After the race on Saturday we went home to celebrate. Not so much Manchild’s stellar 5K debut as Abby’s 27th birthday – although both were worthy of celebration, for sure. But Abby is by far the best sister I have living within a thousand miles of me and she’s a great aunt/babysitter as well and she deserves a celebration of her very own. And because we like her so very much, I wanted to pull out all the stops for her birthday cake.
So I did.
Now, as you may know, I am not one to let an occasion pass without slathering it in butter and showering it in sugar. This was no exception. But lest you think I have absolutely no restraint, let me just tell you that I have been planning to make this cake for nearly a year. I will not bore you with the reasons it took me 50 weeks to finally open a can of pumpkin and mix it into this cake batter, but don’t follow my example. You never know what will happen tomorrow, so make this cake today.
Having said that, this isn’t necessarily the kind of cake you whip out when you’re on deadline. It’s more of a lazy afternoon, drag-things-out-because-you-can kind of a project. So go ahead, make the cake. Let it sit, let it cool. Then, when you’re ready, start on the filling. No rush, really. It’s worth making, of course – don’t skip it – but no need to work yourself into a sweat over it. And finally, when you’ve done the dishes, wiped down the counter, let the flour settle, then whip up the frosting.
It’s a phases and stages kind of a cake, and it’s worth clearing the stage between acts.
Pumpkin Cake with Butterscotch Filling and Brown Sugar Icing from my sister-in-law
A note: the frosting. It is very sweet. And there is a lot of it. I put on as much as I dared and still had more than a cup left over. If I may be bold, I would suggest halving the frosting recipe and just giving the cake a thin coat. This is not my normal stance, but trust me: a little goes a long way. You wouldn’t want to lose the pumpkin underneath all the butter and sugar.
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
1 cup buttermilk
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the filling:
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
¼ tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¾ cup chopped nuts, such as pecans or walnuts (optional)
For the icing: (see note above)
2 cups tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
Line the bottoms of 2 round 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper (I use aluminum foil). Grease the parchment, as well as the sides of the pans. Preheat the oven to 325°. Make sure the rack is in the center of the oven.
For the cake:
Combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine pumpkin puree and buttermilk and mix until smooth. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase to high speed and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and scraping down the bowl between additions. Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter, until smooth and thoroughly combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, spreading evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 15 minutes. Invert onto a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
For the filling:
Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat until hot (do not allow to boil or simmer). Combine sugar and lemon juice in a separate saucepan and stir with a whisk to combine until the sugar resembles moist sand. Caramelize the sugar for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a whisk to break up any lumps. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the hot cream, one half at a time (and be careful, the hot mixture will bubble furiously as you add the cream). Add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring to incorporate completely before adding the next piece. Cool in the refrigerator 45 minutes or so. Place in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until light (but not fluffy). Add the chopped nuts and stir to incorporate. Set aside.
For the icing:
Heat the brown sugar, heavy cream, 2 pieces of butter, and cream of tartar in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until it boils. Allow the mixture to continue boiling while stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Transfer the bubbling hot mixture to a stainless steel bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding. (I waited more than an hour, and it was still quite warm. I might put it in the fridge instead of letting it stand at room temperature for an hour.) Place the cooled mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, adding the 6 remaining pieces of butter one at a time, until incorporated. (At this point, I thought I’d ruined it. The mixture was still warm and the butter melted into it. I put it in the fridge for an hour and the beat it and it whipped up beautifully.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on high for an additional 1 minute until light and fluffy.
Place one of the pumpkin cake layers on a cake platter or a cardboard cake circle. Spread butterscotch filling evenly on top of cake. Top with remaining layer of cake, pressing down firmly. Frost sides and top of cake with brown sugar icing. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting and serving.