Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Burnt Sugar Frosting
It’s happened to all of us. You find a delicious looking recipe, get psyched up to make it, do the grocery shopping, log the man hours and then… the final product sucks. The cake fell, the cookie was dry, the pie didn’t set up, etc., etc., etc. Isn’t that the worst?
Well, I’m over it. I’m not spending all of my free time testing recipes and spilling my guts on this blog (read: embarrassing myself in front of the world) to have any of the recipes on this site belly-flop in your kitchen. I’m determined that YOU WILL HAVE SUCCESS!
Enter: my recipe tester. I have solicited the help of fellow baking enthusiast// butter and sugar boss-lady to test the majority of my recipes before they make it to your computer screen. Together, we are going to produce face-melting treats, and you, my friends, will be happier and more successful in the kitchen because of it. CAN I GET AN AMEN?!
This pumpkin pecan cake with burnt sugar frosting is the first recipe I sent to my little kitchen elf. It’s almost laughable because this recipe was not an immediate success. This cake, admittedly, is a bit of a bear to make if you have zero kitchen experience or ambition, but trust me when I say that the juice is worth the squeeze. Plus, we’re all grown ups here- we can totally do this. Are you up for the challenge?
This pumpkin pecan cake with burnt sugar frosting starts by making a burnt sugar syrup that is used both in the frosting and as a moistening syrup for the cake. This syrup, as well as the salty pecans scattered between the layers of cake, can be made ahead of time, so take heart in knowing that you can easily break this baking up over a couple of days. The pumpkin cake layers, an adaptation of Rosie Alyea, are quite simple to make and incredibly moist. When you’re ready to assemble the cake, you simply whip the syrup into a cream cheese buttercream and voila: pumpkin pecan cake with burnt sugar frosting.
And as if one pumpkin recipe wasn’t enough, there just so happens to be more to go around. I’m sharing today’s recipe in collaboration with Sara, Aimee, and a whole bunch of other bloggers who are slinging pumpkin dishes on their sites today. Check out the full list of those participating in the #virtualpumpkinparty on Sara and Aimee’s sites!
Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Burnt Sugar Frosting
This pumpkin pecan cake is a 3 layer, 8″ cake made up of pumpkin cake layers, salty buttered pecans, and coats of burnt sugar frosting.
- Prep Time: 90
- Cook Time: 45
- Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
For the pumpkin cake layers
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1-1/4 cups canola oil
- 1-1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1-1/2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the burnt sugar syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup hot water
- 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
For the burnt sugar frosting
- 1/2 cup burnt sugar syrup
- 3 sticks (1-1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups powdered sugar
For the salty pecans
- 2 tablespoons of melted butter
- 1 cup of pecans, finely chopped
- 1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt (add based on your preferences)
To prepare the pumpkin cake layers
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 3-8″ cake pans with cooking spray. Line the bottoms of them with parchment paper rounds for easy removal.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar and eggs on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Add the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla and beat on low speed until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low speed, just until combined. Be sure not to over-mix. Scrape the sides of the bowl and fold in any ingredients that may have gotten stuck to the sides of the bowl.
- Evenly distribute the cake batter amongst the 3 pans. Bake in the preheated oven about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool completely prior to frosting. (See notes)
To prepare the burnt sugar syrup
- Place sugar in a cast iron or stainless steel skillet and allow sugar to melt on medium-low (I use 3-4 on my stovetop) heat for about 15 minutes, stirring as seldom as possible. Over-stirring the syrup can cause it to crystallize which is NOT the goal. Continue to cook on medium-low heat until the sugar has melted completely and it becomes a dark amber color. Cooking time may vary depending on your stovetop. Be sure to cook until it is dark and fragrant but has not begun to heavily smoke.
- Carefully and slowly add hot water and stir slightly to combine with the sugar. The mixture will bubble up and steam, so take care not to burn yourself. Cook on low heat for approximately 3 minutes and then add the corn syrup. Set aside to cool in a heat proof container (I use a covered mason jar) until room temperature. At room temperature, the syrup should be the consistency of molasses. See notes for help on the syrup if needed.
To prepare the burnt sugar frosting
- Cream together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer for about 2 minutes. Do not over-beat, but scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure that no clumps remain and the mixture is evenly combined.
- Add 1/2 cup of the cooled burnt sugar syrup and the vanilla and beat on low to combine, about 30 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then add the salt and powdered sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until combined, about 1-2 minutes. Add additional powdered sugar to thicken the frosting as needed.
- Use frosting immediately or refrigerate up to 1 week. Reserve the remaining 2 tablespoons of burnt sugar syrup to use as a moistening syrup for the cakes.
To prepare the salty pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine the butter, pecans and salt on a sheet pan. Bake in the preheated oven, stirring once or twice, for about 10 minutes or until the nuts have been evenly toasted. Allow to cool.
To assemble the cake
- Level all cake layers prior to stacking.
- Mix 2 tablespoons of the remaining burnt sugar syrup with 1/2 tablespoon of water to create a moistening syrup. You can microwave it on low for 10-15 seconds to help melt the syrup. Stir to combine.
- Using a pastry brush, “moisten” each cake layer with 1/3 of the syrup.
- Use a small dab of frosting to adhere the first layer of cake to an 8″ cake board or a serving plate. Spread 1-1/3 cups of frosting on to the first layer of cake and smooth until flat. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nuts evenly on the frosting. Repeat this entire process once for the second layer of cake and then place the final cake layer on top. Smooth 1-1/2 cups of frosting on top of that final layer and smooth over the top.
- Use a small amount of frosting to apply a thin coat of frosting on the sides of the cake to “crumb coat” the cake. (See notes). Refrigerate briefly, about 30-45 minutes, to help set the frosting, and then continue covering and decorating the cake with frosting as desired. Garnish the top of the cake with the remaining nuts. Enjoy!
- You can store your syrup in the fridge to help maintain freshness, however, keep in mind it will firm up quite a bit in the fridge. Simply microwave at brief, 15 second intervals until it becomes soft enough to pour. Do not add hot syrup to your buttercream.
- If you happen to cook your syrup too long and it becomes hard once cooled, you can microwave it at brief, 15 second intervals with a tablespoon or two of water. Once able, stir it all together to thin out the syrup a bit. The syrup should be molasses consistency at room temperature.
- I briefly freeze my cake layers to ensure they are sturdy. It makes frosting the cake cleanly a bit easier.
- If frosting becomes too soft while using, refrigerate briefly to thicken up. Likewise, if frosting is too hard, allow to warm slightly at room temperature, or add a small bit of water a teaspoon at a time to thin out slightly.
- A crumb coat helps to lock in any cake crumbs and prevent them from showing up in the final coat of frosting applied to the exterior of the cake. This isn’t necessary, but helps to keep your cake neat and pretty!
Recipe for cake layers adapted from: Rosie Alyea