This cake is a showstopper, to be sure. Honestly, it just may be the best cake I've ever made. Why? It's all about the brown butter both in the cake batter and the cream cheese frosting. The nut topping of sugared and salty pecans and pepitas with bits of crystallized ginger really puts this recipe over the top. Seriously, the bursts of flavor while you savor each bite are amazing.
The inspiration for this cake comes from a Fine Cooking recipe that I discovered 8-ish years ago. I don't think I've ever read so many positive reviews of a recipe. I mean people just raved about that cake so much that I had to try it. The reviews were right--best cake ever! The original Fine Cooking recipe is for a gorgeous layer cake with several steps that are rather tedious and time-consuming. Through the years I've simplified the recipe considerably. My version is a 9x13 sheet cake, and I've tweaked a few ingredients and procedures to make the cake come together more easily without compromising any of the amazing flavor.
Brown butter is everything in this recipe! It's an extra step that requires a bit more time and attention, but it's so worth it. That is the dominant flavor that makes this cake particularly delicious. So, don't leave out that important step--brown the butter! I'll show you how.
Make-ahead convenience! Another big bonus of this cake is that it can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. That makes it a great cake for parties, Thanksgiving, or holidays when it's helpful to get some of the cooking completed ahead of time.
Step 1. Assemble the ingredients:
Step 2. Brown the butter by melting it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns a golden brown color and has a nutty fragrance. There will be darkened bits in the bottom of the pan. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't brown to the point of burning. It should take approx. 4-6 minutes.
Step 3. Pour the browned butter into a small bowl to stop it from cooking more and allow it to cool. It needs to cool at least 15 minutes before it can be added to the cake batter. Don't let it get hard, though, or you won't be able to incorporate it into the batter properly.
Step 4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin spice, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Step 5. In a large bowl, add pumpkin, white and brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk; whisk until uniformly combined. Add flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula just until mixed with no visible dry bits (it may be slightly lumpy).
Step 6. Slowly whisk in the cooled browned butter, including the darkened bits (they are flavor bombs!), until the batter is smooth and evenly mixed.
Step 7. Pour batter into buttered 9x13 baking pan and spread it evenly. Bake at 350 degrees F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (approx. 35-40 min). Place the cake on a wire rack and cool completely.
view on Amazon: white 9x13 baking dish (This attractive, versatile baker looks lovely on the table.)
Step 8. In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add pecans and pepitas and cook until slightly browned & fragrant and the pepitas begin to pop. Stir in brown sugar and salt; continue to cook until sugar on bottom of pan is melted (some of the sugar coating the nuts may not melt completely). Turn off the heat and stir in the diced ginger. Set aside to cool in the pan.
About the browned butter and bits...It's perfectly fine if your cooling browned butter starts to firm up and turn cloudy (see below), as long as it doesn't get hard and still has a soft texture (similar to shortening or a softened stick of butter) so it will mix into the frosting smoothly. Those browned bits in the bottom of the bowl get added to the frosting, too. Don't omit those little flavor bombs! Even though the bits are visible in the frosting when you first frost the cake, no one will see them once the nut topping is added later.
Step 9. Mix the frosting in a large bowl so it doesn't make a mess when the powdered sugar starts to fly. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to mix the cooled browned butter and bits (from Step 2 above), cream cheese, vanilla, and brown sugar until it's smooth and the sugar is dissolved. On low speed, slowly mix in the powdered sugar, one third at a time, until smooth. Mix on medium-high speed another 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy.
view on Amazon: my hand-held electric mixer
Step 10. Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly over the cooled cake. Then sprinkle on the nut topping in an even, thick layer. It will look like a lot of nuts; use them all, well, minus those that you couldn't resist nibbling on! 😉 You will want a taste of those awesome sweet and salty nuts with every bite of cake, believe me.
view on Amazon: offset frosting spatula
And now, cut a piece and enjoy the amazing flavor and texture of this special cake.
view on Amazon: small serving spatula
The cake is wonderfully moist and has just enough pumpkin spice for a perfect blend of flavors.
Refrigerate or freeze! The cake can be made ahead and refrigerated for 1-2 days. In fact, it's even better the next day. You can also freeze the frosted cake up to 2 weeks ahead. Return the refrigerated or frozen cake back to room temperature before serving.
One bite of this yummy cake will send you to a happy place!
Like pumpkin? Here are some more recipes you might enjoy:
Make it a Yummy day!