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Pumpkin Cake—and Proud of It

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Would you like a piece of cake right now? For Goodness Cake is here for you. Every week, we'll be sharing recipes that prove why cake should be its own food group.

Today: A pumpkin cake that isn't ashamed of who it is.

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I am going to admit something that I might not have admitted two years ago (especially not on the capital-I-Internet where words live for eternity). I like pumpkin spice things. I would not turn down a pumpkin spice latte. I would not turn down pumpkin spice French toast.

But don't scoff at me just yet—I'm not even finished confessing. You see, I also like Uggs, another autumn hallmark both revered and mocked. I could imagine wearing Uggs while drinking a pumpkin spice latte and eating the latest pumpkin spice whatever. I'd do this in public. I'd do this smiling—humming, even.

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I am well aware that as a consumer and an eater, I have been programmed to eat pumpkin during this time of year. While squirrels and bears prepare for hibernation by hoarding acorns and berries, I ready myself by making sure that every food I eat that could be pumpkin-flavored is pumpkin-flavored. Yes, it's the product of advertising, but it's come to feel almost evolutionary.

More: Make a pumpkin spice latté that's actually made with real pumpkin.

So I’m giving in. I’m going to eat pumpkin spice popcorn and pumpkin spice Oreos and pumpkin spice pumpkin and pretend that I live in a colonial-style house outside of Boston and that I spend Saturday afternoons raking leaves and rubbing my mittened hands together for warmth. And I'm going to make a pumpkin cake that is unapolgetic in its glory. I'm going to put that cake in the center of my table where it will get the attention it deserves. I'm going feed it to my friends and I'm not going to let anyone say that pumpkin is passé or, even worse, "basic." 

I am indebted to Tartine Bakery and their pumpkin tea cake for the original recipe. This adapted version yields an unmistakably cakey cake without any of the wet sponginess (in the best possible way) of a quickbread—a dessert that you'd serve at a dinner party rather than a loaf cake you'd eat with your morning coffee. By separating the egg yolks and the egg whites, whipping the whites until they're frothy, and then folding them into the batter at the last minute, a dense tea cake gains height and lightness.

More: Transform banana bread into the lighest, purest banana cake you'll ever meet. 

Because a proud cake needs some decoration, I turned to Dorie Greenspan's classic cream cheese frosting, omitting the lemon zest and coconut and reducing the sugar for a tangy topping that offsets the airy cake. For texture's sake (and because I am a fussy human), I coated pumpkin seeds in caramel and sprinkled them over top, crowning the cake and, if I'm getting analytical, paying homage to the seed from whence it came.

If you can't wait for the cake to cool before adorning it, your impatience will be rewarded: You'll have a warm, melty mess perfect for eating out of a bowl or, as I prefer, out of a Tupperware on the subway. 

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing and Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

Makes one 9-inch cake

For the cake:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) pumpkin purée
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature, yolks and whites separated

For the frosting and the caramelized pumpkin seeds:

9 tablespoons butter, divided, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (raw or toasted)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom


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Tags: baking, cake, dessert, pumpkin cake, pumpkin, fall, cream cheese, frosting