Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

This pumpkin cake with maple cream cheese frosting is spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. All the essential pumpkin spice flavors tempered with the creamy coolness of cream cheese frosting. One of our most popular cakes.

A pumpkin cake with maple-cream cheese frosting on a teal cake stand.

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 Angles 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.–David Leite

What to do if your frosting isn't quite as fluffy as you'd like

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.) This is easily remedied by plopping an extra stick of butter in the recipe. (Isn’t it lovely how butter can fix all manner of problems?!) The result is a sturdier frosting, with no sacrifice in flavor, that’s able to withstand sitting out for several hours in any climate. If you’re one of those people who are averse to more calories, 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.


Pumpkin Cake With Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cake With Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Quick Glance
  • (21)
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 8 to 10
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  • For the pumpkin cake
  • For the maple cream–cheese frosting


Make the pumpkin cake

Crank the heat to 350° (175°C). Position a rack in the middle of the oven and 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.)

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper 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.

Dump 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. (Simply hold the pan a couple inches above your countertop and drop it. Trust us. It works.)

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 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 wire 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 whole shebang, 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. 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. Originally published May 10, 2009.

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  1. Is it Thanksgiving yet?! I love pie, but I think I need a bowl of this frosting + a spoon! Butter!!

  2. This cake is a keeper. Full of flavor with perfect texture, I baked this cake a few days in advance of my grandson’s baptism. I easily split each layer to create a 4-layer stacked cake. I filled the layers with a pumpkin cheesecake buttercream and frosted with the maple cream cheese recipe presented here. I made a stiffer marshmallow decorative frosting. Guests were swooning over this cake.

      1. You don’t know how much I appreciate your well-tested recipes. Can’t go wrong with this web site unlike some others. I grabbed a photo of the inside at last moment. I highly recommend this cake.

        1. Lisa, well, I think we just need to consider this one a collaboration. You added your own amazing-sounding filling and you split the layers, making the cake moister with more filling! Maybe…you need to think of becoming a tester for us!

          1. Yes, we’d love to have the recipe, Lisa, if you’re willing to share it with us.

  3. Sweets are not my weakness, and I especially do not like layer cakes. I also hate pumpkin pie so desserts for Thanksgiving, which I host, are always a problem. I have made linzertorte and gingerbread, but someone is always disappointed that there isn’t something pumpkin on the table. When I saw this recipe, I thought it might be the answer! I like small cakes, so I cut this recipe in half and made a single layer cake with the frosting. Except for halving, I didn’t change any of the ingredients. I wanted to use a hand mixer rather than my stand mixer, and I blitzed the butter and sugars in my food processor (so they weren’t flying all over the place). Then I put that mixture in a bowl and used my hand mixer to do the rest. Stella Parks of BraveTart recommends using cake pans with 3-inch high sides. She likes Fat Daddio’s; I like Parrish Magic Line, and that is what I used. As my oven is well insulated, the cake was done at the 30-minute mark. The result was a beautiful and perfectly DELICIOUS cake, which will definitely become part of my Thanksgiving repertoire. Thanks so much for devising this wonderful recipe. And Happy Thanksgiving 2018!

  4. I am interested in this recipe but I have a question. I would like to substitute sweet potato for the pumpkin. Would that work?

  5. I had a taste in my mind. Then went looking for a recipe to best match. That’s how I got here. Wonderful cake, made even better by taking 2 x the maple syrup the neighbour makes and cooking it down until desired volume – darker, more intense flavour, use a little less to taste if you want. Also switching out some of the buttermilk in the cake with a smoky bourbon. ; ) Going to try it today in 3 layers with recipe frosting and a filling made with frosting, custard and spiced bourbon. Will let you know. : )

  6. Hi David, we do not have canned pumpkin in South Africa, should I just steam the pumpkin until soft?

  7. I’m about to make this gorgeous sounding cake & wanna know if the recipe has been altered to ensure a firmer frosting, or I should use 12oz cream cheese & 2 sticks of butter. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for an easy to follow and most accurate recipe for an incredible cake. Another bonus – it is not a heavy cake or a really sweet frosting. It was perfect after our Supper Club’s lasagna dinner and the folks loved it. The only thing I did different was to add some walnuts on top (mostly to hide my lack of decorating skills). Can’t wait to make this again.

  9. Hi David, What would it take to make this into a sheet cake? I’m trying to feed this to lots of people! Thanks!

    1. Jenny, now you’ve got me there. I’ve never baked a sheet cake. Here’s a useful cake chart from the folks at Wilton that can give you some idea. The best way to figure this out is to fill the baking sheets you want to use with water so that it comes two-thirds up the side of the pan. The total number of cups is the amount of batter you’ll need. Caveat: This is all theoretical and mathematical; it’s not from experience. But please write back after you make the cake to help others who might be in your situation!

    1. Hi Tammy, as we tested the recipe in cake pans, I’m reluctant to give you an exact time. I would use your cake tester and start testing it at 25 minutes. Please let us know your timing, and hope you enjoy the cake.

  10. I made these in cupcake form with a cinnamon cream cheese icing and everyone loved them!! I am wondering…could you make these with applesauce instead of the pumpkin for more of an apple spice cupcake?

  11. I can’t say enough good about this recipe. I doubled it and made cupcakes for a concert hall I volunteer at—people actually paid a buck a piece for them and then thanked us! The cupcakes were in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350°F. I also used pink banana squash instead of pumpkin because I had an overabundance this year, and it worked beautifully. Thanks for another wonderful recipe, David. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it’s such a relief to be able to turn to any of your recipes and be confident that it will turn out delicious.

    1. mona, if I blushed any more, my face would match the Pursian rug. Thank you for you extremely kind words. I’m thrilled to know you enjoyed the cupcakes…and that you made money on them. You did better than I did!

  12. Hi David! Would you mind telling me the weight of the 2 cups of cake flour in oz./gr.? I just want to make the cake and I want it to be really perfect. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Darn you! Now I may just have to make this because it looks so freaking good! Oh, and isn’t everything remedied by an extra stick of butter? Hee hee…

  14. After having a print out of this recipe for almost three years (11/3/2008 to be exact), I finally gave it a go for my birthday cake (with a few adaptations to suit my own taste). The cake it so moist and light. My only chagrin is waiting this long. Thank you, David!

  15. Very good! Moist, and a lot lighter than I thought it would be with over a cup of pumpkin in there! You see, I went to the farmers’ market and saw a beautiful little pumpkin, first of the year … and my husband had been begging me to make a cake … so we’re having pumpkin cake and it’s lovely!

  16. THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE! I made these as cupcakes for my friend’s birthday yesterday. They were delicious and moist! I cut the ginger to 1/2 tsp and only did a smidgen of black pepper. I also made my Cinnamon Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting to go with these.

  17. I made this cake for Thanksgiving tonight and it was delicious. I took your advice and cut the cream cheese, added an extra stick of butter – and the frosting was perfect. Thanks for a delicious addition to my Thanksgiving feast!

  18. Made the cake yesterday. I tasted the frosting and it was so yummy I can’t wait to try it out tomorrow for Thanksgiving! I can hardly wait…it looks lovely. I do cookies well, but am trying my hand at cakes now. :) Thanks for the recipe.

  19. Made these last night for an office party today! So good. I split the batch between cakes and mini cupcakes. I altered the recipe a tiny bit—but think they came out great! I used almost 2 cups of pumpkin, and sweetened the icing by doubling the maple syrup. I can’t wait to make them again. Thanks!

    1. Janine, so glad you liked it. I make this every autumn—in fact, it’s going to be the centerpiece dessert at Thanksgiving. But I think I’m going to make a cupcake cake out of them—a three-teired dessert made of cupcakes.

  20. Thank you so much for the recipe! I made them Thursday night for my boyfriend and his roommate and they were devoured extremely quickly! I took your suggestion to increase the butter and reduce the cream cheese and I’m glad I did since the frosting was pretty soft (but delicious). I’ll definitely be making these again at Thanksgiving.

  21. wow! This looks amazing! I think I’m going to make cupcakes with this recipe and use a brown sugar pecan cream filling…

      1. I made this recipe as cupcakes and they are HEAVENLY! I filled it with a brown sugar pecan cream and topped it with pecans… so great! The frosting was a little gooey, so I added a few tablespoons of frozen shortening to it. It gave it a little more body without compromising the flavor. In case anyone wants to make cupcakes, here’s the filling that I came up with:

        1/2 c. butter
        1/2 c. brown sugar
        1/2 jar marshmallow cream
        1/3 package cream cheese
        few T. heavy whipping cream
        chopped pecans to taste

        I made it up while I was going, so I’m not certain about all of the measurements. I added marshmallow cream until it was fluffy enough for me.

        THanks for the recipe, David!

        1. Natahle, so glad you like the cake. Yes, the frosting can sometimes be a bit loose. I just keep the cake refrigerated until an hour or so before serving. The filling sound delicious. Let’s see what some of our readers think!

      1. I used maple sugar from Trader Joe’s in the frosting. It doesn’t add liquid but the maple flavor comes through since maple sugar is boiled down maple syrup!

  22. David,
    You know this is one of my favorite cakes, but I did find the frosting just a little soft. I experimented with the frosting again last week and you are right. Maple extract just doesn’t impart the same flavor that real maple syrup does and extra sugar mutes the maple taste and is too sweet. I have found I need to use Philadelphia brand cream cheese, the full fat variety. Other brands and low-fat, while fine for some applications, aren’t as firm and the frosting is simply too soft. Once chilled a bit the frosting firms up enough for spreading neatly.


    1. Cindi,

      I made the cake again and found that by reducing the cream cheese (Philly brand) by one-quarter and added another stick of butter gave the frosting enough sturdiness to be spread.

  23. David,
    So you were too ill to pick pumpkins, but well enough to bake a cake to serve to your neighbors while you had the FLU? Naughty!

    1. Well, I didn’t serve THAT cake to neighbors, but I did rouse myself out of my flu stupor. Amazing what the anticipation of baking can do for a poor racked body!

  24. I made this cake for my nieces birthday. It was great, everyone loved it. And the frosting is so yummy with the hint of maple syrup. I made it in advance and placed it in the fridge so it would stiffen up. Once the cake was at room temp, I placed it in the fridge as well until chilled to keep the frosting at a thick consistency when frosting.

    I’m not too fond of a strong ginger taste nor of a peppery taste in my sweets. So the next time I made the cake I used 3/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. of salt and totally omitted the pepper. And the result was delicious! This cake is definitely a winner with my family!

    1. Tania, so glad you liked the cake. The frosting can get a bit soft, and your solution is right on the money. Some readers add more confectioners sugar to the frosting, but that yield a sweeter taste, which, to me, masks the flavor of the maple syrup. Some readers add a bit of maple extract and pull back on the syrup, which works, but tastes a bit harsh to me.

      1. David, I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The frosting is perfect as is! The second time I made the cake I used one 9-by-3-inch round cake pan, and I split the cake into 3 layers and frosted in between each layer plus the top, leaving the outside bare. The mere thought of it makes my mouth water.

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