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Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

Featured in our 2017 Thanksgiving Guide
Scott Phillips

Servings: 8 to 12

A gingery glazed nut topping and brown-butter-spiked cream cheese frosting are the finishing touches for this spectacular spiced pumpkin cake. Double the topping if you want to pile the nuts on as shown in the photo.

For more side Thanksgiving dessert recipes visit The Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner.


For the purée

  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-large Sugar Pie pumpkin, cut in half from stem to bottom and seeded

For the cake

  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

For the topping

  • 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

For the frosting

  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

Nutritional Information

      Calories (kcal) : 660
      Fat Calories (kcal): 320
      Fat (g): 36
      Saturated Fat (g): 18
      Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 4
      Monounsaturated Fat (g): 11
      Cholesterol (mg): 115
      Sodium (mg): 440
      Carbohydrates (g): 80
      Fiber (g): 2
      Protein (g): 7


Make the pumpkin purée

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Brush a 9×13-inch baking dish with the oil. Put the pumpkin halves in the dish cut side down and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Peel the pumpkin and purée the flesh in a food processor until smooth. You’ll need 1-1/2 cups of the purée for the cake. Refrigerate or freeze any remaining purée for another use.

Make the cake

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

    Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).

    Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.

    In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

    Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

Make the topping

  • Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

Make the frosting

  • Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.

    Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake

  • Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the frosting and top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Arrange the remaining topping in a ring 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the cake and serve

Make Ahead Tips

You can make the purée up to 2 days ahead. The assembled, frosted cake can be covered with a cake dome and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve at room temperature.


You can substitute canned pumpkin purée for homemade, if you like.


Rate or Review


  • fishes | 11/11/2017

    I thought this cake was extremely disappointing. (I did use E.D. Smith canned pumpkin, but can't believe that would have made much difference in the overall result.) The texture was off (almost too dense... and a pudding-like batter); the cake although cooked through, tasted and looked somewhat undercooked when sliced... It had the look of a cake that had far too much coconut oil in it... a bit on the gummy side & the taste was slightly bitter with pumpkin & nuts. Not at all what I was led to believe from reviews. I'd give a firm "no" to this recipe, and suggest carrot cake instead. Carrot cake gives a pleasant, moist, spicy cake, and with a much better texture & flavour that this pumpkin cake provides.

  • DanaCorbin | 11/05/2017

    Hi, I have made this twice so far. I entered it into a charity cake baking competition (amateur taste category). I used pumpkins from our garden which was the best part about this recipe. I used the recipe to make three 8" layers instead of two 9". Baked for 24 minutes. I only used the cake part of the recipe and used cinnamon cream cheese frosting for the filling and frosted it with a whipped white chocolate ganache. I served pumpkin spice caramel on the side for drizzling.

    I made a test cake and brought it into work and there was an argument over the last piece. Normally, I have to wrap up slices and ask people to take them home to get rid of the last of a cake. The feedback was outstanding.

    Then it won't the judges prize and the people's choice prize in the contest. There were eight cakes in the amateur taste category.

    Thanks for sharing this outstanding recipe Jeanne Kelley!!!!

    Dana Corbin
    Pittsburgh, PA

  • Olg | 10/30/2017

    My mother made this cake every Halloween when I was a child and it was always a highlight of the season. She used 7 minute frosting on it. I do too because that frosting is a hit with my family but the cream cheese frosting is equally good, a little richer. The 7 minute frosting is best done within hours of serving the cake and doesn't stay fluffy for as long as the cream cheese frosting so if you are calculating that there will be leftovers for a few days the cream cheese version is your best bet.

  • Rendggr | 12/03/2016

    I have been making this cake for years. It was featured on the cover of the magazine and I bought it just because that cake looked so good! I made it the next day and it has been a requested cake in my family ever since. It is absolutely the BEST pumpkin cake I have ever had. It's a little bit of work but worth every bit of it. Make it, and you won't be disappointed!

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