A Lighter Pumpkin Cake

November 10, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich is going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Give the king of the fall a makeover with a lighter pumpkin cake (that just happens to be gluten-free), thanks to Alice Medrich

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Pumpkin normally appears in rich pies or hearty cakes. But here, with rice flour and a hint of spice, it produces a moist, fluffy cake with subtle flavors.

I’ve tasted it with every imaginable topping from frosting to whipped cream and candied nuts, only to find that a sprinkling of spiced sugar is the best topping of all: Everything else overwhelms the delicate flavor of the cake. 

This recipe was inspired by, but does not appear in, my new book Flavor Flours (Artisan, 2014).

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake 

Serves 10 to 12

1 cup (200 grams) sugar
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil (such rice bran, corn, or safflower)
1 1/4 cups (285 grams) pumpkin purée
1 1/4 cups (200 grams) white rice flour or 1 2/3 cup (200 grams) Thai rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Spiced sugar: 2 tablespoon sugar mixed with 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

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

Get excited about Alice's new book Flavor Flours: nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too).  

Photos by James Ransom


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Flo
  • Nicole
  • Diane Var
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  • caroline
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Flo September 18, 2018
Hi, I'm a tad late to the party. I have two questions:

Is confectioner's sugar or granulated sugar required for the spiced sugar topping?

Is the pumpkin puree required the unsweetened canned/frozen puree variety? (We don't eat a lot of pumpkin where I'm from).

Thank you!
Alice M. September 18, 2018
Granulated sugar for the topping! (The recipe would otherwise specify confectioners sugar). In the US plain canned pumpkin (not the kind that is already spiced for pumpkin pie) is pumpkin puree. You could cook a fresh pumpkin and puree it, but we rarely go to the trouble. Thanks for asking.
Flo September 19, 2018
Thank you for your kind response and generosity with your recipes, Alice. I can't wait to try this. I've baked your double chocolate chiffon cake a few times now and it's absolutely divine. Even though I did use Dutch cocoa as the only natural cocoa powder we have from this parts is Hershey's or at best, Ghirardelli. It still turned out delicious.
Flo October 26, 2018
Hi Alice,

I just made this cake. I'd like to point out that in the ingredients list, it says 1/4 tsp ground cloves on the landing page of the recipe - but when you're prompted to click on the full recipe with the method, the measurement switches to 1/2 tsp ground cloves. Unfortunately, I used 1/2 tsp before realising this discrepancy. I assume 1/4 tsp cloves is correct? (I have only tried the crumbs of the cake while unmolding it, it's tasty thus far but very clove-heavy).

Also, I'm guessing you didn't invert the tin to cool this particular chiffon cake? Because I automatically did so before realising you didn't actually say to do so here and my cake fell out, ha ha!

I still can't wait to try it tomorrow with the spiced sugar, though! Thank you :)
Alice M. November 1, 2018
Thanks Flo, I corrected the clove measure. Also, you are correct, no inverting (or the cake will fall out). GF chiffon cakes are not "strong" enough to survive hanging upside-down. I learned the hard way as well! Let me know if the larger amount of clove was ok after all....
SNNYC December 11, 2014
I made this with a sweet potato puree I had, leaving out half the salt in the cake because it was a well salted savory puree, and cutting out 50 grams of sugar because it had about that much maple syrup. I left the cloves out because I prefer a lighter touch with sweet potatoes. It was wonderful! Moist, light, just right level of sweetness, and great with the spiced sugar!
Nicole November 19, 2014
What is pumpkin puree? Do I just puree canned pumpkin? Thanks!
foofaraw January 5, 2015
Canned pumpkin is pumpkin puree
Diane V. November 18, 2014
It would be really nice if someone would answer all these questions. Thanks.
caroline November 18, 2014
Can i use regular flour instead of rice flour?
Martyne November 16, 2014
Can I use coconut oil instead of the oils mentioned?
Judy_N November 11, 2014
Would substituting brown rice flour for the white rice flour have any affect on the recipe?
placidplaid November 11, 2014
How about regular flour?
Malymis November 11, 2014
Would love to try this. I have Mochiko glutinous rice flour. Anyone know if I should use the measurement for standard rice flour, or thai?
Nadia November 11, 2014
Diane V. November 10, 2014
Could this be made with AP flour? I don't have rice flour. Would that change the measurements?