Perfect Pumpkin Cakes: For Halloween and Beyond

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As we give up the sunny days of summer, nature presents bright orange pumpkins to cheer us up. Much like with zucchini, there is an endless bounty to be made from these winter gourds. Here is a spiced pumpkin cake that is absolutely delicious and needs no adornment to be appreciated. But decorate it like a sugar pumpkin and it becomes a centerpiece for any fall holiday table; the addition of the words "Trick" and "Treat" turn these cakes into perfect Halloween desserts.

Halloween Pumpkin Cake
Yield: 2 7-inch round cakes
Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 25 minutes
Skill: Intermediate
Butter, for the bowls
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the bowls
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup well-packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
One 14-ounce can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup large egg whites
4 1/2 sticks (1 1/8 pounds) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt
Gel or paste food coloring, for buttercream and marzipan
4 ounces marzipan
4 6-inch stainless steel mixing bowls (2 1/2-cup capacity each)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the cake:

Butter and flour the stainless steel bowls. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar and eggs. Once they are well combined, add the pumpkin puree, sour cream and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix until it all comes together in a smooth batter.

Divide the batter among the four prepared bowls and place them on baking sheets.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes (this may depend on the shape of your bowls).

It is OK if they don't bake completely flat (chances are they won't).

Turn the cakes out onto a baking sheet and allow them to cool completely. They can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for two weeks.

For the Buttercream:

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the sugar and egg whites. The mixture will be very thick and grainy. Put the bowl over a double boiler and stir with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted. This can take several minutes. You want to brush the sides down with the spatula to make sure all the sugar is melted and no grains are clinging to the sides. Feel the egg mixture between your fingers to check for graininess. Once it is completely smooth and has no grains left, put it on your stand mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium-high speed. Beat it until it is light, fluffy, glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. (If the whites are not cooled off sufficiently, they will melt the butter when you add it.)

Once the egg whites are whipped and cooled, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, on medium speed. WARNING: After you have added about half of the butter, the mixture may look curdled and runny. This is normal and you should continue adding the rest of the butter. Once you have finished adding the butter and it has mixed on medium speed for about a minute, the buttercream should be creamy and glossy-looking again. Add the vanilla and salt. Use food coloring to achieve the color orange you like.

Assemble the cake: Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the flat side of each cake.

Sandwich two of the cakes together to make a sphere.

Spread a thick layer of icing over the entire cake, leaving just the very bottom free of icing.

Use a spatula to create the stripes along the sides of the pumpkin, then flatten out the top just slightly.

Refrigerate the pumpkin cake to set the buttercream, at least one hour. Repeat with the other two half-rounds to create a second cake.

While the cakes are chilling, color the marzipan with green food coloring. (Use gloves to keep your hands clean.)

Sculpt stems and the curly tendrils from the green marzipan. Allow them to sit out at room temperature for a few hours, or overnight, so they will hold their shape.

Set the chilled cakes on stands and decorate with the stems and curly tendrils. Serve at room temperature. It is OK to leave the decorated cake at room temperature for up to 24 hours.

Click here for the printable Pumpkin Cake Recipe.

Zoë François, author of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day  and Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in 5 Minutes a Day , studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She now calls Minneapolis her home, where she has worked with some of the top talent in the culinary world — Steven Brown, Andrew Zimmern and many chefs at the D’Amico company. In addition to writing, Zoë teaches baking classes and consults at restaurants. You can find her writing and recipe creations on Devour, on her baking blog,, and on the site

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