups pecan halves
1 cup hulled, roasted, and salted pepitas
4 tbsp packed brown sugar
3 tbsp chopped dried cranberries

1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

For the Cake:
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment and sides of the pans and flour the pans.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat.  Swirl the butter around in the pan until it is nutty and golden, about 4 minutes.  Pour the butter into a small bowl and set aside until cool, 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk.  Using a spatula, gently stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until just combined.  Gently whisk in the brown butter until just combined.  Divide the batter evenly among the two pans. 

Bake the cakes about 28 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Remove cake layers from pans and allow to cool completely on wire racks. 

For the Topping:Melt the butter in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the nuts and pepitas and cook until slightly brown, 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook until the nuts are glazed, 2 minutes.  Add the chopped, dried cranberries.  Remove from the heat to cool completely.

For the Frosting:
Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium.  Swirl the butter until it is nutty and golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl.  Let the solids settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully move the bowl to the freezer and allow it stand in the freezer 15-18 minutes.  Scrap the butter from the bowl leaving the solids at the bottom.  Discard the solids. 

Beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed using an electric mixer until it is light cream in color, 2 minutes.  Gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar until fluffy, 1-2 minutes more. 

Assemble the Cake:
Place one cake layer on a plate.  Spread 1/2 cup frosting over the cake layer.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of of the nut topping on the cake layer.  Top with the second cake layer.  Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, and pile the remaining nut topping in the center of the cake extending out toward the edges.  (If only using half of the nut topping, arrange in a ring around the edge of the top of the cake).

Serve the cake or refrigerate 2-3 days. 

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