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Pumpkin-Pecan Cake with Brown Sugar and Bourbon Glaze

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Serves 10 to 12

  • by Jill O'Connor from Fine Cooking
    Issue 119

This cake’s warm spices are complemented by bourbon or Cognac and the crunch of sweet candied pecans. Bake the cake at least a day ahead to let the flavors deepen.

For the cake
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened; more for the pan
  • 13-1/2 oz. (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pan
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tbs. bourbon or Cognac
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 15-oz. can pure pumpkin purée
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) pecan halves, toasted and chopped
For the candied pecans
  • 2 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp. mild honey, such as clover
  • 3 oz. (3/4 cup) pecan halves
  • Vegetable oil, for the pan
For the glaze
  • 3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. light corn syrup
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. bourbon
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz. sifted confectioners’ sugar (1-1/4 cups)
  • 1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Make the cake

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour a 10- to 12-cup tube pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves. In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, bourbon, and vanilla.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the oil, beating until combined. Add the brown sugar. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well on medium-high speed after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly pour in the buttermilk mixture, and mix until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the batter, mixing just until combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and tap the pan on the counter once or twice to settle the batter.

Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 45 to 55 minutes. Leave the oven on. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes and then invert the cake onto the rack, remove the pan, and let cool completely, at least 3 hours.

Make the candied pecans

Heat the brown sugar, honey, and 1 Tbs. water in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pecans and stir until coated. Spread the pecans curved side up on an oiled rimmed baking sheet and bake in the 350°F oven until fragrant and shiny, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pecans with a metal spatula to parchment to crisp and cool completely, about 20 minutes.

Glaze the cake

Set the cake on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, bourbon, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Add the cream, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for exactly 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Gently whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla until completely smooth. Let stand until the glaze is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon but still warm and pourable, 3 to 8 minutes. If a skin forms, gently stir it back into the glaze with a spatula; don’t over-stir or the glaze may crystallize.

Pour the glaze slowly and evenly over the cake. Decorate with the candied pecans while the glaze is warm. When the glaze is set, after about 15 minutes, transfer the cake to a serving plate.

Make Ahead Tips

You can make the candied pecans up to 1 week ahead and store in an airtight container.

For the best flavor and texture, the cake should be baked at least 1 day before serving, and it can be stored (unglazed) at room temperature for up to 2 days: set the completely cooled cake on a plate, wrap tightly in 2 layers of plastic wrap.

The unglazed cake can be frozen for up to 1 week: Set the completely cooled cake on a 10-inch cardboard cake round. Wrap tightly in 2 layers of plastic wrap, then in foil, and freeze. Up to 10 hours before serving, remove the foil but not the plastic wrap from the cake. When completely thawed, unwrap and glaze the cake.

The cake can be glazed up to 10 hours before serving. Keep the cake at room temperature after glazing.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 820; Fat (g): 42; Fat Calories (kcal): 370; Saturated Fat (g): 14; Protein (g): 8; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 16; Carbohydrates (g): 105; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 9; Sodium (mg): 370; Cholesterol (mg): 115; Fiber (g): 4;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I made this recipe twice - once for a party and once for Thanksgiving. At the party it was a huge hit, but at Thanksgiving it was too sweet when compared to the other fruit based desserts. I've made the glaze again several times on it's own using extra dark brown sugar and substituting molasses for corn syrup - I use this to top vanilla ice cream or gingerbread cupcakes. Yum! I have a feeling it's the glaze that I'll keep from this recipe.

I like a real spice to my pumpkin so I put in almost 1/2 tsp of cloves instead of the 1/8th it calls for. I wouldn't call the "glaze" a glaze as much as a thin caramel lol and I put twice as much bourbon in it. This a recipe that NEEDS REAL BUTTER,so don't use margarine. Doubled the pecans and just covered the top messy-like. People loved it. Definitely make the day before! Its great but rather involved.

Besides being a pumpkin lover, I am always drawn to cake recipes with buttermilk because they seem to have such an appealing moist crumb, and this recipe was no exception. This cake is also attractive to look at -- my glaze came out shinier and more translucent than the one pictured so was even prettier! Not sure if I'd make the recipe again, however, only because the flavor was on the bland side, not as spicy or pumpkiny as I like -- mainly it just tasted sweet. Maybe increasing the spices would help.

Made this cake for sisters birthday and it was quite involved. However, very tasty. Didn't taste the alcohol enough so i'll alter that. Also it was quite moist. Maybe, too moist. My glaze tasted good but didn't look like the pictures. It could have used more pecans on the outside and maybe bigger pieces in the mix. It was gobbled up!

I made the cake and candied pecans one day and glazed it the next. No heavy cream in the fridge after all, so used 1/2 & 1/2 instead. Glaze was not so thick, but tasted fine. Easy, pretty and everyone enjoyed. I prefer to bake with more buttermilk and less oil, so I had to go for this. Very moist. Great Fall Flavor.

I had all the ingredients so I thought I'd make this on a Sunday afternoon. This is a great cake to make for someone who just loves to bake. My kitchen looked like a bomb hit it, and I felt like I'd been baking for hours by the time I got through, so no matter how good it tastes, I won't make it again. We all agreed that there could easily be triple the amount of candied pecans-the amount seemed miserly.

Amazing. Yes, it is involved and make sure you have all ingredients staged ahead of time. Putting it together was very easy once all ingredients were sorted. I brought it to a party and not one crumb was left on anyone's plate regardless of the size piece, and after a great filling dinner! Comments were: " this cake is so good, moist, flavorful" etc...... It has a distinctive pumpkin flavor, yet subtle. DELICIOUS! This will be our new Christmas Eve dessert.

I omitted the glaze and the nuts and served the cake with wine-poached pears and unsweetened whipped cream. Outstanding! I baked the cake two days before serving. It was very moist. It did take longer to bake than the suggested 45-55 minutes.

Yum! This was a fantastic recipe! My cake turned out exactly like the photo and it was gobbled up in a flash at work. It's quite an involved recipe with three different components, but well worth the trouble.

Excellent recipe. Moist and delicious. I let it sit for 1 day before serving and it allowed the spices to deepen. I substituted stirred plain yogurt for the buttermilk which worked fine.

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