Recipe: pumpkin cake with chocolate ganache and salted caramel cream cheese frosting
Last Friday, I cleared everything off the calendar to spend the day with my good friend, Kat. We don’t get to see one another very often, but when we do, it’s always special. Special, not because we have a lot in common (which we do and we don’t), but because we cherish many of the same things in life. And when I say things, I mean non-things like time, relationships, qualities, experiences, moments. Whenever I spend time with Kat, I learn something about her which in turn makes me learn about myself. Sometimes it’s an “ah-ha!” moment and other times it’s an idea that has been simmering in my head when she comes along and moves it to the front burner.
obligatory shoe shot at ya ya farm & orchard
two very sweet donkeys
and there was lunch at pizzeria locale
nom nom pizzas
It was a lovely start to the weekend, which was spent mostly working rather than going out to a number of social events. Social is fine. Social can be good. But sometimes I need to shut all of that down and have a weekend with no obligations to anyone but Jeremy and Kaweah. We are catching up with fall and preparing for winter in the mountains.
kaweah under freshly laundered dog towels just out of the dryer
Jeremy trimmed dead and mistletoe-infested branches around the property while I dragged them away to the slash pile. Kaweah watched us work from the front porch until I took the last bunch of dead branches down. She came bounding after me, gently closing her teeth on a nice branch. She wanted to play. It’s been a while since Kaweah has been frisky enough to play, so I let her have the branch. She followed me to the slash pile, parading with her branch in her mouth. I said “drop” and she put the stick down. I chucked it into the pile. She dove in after it. Repeat. Kaweah will be 14 years old in two months, so I tend to let her do whatever she wants these days. I let her keep the stick. But she wanted more than that. So I took the stick and threw it a short distance into the yard. And she ran after it, her stiff hind legs stumbling a little, but she didn’t seem to mind at all she was having so much fun. She brought it back to me. We did this a dozen times – more than she has EVER fetched (usually she would run to the object, pick it up and continue running away) until the sun went down behind the Continental Divide.
I guess I too am feeling recharged and energized. Energized and enthusiastic enough to attempt a cake. There are cakes and then there are cakes. I personally prefer easy cakes which you serve immediately after turning it out of a pan with minimal futzing. That is a level 1 cake in my book. This is not that kind of cake. This is considered a level 2 cake which involves layers of cake and other components and some sort of decoration. [Level 3 cakes are works of art with multiple tiers and I refuse to even think about them.]
yes, now we can do pumpkin (eggs, milk, spices, brown sugar, vegetable oil, pumpkin purée, flour, leavenings)
butter and flour the pans
mix the dry ingredients
The idea of a pumpkin layer cake has floated every autumn, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally implemented it. Making any new cake recipe always runs the risk of a major failure around here because I never know how stable the cake will be at my altitude. This pumpkin cake turned out well for me with a slight reduction in the leavenings (baking soda and baking powder).
mixing the wet ingredients
alternate adding dry ingredients with the milk
pour the batter into your prepared pans
The original recipe makes two 8-inch round cakes. I don’t own 8-inch rounds, so I increased the recipe by 50% and made two 9-inch rounds (in 9×3-inch pans). While the cakes were baking, I prepared the frosting. Ellen (of Helliemae’s Salt Caramels) recently gifted me a jar of her amazing salted caramel sauce and I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it: salted caramel cream cheese frosting. Sounds like a good match for pumpkin cake, doesn’t it?
salted caramel sauce and cream cheese (not pictured: butter and confectioner’s sugar)
spoon that lovely dark caramel in
whipped into a silky, soft frosting
The cream cheese frosting is soft, which is how I wanted it for assembly. It will firm up in the refrigerator which is good for storing the cake after it is assembled. I used all eight ounces of the salted caramel sauce, but it’s really to taste. If you can’t source salted caramel sauce, you can make your own (try Michelle’s recipe at Brown Eyed Baker). I also wanted a touch of chocolate in there. Chocolate has a tendency to dominate certain flavor pairings, pumpkin included. But I recently tried some chocolate-dipped pumpkin fudge and the thin coating of dark chocolate was just enough to enhance without overpowering the pumpkin. I figured a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache might be the ticket.
chocolate and cream
stir hot cream and chocolate until smooth and dark
The cakes baked up nicely with only mild doming. I don’t mind doming, because I always lop the tops off anyway (to taste the cake and because I want uniform thickness in my cake layers). If you butter and flour your pans, the cakes release easily. After they cooled, I trimmed the tops and then cut each cake into two layers. It’s important to make sure the ganache is not completely cooled or else you might have a hard time spreading a thin enough layer on the cake. I just wanted a touch of chocolate, not a honking thick layer of ganache. Having the salted caramel cream cheese frosting soft rather than chilled makes it easier to spread a layer on top of the ganache without mixing the two together.
spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache
then a thicker layer of salted caramel cream cheese
Repeat for each layer. Word to the wise: I wouldn’t do this on a hot day without air conditioning, because the chocolate and frosting might be a little too oozy, making it difficult to stack the layers. As it was, our high was 47°F and we had the windows open to keep everything from dripping off the workspace. You don’t have to decorate the cake with anything at all, or you can top it with candied nuts or a drizzle of caramel or a drizzle of chocolate or you could do what I did and spend too much time swearing while making chocolate scrolls and “ruffles” (I use the term loosely).
crumb coat the cake before frosting
It has an autumny look to it, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that it is more reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, but what really matters is how it tastes. It tastes great. The pumpkin cake is moist and full of warm spices. It’s surprisingly light too. That earthy pumpkin goes well with the tang of the cream cheese and the bang of the salted caramel. The tiny bit of chocolate lends a hint of deep, smooth decadence without stealing the show. It is not overly sweet (which I like!) and all of the layers melt in your mouth. If Joseph Gordon-Levitt came to my house for dinner, I would totally make this cake for him. You too, Mr. Fassbender…
plenty of love to share
Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
based on this recipe from Food and Wine
pumpkin cake (modified for two 9-inch pans, see original recipe for 8-inch pans)
3 cups flour
3 3/8 tsps baking powder (2 tsps at 8500 ft.)
1 1/8 tsps baking soda (1 tsp at 8500 ft.)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
3/8 tsp ground cloves
1 7/8 cups light brown sugar
1 1/8 cups vegetable oil
22.5 oz pumpkin purée (1.5 15-oz. cans)
3/4 cup milk
salted caramel cream cheese frosting
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. salted caramel sauce
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 oz. semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped
5 oz. heavy cream
Make the pumpkin cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (I used 9×3-inch pans). Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves together. Set aside. Place the light brown sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl and beat on medium until fluffy. Beat in the oil and the pumpkin purée. Alternate adding half of the dry ingredients to the batter with half of the milk and mix until blended. Repeat with remain halves of the dry ingredients and the milk. Pour half of the batter into each baking pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. It took me 50 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in their baking pans for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto cooling racks.
Make the salted caramel cream cheese frosting: Place the softened cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until creamy with a paddle attachment. Scrape the sides down and beat the frosting a few times. Mix in the salted caramel sauce. Add the confectioner’s sugar a cup at a time, first mixing it slowly (it poofs about) and then beating it in on high speed. Repeat until all of the sugar is mixed in. Set aside, or if the cream cheese frosting is very runny, place in the refrigerator.
Make the chocolate ganache: Place the chocolate in a small or medium bowl. Heat the cream until it begins to simmer and steam, then remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Let the cream sit for a few minutes, then stir the chocolate and cream together until a smooth, shiny ganache forms. Set aside (but don’t let the ganache cool and harden).
Assemble the cake: Trim any domed tops off both cakes and discard (i.e. eat them). Slice each cake into two layers of similar thickness. Set a base layer down (the bottom of one of the cakes will be on the bottom – reserve the other bottom for the top) on top of a cake board or on strips of wax paper underlying the edges of the cake. Spread a third of the chocolate ganache on the cake, then spread a half cup (or more) of the salted caramel cream cheese frosting over the ganache. Gently set a second layer of cake on the base layer and repeat. For the last cake layer, which should be a bottom layer, invert it so the cut side is face down and the base is on the top of the cake. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting around the sides (crumb coat), then frost the entire cake. Garnish as you like with chocolate shavings, candied nuts, drizzle of caramel or chocolate. Serves 10-12. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.