I’m the person who shows up to someone’s house with a ball of pie crust and a pound of blackberries when I promised I’d bring pie. I’ve also made ganache in the microwave at work for a coworker’s birthday cake because it turns out it’s hard to carry a frosted cake on a bicycle. If you invite me to your party, I will absolutely bring dessert—but I will also need to commandeer your kitchen for a while when I arrive.
This weekend involved probably the longest-distance such episode to date: I’m in Chicago, flew in Friday night for my friend’s party. It’s a long-standing tradition called Hallowhiskey, where we all write and read horror stories. I think you can understand why it was worth hopping on a plane.
So I sent Rose a picture of the first iteration of this cake, baked up another batch of the layers, and texted her a shopping list for the frosting. The flight was supposed to deliver me in time for assembly to happen before the party, but between sitting on the runway and the Montrose bus being horrible (as usual), I showed up late and spent the first half of the party in the kitchen. Also as usual.
But let me tell you: totally worth it.
This cake, in addition to being adorable, is absurdly delicious. We throw some cinnamon and nutmeg into my favorite yellow cake base (from Smitten Kitchen, of course) for a bit of seasonal flair, and then the fillings alternate between pumpkin spice frosting and bittersweet chocolate ganache. The little bit of chocolate offsets the sweetness of the frosting, and it’s just really, really good. And if you think you’re over the whole pumpkin spice craze, that’s fine. I’ll have your piece and I won’t be upset about it at all.
In fact, there are leftovers in the kitchen right now—hold on, I’ll be right back. Teatime with cake needs to happen.
- 4 c. plus 2 T. (530 g) cake flour
- 2 t. (10 g) baking powder
- 1 ½ t. (8 g) baking soda
- 1 t. (5 g) salt
- 2 t. (5 g) cinnamon
- ⅛ t. (0.25 g) nutmeg
- 1 c. (2 sticks, 225 g) butter, at room temperature
- 2 c. (400 g) sugar
- 2 t. (9 g) vanilla extract
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 2 c. (490 g) buttermilk
- 1 ½ c. (300 g) sugar
- ¼ c. (30 g) flour
- ½ c. (125 g) milk
- ¾ c. (180 g) heavy whipping cream
- ¾ c. (55 g) pumpkin puree
- 1 t. (3 g) cinnamon
- Pinch nutmeg
- ½ c. (115 g) butter, at room temperature
- ½ c. (115 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 t. (5 g) vanilla extract
- 4 oz. (115 g) bittersweet chocolate (60-70%)
- ¾ c. (180 g) heavy whipping cream
- Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
- Combine all of the dry ingredients into a medium bowl.
- Beat the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until fully incorporated and light, about one minute. Add the vanilla and mix. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating well between each addition. Mix in the buttermilk. Add the flour mixture in three additions, beating at low speed until just combined.
- Divide evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and the top springs back when you touch it. Let the cakes cool.
- Using a large serrated knife, split the cakes horizontally to give you four thin cake layers. You can also flatten the tops of the cakes at this point, but I usually leave them domed for greater volume. Your call.
- Make the frosting: Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add the milk, cream, and pumpkin. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the mixture starts to boil. Stir constantly for one minute as it boils.
- Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on high speed with the paddle attachment until fully cooled, about 10 minutes. Add the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla on low speed, then mix on high speed until the frosting holds its shape, about five minutes.
- Make the ganache: Chop the chocolate and transfer to a small bowl.
- Heat the cream to just below boiling (about one minute in the microwave) and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Let sit for five minutes. Stir gently until the mixture comes together. Let cool.
- Assemble the cake: Set aside about ¼ c. of ganache and place in a piping bag with a small tip or a plastic bag with the corner cut.
- Spread the first bottom half layer of cake with a generous amount of pumpkin frosting. Top with its matching top and spread with about half of the rest of the ganache. Add the third layer and frost, then carefully add the fourth layer to your tower. It will be a little unsteady, but that only makes it more delicious.
- Top with the rest of the ganache and let it set (this is a good time to throw it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so). Finish it off with the rest of the frosting, piling it high and encouraging it to spill down the sides. Add a jack-o’-lantern face of your choosing to make it festive!