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Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

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


  • user-5016093 | 03/19/2018

    This is truly one of the best cakes I have ever tasted. Followed the recipe exactly and used canned pumpkin. Some of the elements of this cake I found unusual, namely the browned butter, the crystallized ginger and the pepitas, are not commonly found in cakes. The combination of all the flavors was more than the sum of its parts. I have thought of pumpkin cake as good, but nothing special. This is a truly special cake. If it wasn't " seasonally" incorrect, I'd eat it for Easter and the Fourth of July. I had quite a bit left over as I made it for a very small group. I sliced the remainder and froze it. I ate bites of it straight out of the freezer for weeks and loved every bite.

  • MethodSmoker | 11/29/2017

    I made this cake for the first time last week for Thanksgiving and it was truly one of the most delicious cakes that I have ever made. It was universally decided by all that it will become an annual Thanksgiving staple. To the previous reviewer that had a negative opinion on this cake, I can only assume he overworked the batter. My cake had an absolutely perfect crumb. Soft, moist, slightly dense, held together perfectly when sliced, and would stick to the tines of the fork when pressed upon. This cake is perfection. The spiced nut blend adds such a nice bit of salty, sweet, and tangy (with the ginger) bite and crunchy texture and the cream cheese frosting is *just* right. Not too sweet, just sweet enough and the proportion of cream cheese gave it a nice tangy flavor.

    With all that said, I did play with the proportions of this recipe but not in any way that I feel would affect the flavor of the original recipe. I one and halfed the batter amount to make it a three versus two tiered cake and made 2.5x the icing amount to accommodate the larger size and our love for icing. We also made 4x the nut blend so that we would have extra for nibbling on. I saw some other reviewers mentioned that the pepitas and crystallized ginger weren't necessary but I can't agree. I think both were essential to the flavor of this cake. I did chop up the ginger much smaller than the size it came in originally and used pecan halves vs whole pecans so they would be easier to eat. I was able to find the pepitas in the raw section at Whole Foods. Thank you for such a delicious cake!!

  • 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.

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