Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing and Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

September 13, 2014

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

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)
In This Recipe


  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.

More Great Recipes:
Cake|Clove|Cream Cheese|Nutmeg|Seed|Dessert

Reviews (60) Questions (4)

60 Reviews

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.<br /><br />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.<br />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.<br />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).<br />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?<br />
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.
csemsack October 29, 2016
I made this today for a dinner party. Delicious! Everyone raved about the cake. I used Trader Joe's pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds. Cooked for 40 minutes and came out perfect, very moist!
Pamela November 14, 2015
I just made this and it turned out perfect. The right combination of spices, easy to make. Plan to take the prize at my workplace competition for bake goods with pumpkin. Thank you for the recipe!
Pamela December 12, 2015
just an update this cake won first place!! <br />
Author Comment
Sarah J. October 16, 2016
Yippee! I'm late to respond but VERY excited.
thebreukelenlife November 10, 2015
This cake is delicious. Made it on a whim for dessert. So easy. Used walnuts instead of pumpkin seeds since that's what I had. My future father-in-law exclaimed that this was as good as his niece's, who went to culinary school.
Windischgirl November 7, 2015
I scaled this up to use the entire 15 oz can of pumpkin purée ( except for the sugar...I tend to prefer less-sweet foods). I made 2 7-inch cakes and 4 baby bundts (to distract my family from eating the cake...it's for a birthday party). Just came out of the oven and it smells delicious!
Windischgirl November 11, 2015
I made a two layer cake with frosting between the two layers and on top. Left the sides undecorated as per photo. Subbed an ounce of pumpkinseed oil for some the veg oil (it's strong--and pricey--so a little goes a long way) and made the pumpkinseed brittle. Called it Triple Pumpkin Cake. The presentation received raves, and the taste was appreciated by my colleagues. We have a winner!
em-i-lis November 5, 2015
Sarah, do you store this in the fridge?
Margaret L. October 26, 2016
Not sure what Sarah would say, but I made this a few weeks ago, and didn't feel the need to refrigerate it. I just kept a small piece of plastic wrap pressed onto the cut edge. (Of course, it lasted only three days with just two of us at home.) It kept beautifully and was even better the second and third days.
Leah B. November 3, 2015
I made this last year for Thanksgiving and it was so fabulous I'll be making it again this year. Only thing I'm doing last year is using all the pumpkin seeds. I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin seeds so I didn't put them all on the finished cake and that was a mistake - they're absolutely delicious in this recipe and the crunch adds a nice texture.
linda November 2, 2015
I would like to use half butter and half melted coconut oil. Would that work?<br />
Kimberley F. February 9, 2015
Baked up this wonderful cake for a dinner party with good friends last night. It was a huge hit and so easy to make (I had all the ingredients in my pantry!) It cooked perfectly in a 9" glass bottomed springform pan for 40 minutes on a convection setting. The caramelized pepitas were perfect on the creamcheese icing which only needs to cover the top as Sarah suggests. This cake will definitely become part of my signature desserts.
B December 30, 2014
Thanks, Sarah. I am a novice and have another nutmeg question, if I used ground from the store, is it still the same amount as for freshly grated? Thank you.
Author Comment
Sarah J. December 30, 2014
Yep, same amount!
B December 29, 2014
Sarah,<br />My girlfriend made this and it definitely had the wow factor. I want to try making it but have three questions. The pumpkin purée, can that be bought or do I have to purée it? And, does the nutmeg have to be freshly grated or can the McCormick tin of nutmeg be used and how much? Is baking time less in convection mode?
Author Comment
Sarah J. December 30, 2014
Yes, use store-bought pumpkin purée. The nutmeg can be freshly grated or ground from the store. You'll have to look up adjustments for convection baking, as it often is a matter of changing the temperature. Hope it goes well!
Gwen December 15, 2014
Hi Sarah! Thanks for this great recipe! I used ground Allspice as I was out of cloves. Also used olive oil as that's all I have in my cupboard. I live at high altitude but didn't need to make any adjustments for that. This recipe is great for these adaptations. Thanks again!