Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Pepitas / by Chelsea Zwieg

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving (obviously after the whole giving thanks, family gathering, quality time thing) is that it acts as a serious hype man for foods that are really not given their proper due the other 11 months of the year. What did turkey ever do to us to get relegated to one day of the year where it is not just slapped on deli sandwiches? Why is the sheer gloriousness that is tart, juicy, sweet cranberry sauce only showing up on my plate the fourth thursday of every November? But I think the most disturbing injustice in this sequence of criminal acts is sweet potatoes. Sure, they get more year round action than turkey or stuffing, but they still get raised up on a cornucopia shaped platter on Thanksgiving, only to be passed over mere weeks later. 

I think the main problem is that aside from their standard uses (let's hear it for sweet potato fries!), it's sometimes hard to remember how versatile they really are. And in this oversight, I am guilty party number one, continually blinded by the sweet potatoes more glamorous cousin, pumpkin. (I cannot vouch to the scientific accuracy of sweet potatoes and pumpkins being cousins. I don't do science, but something tells me cousin is not the right term.) Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin spice lattes. I'm pretty sure my body is 90% pumpkin by now. But as it turns out, when given the chance, sweet potatoes can provide some tight competition. 

This cake is very similar to a pumpkin cake. It has the beautiful color, the spices and that unbeatable moistness. But it also has something a little extra. Sweet potatoes are actually a touch sweeter than pumpkin (aren't you glad you have me here to tell you things like this? sweet potatoes are sweet?), and when they are paired with brown sugar and all of those fall spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves) it comes together into the most perfect bite of cake. It is topped with a brown sugar cream cheese frosting that provides a touch more molasses flavor and the tanginess of cream cheese and it is finished with crispy, crunchy candied pepitas. It's a cake that, let's hope, can help carry sweet potatoes out of the marshmallow laden prison they have found themselves in. 

Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

Note: This frosting is probably a little on the conservative side, portion-wise. When I made it I had an enormous amount left over so I have halved the recipe for this post. But far be it from me to quench your frosting eating. If you have no problem with a little extra, or you want a thicker layer than what I used, double that bad boy up. Like me, I'm sure you'll be able to shoulder the burden of a little extra frosting.

Adapted from Food52

Makes 1 8x8 in. cake

| Ingredients

For the cake: 

  • 1 large sweet potato (you will need one cup puree, so make sure it's a biggie, or just grab a few small ones to be safe)
  • 1 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs

For the frosting: 

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar


| Instructions

  • Prick sweet potato all over with a fork. Microwave on high until tender, about 4 minutes per side, 8 minutes total. Alternatively, you can roast it in the oven at 375 for 45-50 minutes, but it's all going in a cake anyways so I just opt for the microwave method. Once sweet potato has cooled, scoop out the flesh and mash thoroughly. Portion out 1 cup and set aside. 
  • Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour an 8x8 in. cake pan.
  • In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. 
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together oil, 1 cup mashed sweet potato and vanilla. Add eggs and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just incorporated. 
  • Pour batter into prepared cake pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then de-pan and finish cooling on a wire rack. 
  • To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter until completely smooth. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar, scraping down the bowl as you go. Add brown sugar and beat until frosting is thick and creamy. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. 
  • Once cake has cooled, spread an even layer of frosting and top with candied pepitas (see below).

Candied Pepitas

| Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/3 cup pepitas

| Instructions

  • In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt sugar until it is a dark amber color. Be careful not to go past that color or it will taste burnt.
  • Add pepitas to the pan and stir until they are coated in the caramel. Pour onto a piece or parchment paper or a non-stick mat and spread into an even layer. Once they have cooled and hardened, break apart any large chunks.