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 my most popular cakes.

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

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

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

A pumpkin cake with maple-cream cheese frosting on a cake stand.
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 my most popular cakes.
David Leite

Prep 30 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 1 hr 15 mins
Dessert
American
8 servings
833 kcal
4.97 / 26 votes
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Ingredients 

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 softened
  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup preferably grade B amber

Directions
 

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.
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 833kcal (42%)Carbohydrates: 102g (34%)Protein: 10g (20%)Fat: 45g (69%)Saturated Fat: 26g (163%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 171mg (57%)Sodium: 513mg (22%)Potassium: 399mg (11%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 74g (82%)Vitamin A: 7517IU (150%)Vitamin C: 2mg (2%)Calcium: 182mg (18%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

Originally published May 10, 2009

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Comments

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

      1. 5 stars
        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!

  2. 5 stars
    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.

    Cindi

    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.

  3. 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!

  4. 5 stars
    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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