Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! Pumpkin Spice Cake

Well, the Frankenstorm has passed through and I feel very fortunate to say that after some scary building-shaking winds, we are all in one piece, the car was not flooded and we even still have power!  I spent the storm watching highlights of Doctor Who, starting with series 5, and just finished today (sob!) Nearby NYC is not in such good shape as we are across the river, and I haven't heard how severe the damage is in my hometown of Schoharie, NY, which was devastated by Irene last year.  I hope everyone who's been affected by the storm is staying safe and dry!

Since I'm lucky enough to have a fully functioning kitchen on this quiet Halloween at home, I decided to bake a pumpkin cake!  The icing component was troubling me, because the grocery store down the street only has partial power, and all the cold foods have been roped off and are sitting on the shelves, spoiling.  A really heartbreaking sight.  Without any cream cheese, or enough butter for a French buttercream, I decided to brew a fresh batch of masala chai and use some of that to make a glaze.  This cake, from The Novice Chef, looked moist and rich enough to not require a thick icing.

I'm by no means a beginner when it comes to baking.  I've got 10+ years of cakes under my belt, but I have to admit in all this time I've never found a butter cake recipe that I like.  Every one would always come out too dry!  For that reason I've primarily stuck to chocolate, because pretty much all white/yellow/vanilla cakes are butter cakes.  What convinced me to try this recipe was that it used a little oil as well as butter, that it had extra moisture from the pumpkin, that it baked at a lower temperature, and that the recipe specifies moving the cakes straight from the oven to the freezer to quickly stop the cooking process and retain the moisture.  Genius!

Oh, and I added some spices to the cake, because come on... whose blog do you think this is?


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1/4 cup oil (I use safflower but vegetable works too)
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 300°F. Line and grease 3, 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

[2016 updated note: I recommend making this cake as cupcakes or in mini-loaf pans over a layer cake.  Though, as the pictures will demonstrate, it can be done, it has failed on some friends of mine and once for me in large layers, because it is so very moist in the center.  On the other hand I cranked out hundreds of mini-loaves of this recipe last fall at work and they were perfect every time!  Plan on small loaf or cupcake size taking between 20-30 minutes, and just make sure to pull them when they've tested clean with a toothpick in the center.]

 In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.  In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and oil.

(If at this stage your batter looks like a crazy, curdled mess, don't freak out!  I freaked out.  I actually set the bowl aside and started over (I was originally making a half recipe.)  I carefully made sure not to over-mix at any stage, and right as I gently stirred in the vanilla extract, the batter separated again.  So I went ahead and added the dry ingredients and milk, and magically, the batter solidified into something smooth and creamy and so good I wanted to eat it with a spoon.  And so I ended up with a whole 3-layer cake recipe.)

Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk.

Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes. This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking so the cake does not continue to bake when you remove it from the oven.

Chai glaze:

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp brewed, strained and sweetened masala chai
about 1 cup powdered sugar
a pinch of cornstarch

I was rushing through this part and forgot to take a picture in my eagerness to eat the cake!

Update: Even better than the chai glaze is this cream cheese Swiss meringue buttercream which is now the only thing I use on this cake!

Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add masala chai and powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, add a pinch of cornstarch, sifting through a fine mesh strainer a little at a time and stirring constantly.  Let mixture bubble up, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.  Pour over each layer of cake and spread out with rubber spatula.  Store cake in the refrigerator.

This is the softest, pumpkiniest cake you could ever dream of!  Even my cake-hating husband ate a slice.  [2016 update: I've cut the sugar and increased the spice from the original posting of this recipe, and personally, I think this is the perfect cake.  It flies off the counter at the restaurant where I work and will definitely do the same at any autumn gatherings you attend!]



  1. Kitt aka Hippy Druid ChicOctober 31, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    /drools unabashedly

  2. OMG this looks amazing. Might actually go buy cake tins for this. Thanks!