Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake

"Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors. There are only so many flavors-it's how you combine them that sets you apart." Wolfgang Puck For the past several years someone predicts there will be a canned pumpkin puree shortage. Whether or not this sets off a nationwide canned pumpkin hoarding frenzy is anyone's guess, as there is rarely a news segment showing a stampede of people running through the canned good aisles of the grocery store grabbing what precious few cans remain. Rarely have the shelves in my grocery stores been empty, leaving me to wonder why I continue to believe this yearly hype (gullible should have been my middle name). But it's doubtful an inventory of six cans of pumpkin puree would put me in the hoarding category. 

Once fall arrives I seem to have some kind of internal clock setting off an insatiable craving for the flavor of pumpkin. Pumpkin squarespumpkin pie, brûléed pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin donuts, and pumpkin cake have been my go-to favorites. Being one of a handful of people in the world not falling into the 'drinks coffee regularly' category, I have yet to jump on the pumpkin spice latte bandwagon to get my pumpkin fix. If the day ever comes when canned pumpkin really does become scare, there might be a barista at Starbucks who will become my new best friend.

The end of October was looming and I had yet to bake any of my favorite pumpkin desserts. Considering how much canned pumpkin puree I had in stock, I needed to get moving. Originally I had planned to make a Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting, an untested recipe I had apparently cut out of a newspaper years ago (if you only knew how many of these newspaper and magazine cut-outs I have accumulated over the years, enough for someone to whisper 'hoarder'). Yet the more I looked at the recipe, there was something about it that wasn't sitting right with me. But I was bound and determined to make a 'new' Pumpkin Spice Cake so I set off on a cake hunting expedition. After going through some cookbooks, newspaper clippings, and old magazines, my eyes and taste buds were drawn to the Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake shared in an old issue of Fine Cooking (it is would be sacrilegious to throw them away). I had the need to have my hunch about the cake confirmed. So I did what many of us do and looked to see if there were any on-line reviews for this cake. And indeed there were. Seeing it had an average rating of four stars was all of the validation I needed. However, even after reading some of the reviews I thought there needed to be a few minor tweaks to the recipe. Like a little more spice and definitely more frosting. 

Let me momentarily gush over this Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake. Seriously, it may be the best two layer pumpkin cake I have ever eaten in my entire life. And I have lived a relatively long life thus far. This cake is dense, yet moist. The adjustment in the amount and types of spices created an incredibly flavorful, spice balanced perfect cake. The frosting was insanely delicious and complimented the cake beautifully (for those of you who are thinking of making your own tweaks to frosting recipe, considering leaving out the brown sugar, you would be making a BIG mistake. Just saying). The texture and taste of candied pecans and pepitas skyrocketed to a new level with the addition of crystallized ginger in the topping is pure heaven. If by any chance you are not deliriously happy after taking one bite of this cake or if you can resist the urge to have a second piece, then maybe you have had one too many pumpkin lattes and your taste buds have been permanently numbed. Okay, that wasn't very nice. Forgive me, but I am not taking it back.

The brown butter is what sets this Pumpkin Spice Cake apart from all others. The original recipe called for the use of cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves and table salt. This modified version added ground nutmeg, increased the amount of cinnamon (from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 2 teaspoons) and used kosher salt. The Fine Cooking recipe gave the option of making the pumpkin puree from scratch, but  honestly there are some things not worth the extra time and effort. Or I have yet to be totally convinced this is one of them. 

The cake batter comes together in a bowl (no mixer required) with the use of both a whisk and spatula. The result is a very thick, luscious batter.

The best way to ensure your prepared nine inch cake pans contain the exact amounts of batter is to use a scale. Not only does this almost guarantee your cakes will go and come out of the oven at the same time, your finished cake (especially if you make a naked version) looks 'bakery' perfect. If you don't have a scale, check the level of the batter using a toothpick.

The cakes bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 28-35 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. As a general rule, oven racks should be placed in the middle of the oven and both baking pans should be placed on the same rack.

I glossed over the directions for making the brown sugar cream frosting because, like, how or why would it be different than most other cream cheese frostings? Well it was. I made the frosting using room temperature butter instead of brown butter. But honestly, I loved the flavor, fluffiness, and creaminess of the frosting using just 'room temperature' butter. 

Once the cakes have cooled to room temperature you can frost them. I strongly recommend either increasing by 50% or doubling the amount of frosting, even if you choose to do a naked-like version shown in this post. 

You have two assembly options for this Pumpkin Spice Cake. The first is to arrange all of the topping mixture on the top of the cake (as shown here). The second is to divide the topping mixture, spreading half on the first layer and arranging the other half on the top layer.

If you make this cake the day before serving and if you choose the option of only putting the topping on top of the cake, you can make the topping the day you serve the cake. 

The directions for the cake, frosting, and topping are lengthy. For once, length and difficulty are not synonymous. This is a very easy cake to make. But unlike me, read through the directions before you start baking.

You don't have to wait for a dinner party, a birthday party, a holiday, a wedding, a luncheon, informal gathering, or celebration of any kind to make this cake. In other words, no reason is necessary. Well I take that back. Just in case this 'crying wolf for years' canned pumpkin puree shortage turns out to come to fruition (and you are not one to make your own), you absolutely must be able to taste this cake, this year. Sooner rather than later.

With the foodisphere filled with an over abundance of pumpkin recipes this week, you may find it hard to choose amongst them. Or maybe you already have your favorite sweet or savory pumpkin recipe, one you too have been putting off making for all sorts of reasons. So let me help make that choice easier for you. Choose this one. Call it your destiny. As this Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake is going to be your most favorite, most requested cake without any regard for the season. Lobster rolls and  Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake could be all the rage next summer.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake (several adaptations to Fine Cooking's Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake, Issue 107)

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (from a 15 ounce can) Note: Measure out the puree as there will be more than 1 1/2 cups of puree.
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
9 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour (recommend King Arthur)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup pepitas (salted or unsalted) Note: I use salted pepitas.
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

Frosting (recommend increasing by 50% or doubling)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
5 ounces (1 1/4 cups) confectionary sugar, sifted

1. Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter and flour or spray with cooking spray two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, butter and/or spray parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in a heavy duty 1 quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown (about 4-5 minutes). Pour into a heatproof bowl and let stand until cool, but not set (about 10-15 minutes).
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and set. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk until well blended.
5. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined.
6. Gently whisk in the cooled brown butter until completely incorporated. Note: Batter is very thick.
7. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pas.
8. Bake for 28-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
9. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks, remove parchment paper and cool completely.

1. Melt the butter in a heavy duty non-stick 12 inch skillet over medium heat.
2. Add pecans and pepitas. Cook until the pecans brown slightly (about 2 minutes).
3. Sprinkle in brown sugar and salt, stirring until sugar melts and the nuts are glazed (about 2 minutes)
4. Stir in chopped ginger. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a piece of parchment paper and allow to cool.

1. Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, cream cheese and brown sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light in color and brown sugar has dissolved (about 2 minutes).
2. Gradually beat in sifted confectionary sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).

1. Put on cake layer on cake plate or platter.
2. Spread almost half of the frosting on the layer. Note: Can also use a pastry bag and offset spatula.
3. Place second layer on. Frost top of cake with the same amount of frosting used on the first layer. 
4. Thinly spread remaining frosting on sides of cake.
5. Arrange the topping on the top of the cake and serve.

1. Assembled, frosted cake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Remove from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.
2. Topping can be divided equally between the bottom and top layers or sprinkled completely over the top layer.
3. If completely frosting the cake, double the amount of frosting ingredients. 

Autumn in Rockford, Illinois.

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