Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Icing & Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

September 13, 2014
12 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Makes one 9-inch cake
Author Notes

The inspiration from this cake came from Tartine's pumpkin tea cake. I wanted to make a lighter, cake-ier cake, closer to a dessert you'd eat at a dinner party than to a quickbread you'd eat for breakfast. The frosting recipe is based on my idol Dorie Greenspan's Tangy Cream Cheese Frosting. —Sarah Jampel

What You'll Need
  • 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)
  1. FOR THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 325° F and position a rack in the center. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper and butter that, too (I like to be extra vigilant).
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Use the whisk attachment of a stand mixer to combine the pumpkin, oil, sugar, and salt.
  4. With mixer on medium speed, add the egg yolks one at a time, waiting for one yolk to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture, turning off the machine as soon as the dry ingredients are just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Whisk the three egg whites until they are frothy and white. Fold them into the batter using a rubber spatula until they were no longer visible (but be careful not to over mix). Pour the cake batter into the pan and bake on the center rack in the oven. Begin checking the cake after 40 minutes (mine took 42 one time, 45 the next -- the middle will set and cook a little longer from the heat of the pan as the cake cools), removing it when a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its pan on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the pan, before inverting it onto a wire rack.
  7. FOR THE FROSTING: Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat together 8 tablespoons of the butter and the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until the frosting is smooth with no dry traces of sugar. The original recipe calls for 3 3/4 cups (1 pound) of powdered sugar, but I found that the frosting was plenty sweet (and complemented the cake nicely) after 2 1/2 cups. Add a pinch of cinnamon, and beat the frosting until incorporated.
  8. FOR THE PUMPKIN SEEDS: In a small saucepan over medium heat, caramelize a tablespoon of sugar until it is a rich reddish-brown color. You'll want to stir the melted parts of the sugar towards the middle while avoiding over-stirring, which can turn the mixture dry and crumbly. Once the sugar is dark and fragrant, add the last tablespoon of butter and stir quickly until it has melted and the sauce is smooth. Add the pumpkin seeds and stir until they're evenly coated in sauce. Transfer the seeds to a plate lined with parchment paper so that they cool and harden.
  9. Frost the cake when it is completely cool. I frosted only the top of the cake, and so I end up with extra frosting (keep it in your refrigerator, buy some Teddy Grahams, and enjoy DIY Dunkaroos.) Break up the pumpkin seeds using your hands, and sprinkle them on top of the cake.

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73 Reviews

CrystalFeder December 4, 2023
I made the cake on its own without the frosting. It’s a lovely, not to sweet cake. I made with olive oil too that gave a nice result.
samanthaalison November 1, 2023
I was happy with how this came out! I made half of the icing and that was plenty. The caramelized pumpkin seeds really make it special.
amyhunsberger October 9, 2023
Made this for a grown-up’s October b-day and everyone loved it, including me! The cake is light, not too pumpkin-spicy-y and not too sweet. That said, I used most of the frosting and covered the whole cake… it was a bit too much, so I will just frost the top next time. It’s a keeper!
Pamela October 9, 2023
Made this cake gluten and dairy free for thanksgiving dinner and it was sensational. Light, airy, everything about it was perfection. I used a heaping tbsp of pumpkin pie spice instead of the listed spices. Everyone loved it! Used a df cream cheese and vegan Becel in the frosting and more icing sugar to get a fluffy texture. Certainly had more icing than I needed though. Will definitely make again. The candied pepitas were a lovely delicate touch.
Hannah October 7, 2023
Fantastic, perfect icing too
Bridgett September 30, 2022
I just made this cake; I followed the recipe to a "t." The batter came over the side of the 9" cake pan. :( I am going to try to salvage it, but if I make it again, I'll use a 9" springform pan.
Angela November 25, 2021
Does anyone else have problems with the carmel for the pumpkin seeds? It took me 4 times to get it right without the butter & sugar separating. Any tips or tricks would be helpful.
whmcdevitt November 25, 2021
I make this cake often around the holidays. I’ve tried many times to get the pumpkin seeds right! Never have so gave up! Lol … happy thanksgiving
Leah B. November 25, 2021
I’ve never had trouble. Make sure you have the butter and sugar ready to go and don’t take your eyes off of it. This is a pretty common way to caramelize sugar so maybe google a video to make sure you’re doing it right?
NXL November 27, 2020
Delicious little cake! The caramelized pumpkin seeds make it!
Nancy October 17, 2020
Just made this on vacation with limited kitchen equipment. Only had a hand mixer, but it worked fine. Per other reviews, I added half amount of dried nutmeg, 1/2 tsp, and then added 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice. Used entire 15 oz can of pumpkin (I despise having small amounts left over) and used bit less oil. Even tho I adde dry ingredients after folding egg whites, I still worked. 40 min with no tester produced a very moist cake. Next time I’ll add few minutes more. Made exactly 1/2 of frosting and it was perfect! I added a dash of vanilla in frosting and a tiny pinch of salt. I put a mixture of Trader Joe’s candied pecans and the pepitas. Next time I’ll only use the TJ’s pecans because they are simple and put cake over the top IMO. Family devoured and I will make again!
Sara B. October 23, 2019
I've made it with and without the frosting and it's great both ways. I don't like nutmeg so substituted cardamom and ginger. Highly recommend.
Ivy F. October 9, 2019
This cake is fantastic. I wasn't sure how long to beat the egg whites, so I ended up with them as almost meringue before folding them in, and that seems to have worked well. I ended up using way less powdered sugar in the frosting than recommended (about 1.5 c), and it came out quite nicely, but there was SO much of it.
Kelly M. November 21, 2018
Hello, can you use a cake flour such as Softsilk for this cake?
tia November 13, 2018
I made this for my family's early Thanksgiving this year. No one even missed the pie. I am a little curious as to how far to whisk the eggs or if it's even necessary. Normally, you whip them to soft peaks at least, but this just says "white and foamy." I figured it would be hard to mess up with so much other leavening, though, so I didn't worry about it.

My parents liked it so much that my mom is planning to bring it to their neighborhood Thanksgiving. I will definitely be making it again sometime.
whmcdevitt November 18, 2017
Thanks for your quick response Windischgirl. I thought it would be ok but with all the preparation that goes into thanksgiving best not to find out the day of that your plans were thrown a monkey wrench! Happy thanksgiving to you!
whmcdevitt November 18, 2017
Question...i’ve Made this cak many times and it is so good! I’m planning on making it for thanksgiving and wondered how the cake part would freeze. So much to do ahead of time it would allow me to thaw the night before and frost day of! Thanks in advance for your reply!!!
Michelle R. November 18, 2017
I was wondering the same thing, I was going to bake one today and wrap it tightly in cellophane and then stick it (separate of the frosting) in the fridge.
Windischgirl November 18, 2017
The cake should freeze just fine (many commercial bakeries do just that!). Wrap it tightly in plastic then in a plastic bag or metal tin to prevent it from picking up flavors.
You can make the frosting ahead, fridge it in a tightly sealed container, and bring to room temp before spreading it on the cake morning of, then chill until closer to serving time.
You can make the pumpkin brittle today as well. Let cool completely on a plate, then store in a loosely covered container at room temp until serving time, to keep it crunchy (unless it’s humid in your area).
I made it two layers with a spreading of apricot jam in between. Pumpkin butter would be good too.
Michelle R. November 17, 2017
This recipe is absolutely fantastic. I made it a bit different, instead using 15oz of pumpkin with 3/4 cup oil and the results were incredible. Baked for 45 minutes and it was absolutely divine. I skipped adding the toppings and my husband and I ate the entire thing over the course of 24 hours. SO GOOD!
RosemaryWard November 8, 2017
Has anyone tried making this with gluten free 1 to 1 flour? If so are there any changes to be made in baking powder or baking times?
vg November 21, 2018
It worked great for me! I used King Arthur All-Purpose GF Baking Mix. I made no other changes. Substituted the flour 1 for 1. The baking time was quite a bit shorter (10-15 minutes), but, I am not sure if that was due to the flour or my oven. Just keep an eye on it and take out when the tester is clean.
Judy November 25, 2016
I made this for Thanksgiving. It was excellent. It was better than any pumpkin bread I've ever had. It was moist and flavorful. I made exactly according to directions, except I did not add the pumpkin seeds on the top. I just didn't have time for that. The 2 ½ cups of powdered sugar was just the right amount. People commented that it had the right amount of sweetness and not too sweet. I highly recommend this.
Grace November 3, 2016
This is a DELICIOUS recipe ✓ I cut the sugar in the frosting to about 3/4 and for all those nutmeg adverse, (I just think it overpowers all it touches) totally delish with just a pinch. I also think this recipe could easily stand up to spice improv - I'd try ginger, cardamom or even some pepper. I'm going to experiment! Definitely make the caramelized pepitas - tasty texture and really classes up the joint!!
Marco A. October 29, 2016
Excelente receta, agregando nueces picadas o calabaza caramelizada en trocitos queda mucho mejor.