I don’t claim to be an expert on many things. In fact, only three things come to mind when I think of mastery. The first: peanut butter and fluff sandwiches. The second: The View. The third: cake. I, myself, am not even on that list. And because I’m feeling generous, I’ll spare you the etymology of the fluffernutter and let you google Joy Behar behind the scenes.
Cake, however, well cake…deserves to be spoken about at length. It actually deserves a national holiday and a lifetime of dedicated study, but I’m already working on that on my own time, so rest assured.
Some people save cake, and desserts in general- cookies, pies, all the sweetest and dreamiest of confections- for special occasions. For holidays, birthdays, anything that merits a greeting card or a day off from work. The very first time someone told me that they held out on Hostess for, say, a homemade apple pie on Thanksgiving, I paused and stared at her for a good ten seconds without blinking. I may have suffered a small stroke.
The very notion was absolute lunacy to me for twenty years. After all, I had spent my entire life on a cake binge. Like ‘Cake Boss,’ but without a shred of culinary authority or expertise. Perhaps the reason why I was 135 lbs overweight. At some point, though, I realized that I was treating cake as I would the base of the food guide pyramid- with 6-10 servings a day.
Five years ago I took a break from cake. And I missed her. I think in all, my hiatus from the confectionery world was about a year long. The whole of thirteen months while I lost a metric ton. Or so it seemed. I missed cake like I would miss my best friend if she moved to Singapore indefinitely. Is she coming back? No one makes me smile in quite the same way.
The good news is that she came back, with a vengeance, and she’s never leaving my side again.
And in some respects, I get that people want cake to be special, a treat. The problem with this idea of reserving cake for a special occasion is that, to me, cake is a special occasion. A pumpkin spice layer cake frosted with upwards of an inch of cream cheese icing? That sounds quite a bit like a party.
I may be pushing it here, but I’d say that a wedge of cake and a fork, plate or no, warrants at least two mylar balloons, a greeting card, and a sequins mini. A piñata at your discretion.
For this reason, I celebrate my heart out. At least three times a week.
This cake will be a special occasion in and of itself. Pumpkin spice layer cake with cream cheese frosting. It’s moist to the point of melting and the cinnamon and ginger spice it so warmly you’ll think about flannel, a roaring fire, and log cabins. And cream cheese frosting…well…you know how that goes. It’s tangy and velvety, just the complement for the tender, large crumbed cake. A word of advice: slice the wedges thinly. I know, I’m not usually moderate like this. But you’ll have to just trust me here. The cake is dense and rich, so much so that a sliver will do.
Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and oil. I used dark brown sugar because I adore the deep caramel flavor it generally imparts into baked goods. But I think it’s best to use regular ol’ white, granulated sugar for this recipe- you don’t need the extra moisture anyway, since you’re adding the pumpkin puree.
Divide the cake batter evenly among the pans. If you’ve seen the specially made baking spray- the one that coats and flours your pan with just a spritz- buy it. It’s a world easier than greasing and flouring.
Now let’s frost. Place one cake layer on a large plate. It’s a wonderful idea to place strips of parchment paper under the sides of the cake so that you can pull them out when you’re done frosting and the plate will be clean. I did not do that because I like to live on the edge.
Scoop a generous amount of the frosting onto the center of the cake and spread evenly to the outer edges using an offset spatula, or a butter knife. This is your filling.
Now plop nearly all of your remaining frosting on the top of the second layer and spread it evenly to the sides, pushing it over the edge and down the sides to cover. Focus more on creating a smooth, clean top, with no crumbs, but don’t worry so much about the sides because we’re going to cover them with chopped nuts. It helps to run a slightly wet cloth along the sides of your offset spatula; you’ll get a cleaner line this way.
At this point, you could call it a day and serve the cake as is. But a piped shell border really adds something special. I used a pastry bag fitted with a #16 tip and piped along the perimeter of the top and bottom of the cake.
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
recipe slightly adapted from Southern Food
(makes two 9″ x 2″ cakes)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and lightly flour two 9” x 2” cake pans, then tap out the excess.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugar and oil. Add the eggs and whisk well to combine. Stir in the pumpkin.
- Stir in the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth and well combined. Add nuts.
- Divide the batter evenly among the two pans. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn out to cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
(enough to frost a 9″ two layer cake)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 lb confectioner’s sugar (about 4 cups)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese.
- Add the vanilla extract.
- Slowly beat in the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.