Today, in honor of the upcoming holiday—and for those of you who might not be crazy about pumpkin pie—I thought I would share my favorite pumpkin cake. Unlike most pumpkin cakes it isn't covered in cream cheese frosting (not that there's anything wrong with that). Instead it is a single layer cake topped with a lovely browned butter streusel. I find it to be positively addictive and during "pumpkin season" it is rare for me not to have several slices stashed away in my freezer.
This cake was inspired by a winter squash cake in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I have taken the browned butter streusel from her recipe with almost no alteration. I love the flavor browned butter adds....to vegetables (it makes a great simple sauce for asparagus or those Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts)...and to desserts. Earlier this year I posted a Pear & Dried Tart Cherry Crisp recipe that used browned butter in the topping and a couple of summers ago I posted a Butter Pecan Ice Cream recipe that featured browned butter.
If you have never made browned butter, check out the latter of those two posts for detailed instructions. If you have never tasted browned butter, you are in for a treat. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and consequently goes very well in desserts that include nuts. Its flavor is always accentuated by the presence of lemon or salt. One of the things that makes this streusel special is the simple inclusion of a little extra salt. If you are a person who is particularly drawn to the combination of salty and sweet, this streusel will hit all of your taste buttons.
The cake itself is an adaptation of a cake I found in the wonderful little cookbook Camille Glenn's Old-Fashioned Christmas Cookbook. I mention this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I always want to give appropriate credit for a recipe that is not my own—and while I have made enough changes to the recipe that I could get away with calling it mine, I know I wouldn't have come up with the recipe for this cake without her recipe as a starting place.
The other reason I wanted to mention Ms. Glenn's book is because it is a great resource for people who appreciate southern food and southern cooking. Camille Glenn was a food columnist and caterer who ran a cooking school in Louisville for many years. She was widely considered to be an authority on southern cooking. Her other book, The Heritage of Southern Cooking (Workman Publishing), is a treasure trove of reliable and authentic southern recipes. Both books appear to be out of print but would be worth seeking out if you love Southern food.
I don't think it is any secret that I love cake. In particular I love simple, unfrosted cakes—laden with fruit or topped with a streusel. I find these cakes to be eminently versatile. With a blob of whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar they can be served for tea. Accompanied by a dollop of mousse, a scoop of ice cream, a pool of stirred custard or a fluffy sabayon...or possibly some fresh or poached fruit...they become a formal dessert. But most importantly (to me at least), they are especially fine served plain...for breakfast.
Such is the case with the pumpkin cake I am posting today. While it would be wonderful as part of your Thanksgiving spread—with whipped mascarpone...maple ice cream....or crème anglaise—I like it best for breakfast. But for those of you who aren't quite ready for something so sweet first thing in the morning—and who would be threatened with bodily harm if you didn't serve pumpkin pie at the big feast—you might consider making this cake and serving it as part of a holiday brunch.
Pumpkin Cake with Browned Butter & Pecan Streusel
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. light or golden brown sugar
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
4 T. unsalted butter, browned (see below) and cooled
1/2 c. pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
Combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon & salt in a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle the butter over and stir with a fork until the ingredients are combined and have formed clumps. Stir in the pecans and chill until ready to use.
2 c. cake flour (7 1/2 oz.)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 c. solid pack pumpkin (or use fresh pumpkin purée—well dried)
1/2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. light or golden brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Grease a 10- by 2--inch round cake pan, line with a round of parchment and grease the parchment. Flour the pan. Set aside.
Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, milk and vanilla. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides. This will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high speed.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Increase the speed to medium-high and briefly beat until the mixture lightens in color and expands in volume. By hand, fold in half of the dry ingredients, followed by all the liquid ingredients, followed by the remaining dry ingredients.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the cake.
Bake in a preheated 350° oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 35 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Loosen the sides of the cake by running a thin knife around the edge of the pan. Turn the cake out of the pan. Cool the cake, streusel side up, on a wire rack.
• To “brown” butter, place the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are a deep golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, transfer the butter to another container to stop the cooking process.
• If you don't have a 10-inch round cake pan, this cake may be baked in a 9- by 9- by 2-inch square baking pan. To see what it looks like when baked in a square pan, check out the post at Baking and Boys from a few weeks ago.