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.
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!