This pumpkin cake, along with its incredible maple cream cheese frosting, is a recipe I developed a long time ago for an article I wrote for the Los Angeles Times about Thanksgiving. I was killing two birds with one stone (forgive the holiday pun) by making my editor as well as The One happy. (The One loves anything pumpkin. This cake has actually beat out his former favorite autumn dessert, pumpkin pie.)
Since then, this recipe has become one of those baked-around-the-Internet desserts, like my ultimate chocolate chip cookies. I’ve seen my cake turned into some really clever loaves, mini-Bundt cakes, and, my favorite, cupcakes. It seems to take well to any form you can think to make it in.
What You’ll Need to Make This
- Cake flour–The low gluten content of cake flour helps to give this cake a light, airy texture.
- Eggs–Use room-temperature eggs for best results. They are more easily incorporated into the batter than cold eggs and will allow for a better rise in the cake.
- Pumpkin puree–Use canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) for this cake. I don’t recommend using homemade pumpkin puree as it tends to be more watery than canned.
- Cream cheese–Use full-fat cream cheese for best results.
How to Make This Recipe
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, then butter and flour the parchment.
- Whisk the dry cake ingredients together in a bowl.
- Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Beat on medium speed until fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition.
- Scrape down the sides and beat until smooth.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the bowl, and beat until incorporated.
- Pour in half of the buttermilk, and beat until smooth. Alternate adding the remaining flour and buttermilk to the bowl.
- Stir in the pumpkin until smooth.
- Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake until a tester comes out clean.
- To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Beat until smooth and fluffy.
- Assemble the layer cake by placing one layer on a plate or cake stand and frosting the top of it. Add the second layer, then frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.
Pumpkin Cake FAQs
Folks rave about this maple-cream cheese frosting. Rightly so. But it can tend to be a bit on the soft side—as in, perhaps a little too soft if the cake needs to sit out for a few hours in a warm kitchen. (And by “a warm kitchen,” we mean a kitchen in which the Thanksgiving turkey is roasting and all four burners are blasting come Thanksgiving morning.)
1. You can firm it up in the fridge before frosting the cake.
2. Plopping an extra stick of butter also works. The result is a sturdier frosting, with no sacrifice in flavor, that’s able to withstand sitting out for several hours in any climate.
4. If you can get your hands on the darker, more robust maple syrup formerly known as Grade B and recently redesignated as “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste,” the frosting magically holds up like a champ and requires no extra butter.
4. You can also mix a bit of the frosting with a tablespoon of cornstarch and beat it into the rest of the frosting.
Yes. Our readers have had success swapping in a gluten-free all-purpose baking blend for the flour. This works best when measured by weight.
The unfrosted pumpkin cake and the maple cream cheese frosting can be frozen separately for up to 3 months. Completely cool the cake layers on a rack, then tightly wrap each in plastic before freezing. Freeze the frosting in an airtight container. Thaw at room temperature before assembling the cake.
- It’s crucial to use room-temperature ingredients for your frosting to ensure a smooth texture, otherwise, the frosting can be lumpy.
- If the frosting seems soft after you’ve finished spreading it on the cake, pop the cake into the fridge for 30 minutes to let the frosting firm up.
- Store the cake, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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Write a Review
If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David
This cake is amazing! So delicious! I made it for my husband’s birthday 18 months ago, and I’m still getting requests from people to make it for them, too.Catherine
Pumpkin Cake With Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
For the pumpkin cake
- 2 cups cake flour, plus more for the pans
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, (I mean freshly ground!)
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
For the maple cream–cheese frosting
- Two (8-ounce) packages Philadelphia brand cream cheese, fully softened
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably grade B amber
Make the pumpkin cake
- Crank the heat to 350° (175°C) and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
- Butter two 8-by-2-inch cake pans and line them with parchment circles cut to fit the pans. Butter the parchment and coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess. (You can instead spritz the pans with cooking spray for baking, if that's easier for you than buttering and flouring.)
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Take a whiff. Heaven.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl using a good old-fashioned hand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Plop the eggs, 1 at a time, into the bowl, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the bowl, starting and ending with the flour.
- Scrape in the pumpkin and beat just until the pumpkin is incorporated and the cake batter is smooth.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly. Give each filled pan a good smack flat against the counter to release any air bubbles.
- Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully turn out the cakes from the pans onto the rack, peel off the parchment paper, turn them right side up, and let them cool completely.
Make the maple-cream cheese frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl using a good old-fashioned hand mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and maple syrup until fluffy.
- To assemble the cake, place a cake layer on a plate or cake stand and generously frost the top of it. Place the other cake on top and frost the sides and top, swirling the frosting like the pro that you are.
☞ TESTER TIP: If the frosting seems a touch on the soft side, slip the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until the frosting is set or, if you notice it before you frost the cake, see our note above the recipe.
- Use room-temperature ingredients–It’s crucial to use room-temperature ingredients for your frosting to ensure a smooth texture, otherwise, the frosting can be lumpy.
- Storage–Store the cake, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- Freezing–The cake and frosting can be frozen separately for up to 3 months. Wrap the cooled cake layers in plastic before freezing and stash the frosting in an airtight container. Thaw at room temperature before assembling.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
This recipe was originally published on November 16, 2003.