If there’s one thing I struggle with most in the kitchen, it would be cakes. My success rate is low. The first time I baked a cake from scratch (Jeff’s 32nd birthday), I forgot to remove the wax paper between layers. I’ve baked a cake with the wrong kind of flour, and it tasted like cardboard. I’ve baked cakes with frosting that appears to be melting off the side. I’ve almost given up on butter cream icing — it never works for me.
I tell you this so you’ll understand why I feel so obnoxiously proud of this cake.
Jeff’s parents gave me a fabulous baking book for my birthday. I’d checked it out from the library a couple of times and made a few things over the summer – chocolate-banana marble bread and peach-vanilla bean cobbler . Since Jeff’s parents are here for a few days, I thought I’d crack open the cookbook and bake them a pumpkin cake. Pumpkin one of Susan’s favorite flavors. Mine too. Few things smell as good as pumpkin as it bakes in the oven with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.
This cake is soft, moist and comforting. It’s not too sweet. The cream cheese frosting has real maple syrup and is easy to make. Coming from a baker who’s cake-baking record isn’t very good, this says a lot. By the way, that’s Jeff sitting next to me. He describes the frosting as yummilicious. He’s’ right. This cake is pretty darn good.
The frosting calls for Grade C syrup. which is the darkest and has the most intense flavor. I have a hard time finding in St. Louis. If you can find Grade B, you’ll still have delicious frosting.
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting
barely adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (8 ounces) canned pumpkin puree (not spiced pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (4 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (6 1/2 ounces) pure maple syrup , preferably Grade C [I used Grade B]
1 3/4 cups (5 1/2 ounces) sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) pecan pieces, or halves (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position an oven rack in the center. Lightly coat a 9-by-1 3/4 inch round cake pan with melted butter, oil, or high-heat canola-oil spray and fit it with a round of parchment paper.
Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
Add the eggs. Beat the eggs and vanilla in the small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the pumpkin and blend well.
Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately. With the fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves into the medium bowl and whisk to blend. With the mixer on the lowest speed, ad the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk, repeat, then finish with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.
Bake the cake. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cook completely.
Make the frosting. Place the cream cheese and butter in the cleaned bowl of the mixer or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners’ sugar and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the bowl with a clean spatula and blend again briefly.
Unmold the cake. Run a thin, flexible knife or spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a cake cardboard or tart pan on top of the pan, hold the two together, and flip over. Lift the pan off the cake, leaving the parchment on the cake. Flip again so the cake is right side up. Level the cake, if necessary. Using a serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally into two layers.
Assemble and frost the cake. Place a cake cardboard or plat on your work surface. Using the second cardboard or tart bottom, transfer the cake’s top layer to the assembly cardboard, cut side up. With the icing spatula, spread a generous 1/2 cup layer of frosting evenly over the surface. Flip over the bottom layer of cake, slide it into place on top of the frosting, then remove the parchment paper. Voila! A crumb-free surface for frosting. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and side of the cake. Use a spoon to create swirls all over the top by gently pressing the tip of the spoon, rounded edge down, into the frosting in a back-and-forth motion. Press the pecans into the side or the cake, or into the top, depending on your preference. Serve immediately, slicing with a thin, sharp knife, or refrigerate until needed.
This cake will keep, refrigerated, for 4 to 5 days. It is best at room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes before serving.