Giant Pumpkin Cake: The Ultimate Fantastical Thanksgiving Dessert
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
What follows is a cake, complete with FIVE recipes, straight from the pages of my newest book Fantastical Cakes.
Are you a cake or a pie person? If your answer is yes, then boy, is this the cake for you because it’s got both. It’s composed of two layers of a tender pumpkin Bundt cake, one on top and one on the bottom. Inside, there are two layers of flaky pie dough. And smack dab in the middle, pie filling. And to make sure everything stay happily together, the inside layers are held together with white chocolate–pumpkin ganache. And let’s not forget the finishing touch: a pumpkin ermine frosting graces the outside, along with a jaunty fondant stem and a few tendrils, straight from the pumpkin patch.
1 recipe Pumpkin Cake (recipe follows), batter divided in half, each portion baked in a 9-inch/23 cm Bundt to make 2 shallow Wilton Bundt layers
1 recipe White Chocolate Pumpkin Ganache (recipe follows)
1 recipe You Flake (recipe follows), baked to make two 8-inch/20.5 cm round layers
Pecan Pie Filling (recipe follows)
1 recipe Ermine Frosting made with pumpkin purée (recipe follows)
8 ounces/225 g brown fondant
Two or three gum paste leaves
Place one Bundt layer, rounded-side down, on a cardboard round and transfer to a cake turntable. Spread one quarter of the pump- kin ganache over the top of the Bundt cake in an even layer. Place a flake layer over the ganache and then spread another quarter of the ganache over the flake layer (do this gently, as it is flaky and delicate). Top with the chilled and firmed pumpkin or pecan fill- ing. Spread another quarter of the ganache over the pumpkin or pecan filling and then top with the second flake layer. Spread the remaining ganache and top with the second Bundt cake layer, rounded-side up. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of pumpkin ermine frosting over the cake, making sure to fill any deeper gaps around the middle of the cake. Use a flexible frosting scraper to really smooth and round out the pumpkin shape. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes to set the frosting.
Using a small offset spatula, spread dollops of frosting in a sweeping motion, starting at the base of the pumpkin and bringing it to the top, to create a ribbed effect. Spread any remaining frosting in the middle cavity to fill the gap.
Pinch off a 1 1/2-inch/4 cm dollop from the brown fondant, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. Roll the larger portion of the brown fondant into a 4-inch/10 cm-long and 11/2-inch/4 cm-wide cylinder. Flatten the top end and roll the piece between your hands to make it a bit narrower through the middle.
Place the “stem” onto a piece of parchment, flattened (top)–side up. Gently press along the edge of the fondant to flatten and to make a skirt around the entire perimeter
of the stem. Place the stem in the middle of the cake.
Roll the remaining fondant into a thin rope and cut into 5- to 6-inch/12.5 to 15 cm-long pieces. Wrap the pieces around a wooden skewer to create tendrils and then slip off and place around the stem, trailing down the sides of the cake. Insert leaves near the tendrils.
MAKES TWO 9-INCH/23 CM BUNDT LAYERS
Sometimes, there’s a baking trend that just gives me the heebie-jeebies. One such trend came about a few years ago around Thanksgiving time. It was a sweet monstrosity, meant as a tip of the hat to an equally odious savory holiday food trend, the turducken. Someone got the idea to bake a pie inside a cake and the resulting Frankencake was the worst of both. . . at least that’s how it looked. I refuse to get near one. I mourned the loss of any flaky crispness that a pie, trapped in the wet battered coffin surrounding it on all sides, would suffer in the oven. But the idea of it wouldn’t leave me because there was, in spite of the horror, something there. All the goodness of Thanksgiving called to me. The pumpkin. The pecan. And, yes, the flaky. So, I took it upon myself to make the unpalatable palatable. Maybe even great. I developed a rich pumpkin cake and baked it in a bundt pan so it would take on all the aspects of a pumpkin. I baked a luscious, gooey pecan filling by itself as a layer. Then, I baked flaky, round pie layers and I assembled it all using a silken pumpkin ermine frosting to look very much like a pumpkin). And I was happy that I had built the thing that had given me culinary nightmares to my own specifications and it was good. No. Not good. It was great.
Unsalted butter or baker’s nonstick spray for pans
4 cups/480 g unbleached cake flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (15-ounce/425 g) can pure pumpkin purée
1 cup/227 ml buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup/2 sticks/226 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups/426 g light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature Grated zest of 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C for conventional or 325°F/170°C convection. Butter or a spray a 9-inch/23 cm round Bundt pan. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
In a liquid measure cup, stir together the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and vanilla. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the pad- dle attachment and mix on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition, and then add the zest. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture, half of the pumpkin mix- ture, and then continue to alternate between the flour and pumpkin until just incorpo- rated. Remove the bowl from the stand and, using a large rubber spatula, fold the mixture a few times. Add half of the batter to the prepared pan, refrigerating the remaining batter, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake just springs back when gently poked. Turn out the cake onto a cooling rack.
Clean the Bundt pan and butter or spray again. Spread the remaining batter evenly in the pan and bake as directed.
You Flake: Super Flaky Pie Crust Layers
MAKES TWO 8-INCH/20.5 CM ROUND LAYERS
There are times where a well-placed layer of flake will make a cake. A layer of flake is essentially flaky pie dough made into a cake layer either standing in for all the cake layers or added as a lovely counterpoint, as it’s used in the Giant Pumpkin Cake (page 275). The method of making the dough takes a page out of French laminated techniques and results in a fabulously tender and buttery pastry that you can use as a standard pie dough as well as a cake layer.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/88 ml ice cold water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups/240 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup/2 sticks/226 g unsalted butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
Combine the water and lemon juice in a small cup. Set aside.
Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size chunks and toss in the flour mixture to coat. Gently flatten the pieces of butter with your fingers; be careful not to knead—you are simply flattening them. Once you’ve made your way through all the pieces of butter, break the pieces apart a bit more so that they range from 1/2 to 1 inch/1.3 to 2.5 cm in diameter but are uniformly flat.
Pour the lemon water over the flour mixture and gently stir with a wooden spoon to distribute the water and then use your hands to gently massage the mixture between your fingers to break apart any large clumps of moisture. If the mixture is still very dry and doesn’t hold together when you pinch the dough, sprinkle up to the remaining 2 table- spoons of lemon water over the dough and continue working.
Toss the mixture again, making sure to root out any dry patches and incorporate them into the mixture, and then gently compact the dough, using your palm or your knuckles, to gently “smear” the dough so that the butter streaks in the dough. Be careful not to heat up the dough too much. You don’t want the butter to melt; it should stay independent.
Turn out the dough onto your work surface and fold it over a few times to make sure there aren’t any obvious dry patches. Roll the dough into an 8 x 12-inch/20.5 x 30.5 cm rectangle and then fold that into a trifold, like a business letter (this is also called a single or letter fold). Fold the dough in half again, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to rest. During the resting period, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C.
Once it has rested, cut the dough in half and roll out each piece into a rough 81/2- to 9-inch/21.5 to 23 cm round. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the fridge to 20 minutes. Using an 8-inch/20.5 cm cake pan as a guide, use a sharp paring knife to trim the dough into an 8-inch/20.5 cm round. Dock the dough (prick it all over with a fork) and cover the rounds with a piece of parchment and then another sheet pan, to slightly weigh the dough down so the layers rise evenly. Bake for 15 minutes with the sheet pan on top of the dough and then remove the top sheet pan and parchment and continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, or until the pastry is puffed and uniformly golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Pecan Pie Filling
MAKES ONE 8-INCH/20.5 CM ROUND LAYER
I don’t know why pecan pie is relegated to such a very short season in our lives. I think it’s worth eating all year, don’t you? The filling is so wonderfully smooth and almost like candy. And it’s soft, easy to cut through but it still holds its shape. All of this has made it pretty hard for me to resist turning that scrumminess into a filling for a cake. And why bother resisting?
Nonstick cooking spray for pan
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup/1 stick/113 g unsalted butter
11/2 cups/320 g light brown sugar
1/2 cup/156 g corn syrup
1/4 cup/78 g pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups/250 g lightly toasted pecans, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line the bottom of one 8-inch/20.5 cm round cake pan with parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Attach soaked DIY cake strips to the outer sides of the pans (see page 31). Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low
heat. Add the brown sugar and continue to heat until the sugar melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the corn syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Slowly pour 1/4 cup/59 ml
of the butter mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly. Once tempered, continue to whisk while pouring in the remaining butter mixture. Stir in the pecans and pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the middle of the filling just barely jiggles.
Remove from the oven and allow the filling to cool in the pan, then, using a paring knife, release the sides of the pecan filling. Line a sheet pan with parchment and turn out the pecan filling onto the lined pan. Freeze until very firm before assembling the cake.
White Chocolate Pumpkin Ganache
MAKES ENOUGH TO FILL 1 GIANT PUMPKIN CAKE
This stuff is magical in its pumpkin-ness without being all soft and mushy, and isn’t that exactly what we expect from pumpkin desserts? I use this particular ganache to help sandwich the layers in the Giant Pumpkin Cake (page 275). It slips in between the layers of pecan (or pumpkin) pie filling, flaky pie layers, and moist pumpkin Bundt cake. It works as glue and as a taste sensation. Not bad for a little ol’ ganache.
2 tablespoons/28 g unsalted butter
1/3 cup/80 ml heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup 1/3 cup/76 g pure pumpkin purée
1/2 teaspoon salt
51/2 ounces/156 g white chocolate, finely chopped
Place the butter, cream, corn syrup, pump- kin purée, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat to combine and allow to come to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat and immediately add the white chocolate. Shimmy the pan to make sure the chocolate is completely covered in the hot pumpkin mixture. Allow to sit 2 minutes, undisturbed, to allow the chocolate to melt, and then whisk to combine the ingredients until the mixture is completely smooth.
Transfer the ganache to a small, clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to cool at room temperature (do not refrigerate) until thickened and spreadable but not set, 15 to 20 minutes.
MAKES ENOUGH TO FILL AND COVER ONE GIANT PUMPKIN CAKE
If you’ve never, ever heard of ermine frosting, it’s probably because you’ve heard it called by its other name: boiled milk frosting. You can see why I prefer the former moniker. “Boiled milk frosting” just doesn’t sound all that delicious when, in fact, this stuff is crazy delicious. It’s also a lovely, soft frosting that’s very easy to work with and perfect for making swirls in the finished cake. Just make sure to cook the milk and flour mixture long enough that it thickens, for two reasons: First, for the frosting to come together when you start adding the butter, it needs to have thickened enough to form a decent structure for the butter to do its work. The second reason is that you need to cook out the raw flour taste. It takes a while, but you know what I’m going to say. Be patient!
1/3 cup/40 g all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups/250 g granulated sugar Pinch of salt 1 1/4 cups/295 g whole milk 1/2 cup/118 ml heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup/113 g pumpkin purée (optional)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups/3 sticks/340 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 drops Wilton gel dye in orange
Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Add the milk and cream (and pumpkin, if using) and whisk over medium heat until bubbling and thickened. This can take 5 to 10 minutes. Be patient.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until the bowl feels cool. Add the vanilla and then the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the orange dye to enhance the orange hue and mix until combined.