Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Buttercream / by Chelsea Zwieg

While I pretty much consider all days of the year and all hours of the day to be prime baking time, there is something particularly great about baking at this time of year. Is it just me? It's finally cold enough to have the oven on all day without passing out from heat exhaustion or flooding your cookie pan with a river of eyebrow sweat. And of course, every flavor that October has ever called it's own is just begging to be mixed with butter, flour and sugar in an effort to make your kitchen smell better than any fall scented candle those little wizards at Anthropologie could ever create. And they must be wizards because only some dark magic could convince me, the cheapest person in the world, that $20 is a reasonable amount to spend on a candle the size of a baby's toe. And yet one whiff of the fall magic coming out of that store and I am reaching for my wallet like the candle addict I never knew I was. But you can keep your fancy pants "freshly showered pumpkin spice" scented candles, Anthro. The smells of spiced pumpkin cake, nutty brown butter and buttery salted caramel sauce have come together in the most angelic, life saving trio of scents I have ever witnessed and I am never leaving my kitchen.  

This cake is the ideal combination of fall flavors, in my book. Super moist pumpkin cake filled to the brim with cinnamon, ginger and cloves. And sorry bout it, but there is no other word to describe a perfect pumpkin cake. Moist is the worst, but we all know it's actually the best. The whole things gets covered in a brown butter and cinnamon buttercream that has enough sweetness to balance out the spice of the cake but is still kept in check by some spice and the all around here BROWN BUTTER (love of my life). Finally, it all gets topped off with a thick, drippy layer of salted caramel that not only makes it look amazing but brings that salty sweet thing that I think every dessert needs

So whether you want to eat all of the fall flavors, fill your kitchen with the best smells you've ever smelt or warm up your super cold toes by standing in front of your oven waiting for a cake to bake, this cake is the best way I can think of to get your fall baking on.  

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Buttercream

Pumpkin cake adapted from Food and Wine

Makes a 6" 3 layer

| Ingredients

Pumpkin Cake: 

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 can pumpkin puree (7.5 ounces) 

Brown Butter Buttercream: 

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Salted Caramel Drizzle: 

  • 1 cup caramel squares (I like to use these unwrapped bits
  • 1 tsp. heavy cream (or water)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt

| Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom of 3 6" cake pans with parchment paper and spray the bottom and sides of the pan with non-stick spray. 
  • Combine the dry ingredients for the cake in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs, brown sugar and oil until smooth. Add the pumpkin and beat to combine. Scrape down the bowl and add the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated. If there are lumps, crank up the mixer speed and beat 10-20 seconds until smooth. 
  • DIvide the batter between the three pans. Place all three pans on a baking sheets (this will make it a lot easier to pull them out of the oven) and bake 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the center bounces back slightly when your press on it. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in their pans. 
  • In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat. Continue cooking the butter, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the butter turns brown and smells nutty and absolutely delicious. The deeper brown you go, the more flavor the frosting will have. Just be careful not to take it all the way to black and burnt. Transfer the butter to a bowl and place in the refrigerator until resolidified. Be sure to scrap all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan into the bowl. That's where all the flavor comes from. I like to chill my butter in a non-metal bowl. To make the frosting, you want it to be the consistency of room temperature butter. If I leave it in the fridge too long, I just pop the bowl into the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up. 
  • Once the butter has solidified, transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the second stick of butter and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the powdered sugar. Beat until combined. Scrape the bowl again and add the vanilla, cinnamon and pinch of salt. Beat on medium-high until the frosting is light and fluffy. 
  • To assemble the cake, trim the tops off all three layers so that they are flat and even. Place one layer on your cake board and spread with a scoop of frosting. Stack the second layer and repeat. When you put the third layer on top, flip it so that the trimmed side is facing down. This will give you a nice smooth top for frosting.  
  • Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining frosting. Reserve a small bit of frosting if you want to do any additional piping on top. Place the cake in the freezer and chill until the frosting is firm.
  • Meanwhile, heat the caramels and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted. Transfer the caramel sauce to a small bowl and stir in 1/2 tsp. salt. If the caramel is still too thick, add cream or water a splash at a time until it drips off of the spoon but is still firmer than a jarred caramel sauce. If it is too runny all of the 'drips' will run of the sides of the cake rather than stopping midway. If it is too thick it will just stick to the spoon. I recommend erring on the side of too thick and practicing one or two drips on the side of the cake. If they aren't dripping down, add more liquid and continue.
  • Once the caramel is ready to go, remove the cake from the freezer. Spread a layer of caramel across the stop and use a spoon to create drips down the sides of the cake. My favorite tutorial for doing this can be found here. Return the cake to the freezer and chill until the caramel is firm.
  • Top with any additional piping and sprinkle with the remaining sea salt. Eat until pumpkin goes out of style. AKA never stop eating.