Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Buttercream Frosting and Salted Caramel Pepitas

by Food Hound on January 11, 2013

in Desserts

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I think we can safely say that two of the defining foods of 2012 were salted caramel and brown butter.  Others were kale, bacon, and beef cheeks… all crazy-amazing, but something about beef cheek layer cake with bacon buttercream and kale pepitas just doesn’t scream ‘let’s party.’

This cake?  This cake is its own party.

Meet the centerpiece dessert at the 2012 Annual Food Hound Gluhwein Party: (the slightly out-of-focus) Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Buttercream Frosting and Salted Caramel Pepitas.  As long as it takes you to say it is as long as it takes you to pick yourself up off the floor after your first bite.  You will literally, figuratively, and actually be transported to food heaven.

There are all kinds of food chemistry reasons why you typically don’t see melted butter in cake and especially buttercream recipes, but there’s really no other way when you’re browning it into the luscious, perfect, elixir it needs to be.  Magically, you end up with a moist, dense yet still ‘cakey’ cake full of spice and nutty flavor.  That nuttiness is also found in the unbelievably rich and creamy frosting, which means that if you want to OD on browned butter, a slice of this will put you in rehab faster than you can say ‘Dr. Drew.’

The topping I chose is different from the caramelized ginger-pepita crunch in the original Fine Cooking recipe because I think caramelized ginger tastes like a science experiment gone wrong.  Therefore, as the king of my own little kitchen castle, I lost the ginger, kept the pepitas, and bathed them in salted caramel sauce.


Two problems arose from this plan.  (A) It turns out that pepitas aren’t really my bag, either, and (B) the salted caramel sauce recipe I used didn’t coat them nearly enough.  It was more of a dusting, and I wanted them as thickly coated as Lady Gaga’s eyeliner.  So… I committed cardinal food blog sin #1 and I’m not including the recipe for the substandard topping.  I left it in the title because it very well be your bag, in which case, go for it.  What I think might be perfect is some sort of salted caramel nut brittle.  I’m pretty sure the food trend of salted caramel is here to stay, like the little black dress, or at least long-lasting like the leggings-in-boots trend that makes me feel like an aristocratic British equestrian.  And I promise once I find the perfect brittle topping, I’ll shout it from the mountain tops.  But until then…

You simply, 100%, must make this frosted cake.  I mean, it’s just so amazing as-is.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat.  I’d say it’s my favorite non-chocolate dessert.  Yeah, that’s right.  I said it.  I mean it.  I love it!

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Buttercream Frosting
From Fine Cooking, and probably my favorite non-chocolate dessert
Serves: 8-12
  • Cake:
  • ¾ c (6 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 c AP flour
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¾ tsp table salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1½ c granulated sugar
  • 1½ c pumpkin puree
  • ⅔ c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅓ c buttermilk
  • Frosting:
  • ½ c (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1¼ c powdered sugar
  1. Make the cake:
  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Line the bottoms of 2 cake pans (preferably with removable bottoms) with parchment paper; butter and flour parchment, or spray parchment with cooking spray.
  4. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and skim foam off top. Let it sit for a few minutes-- the milk solids at the bottom of the pot may become very dark, but don't worry. Pour the clarified butter into a small bowl very slowly, leaving the milk solids in the pot. If you don't trust your pouring skills, just spoon the clarified butter into the small bowl, leaving he milk solids in the pan. Browning butter takes some practice, so make sure to watch it carefully and have extra butter on hand 🙂 It should be golden, like medium-amber maple syrup, and have a caramel-like flavor. FABULOUS!
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin puree, sugars, eggs and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter equally between the two cake pans.
  6. Bake the cakes about 28 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto cooling racks, remove parchment, and cool completely. If you're making this in advance, you can wrap cake layers in plastic wrap and freeze until you're ready to frost them-- as an added bonus, frozen cake layers are easier to frost.
  7. Make the frosting:
  8. Melt the butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Follow directions above for browning the butter. Once you have separated the brown, clarified butter from the milk solids into a small bowl, transfer the bowl to the freezer and freeze until just firm, about 18 minutes.
  9. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1-2 minutes more.
  10. Assemble the cake:
  11. Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread ½ c frosting on the layer, top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Serve immediately or cover with a cake dome and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Serve at room temperature.
In the original recipe, this cake is topped with a crystallized ginger-brittle that I just didn't like, so I played around with it. I topped it with salted caramel pepitas this time, and I still wasn't satisfied, so my next attempt will be with some sort of salty caramel almond brittle thing. THAT should do the trick!! But the cake is great naked, too.




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