brown butter pumpkin cake

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This brown butter pumpkin cake from Fine Cooking is so lovely and autumnal, and to me it’s a bit more refined and special than a basic pumpkin cake.

The main change I make to the recipe is that I use canned pumpkin purée. A million years ago I made purée from scratch for a pumpkin pie. It’s not hard, but it’s a bunch more dishes, and no one could tell the difference at all! That’s right peeps, totally unnecessary! Just like in life, in cooking I want to figure out where to take shortcuts without losing something important, and where the extra mile is worth doing. As far as I’m concerned, canned pumpkin is a fantastic shortcut 😉

Brown the butter for the cake by melting it over medium high heat and cooking until the solids at the bottom turn a warm brown (also it will smell wonderful). Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Mix the sugars and the eggs, purée and buttermilk thoroughly and fold the dry ingredients in.

Whisk in the brown butter, pour into the pans and bake. Get ready for the house to small amaaaaazing.

cream cheese brown butter frosting

Brown a stick of unsalted butter and stick in the fridge to set. Combine the butter, cream cheese and brown sugar in a mixer and beat until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat a bit more.

yummy glazed nut topping

Melt a bit of butter and toast the nuts in it (Braga Organic Farms is a great source). Add the salt and brown sugar to glaze the nuts, then add the ginger. So good. For a simple and beautiful presentation, you can just pile the nuts on top of the frosted cake. If you have other plans for the outside, you can sprinkle the nuts between the layers. Since I was doing that, I chopped the pecans up…if I was using them as a topping I’d leave the pecans in halves.

brown butter pumpkin cake

Recipe by Fine Cooking


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 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 unsalted butter, plus more for pans

  • 9 oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda

  • 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp ground ginger

  • 3/4 tsp 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 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2/3 cup pecans

  • 1/2 cup unsalted, raw pepitas

  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

  • For the frosting
  • 4 oz unsalted butter

  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

  • 1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar


  • Make the pumpkin purée
  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. 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 o 350 degrees.
  • Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans (here’s my quick and easy way)
  • 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 equally between the 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 ten minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks and cool completely.
  • Make the topping
  • Melt the butter in a heavy duty 12” 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 brown 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


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