Eric Akis: Pumpkin stars in layer cake

Seasonal dessert is spiced up with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves

Eric Akis

Pumpkin and spice makes everything nice, especially when they play the starring role in a luscious layer cake.

I know, because I prepared one for this column. When enjoying a big slice of it, I was sweetly reminded of why this combination is so divine.

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The cooked pumpkin, blended into the rich cake batter, adds an earthy taste of autumn and nicely offsets the sweet ingredients. Pumpkin also makes the cake dense, moist and, well, marvellous. Spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, bolster the flavour of the pumpkin and bring a palate-awakening warmth to the cake.

I also slathered my layer cake with a cream cheese frosting that I also mixed spices into. And for decoration, I candied some walnut pieces using a simple stovetop method and then set them on top of the frosted cake.

This is definitely a seasonal, special-occasion dessert that one could serve at Thanksgiving or any other festive time in autumn.

Beyond its taste, what’s also nice about the cake is that you can spread the preparation over a few days. In fact, its flavour actually deepens if the spices get to develop in the moist cake for a couple of days.

So, for example, you could bake the two cakes needed for the layer cake two days before you serve it. The day before you serve it, you could frost the cake and refrigerate it, which will set the frosting. The day you serve the cake, you can make the candied walnuts, decorate the top of the cake and be ready to go when it is time to serve dessert.

Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake

This is a rich, moist, tender and sweet cake flavoured with earthy pumpkin and warmed with four kinds of spice.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 32 minutes

Makes: 12 to 16 servings

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature, plus some for greasing

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can purée pumpkin (see Eric’s options)

2 large eggs

1/3 cup buttermilk

For the candied walnuts:

1 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup icing sugar

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp water

For the frosting:

1 (250 gram) brick firm cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

• pinch each of ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

To make the cakes, grease two nine-inch-round cake pans with butter. Now cut two nine-inch-round pieces of parchment paper and set one in the bottom of each pan. Set an oven rack in the centre of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the flour, baking soda, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp cloves and salt in a medium bowl and whisk well to combine.

Place the 3/4 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and beat until well combined and lightened. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Mix in the buttermilk and pumpkin. Now gradually mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. With a spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix this cake batter again. Evenly as you can, divide, spoon and spread the cake batter between the two cake pans.

Bake the cakes for 30 to 32 minutes, or until they spring back when gently touched in the very centre. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Use a paring knife to loosen cakes from the sides of the pan, if needed. Now carefully invert the cakes and release them onto the baking rack. Remove parchment paper, if attached to the cakes. Let cakes cool to room temperature (see Eric’s options).

To make the candied walnuts (see Eric’s options), line baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the walnuts, 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp water and 1/4 cup icing sugar in a skillet. Set over medium and cook and stir walnuts until the sugar melts, the water evaporates, and the walnuts are lightly toasted and coated with the melted sugar. Spread walnuts out in a single layer on the parchment paper and cool to temperature. The walnuts can be made many hours before needed.

To make the frosting, place the cream cheese, 1/2 cup butter and vanilla in a bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and beat until thoroughly combined and smooth. Add the icing sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar and spices for the frosting and beat two minutes. Now scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then beat two to three minutes more until ingredients are fully blended and the frosting has lightened in texture.

To frost cake, place one of the cake rounds, flat side down, on a cake plate. Spread the top of that cake with about 3/4 to 1 cup of the frosting and spread into a 1/4-inch or so thick layer. Set on the second cake flat side up. Gently press down on the top cake to set it in place.

Now, carefully and evenly as you can, spread the frosting on the sides and top of the cake. Decorate the top of the cake with the candied walnuts, setting them around the outer edges of it. Refrigerate the cake until the frosting is set and it is ready to serve.

Eric’s options: You can bake the cakes a day before layering and frosting them. If you do, once baked and cooled, wrap the cakes and keep at room temperature. You can also layer and frost the cakes the day before you serve it. Once the cake is frosted, store it in the refrigerator until ready to slice and serve.

If you think the cake is already sweet enough, instead of candied walnuts, simply top the cake with plain walnuts or toasted walnuts.

Instead of making a double layer cake, you could instead make two single layer cakes. To do so, simply place each cake on a separate cake plate and divide frosting and walnuts between them.

Instead of canned pumpkin, you could try using 1 3/4 cups fresh, homemade pumpkin purée in this recipe. If you do, remember that canned pumpkin is quite thick, so your homemade purée will also have to have the same consistency to yield the same results. If it’s even a tiny bit watery, your cake might sink in the middle during baking.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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