This past month I challenged myself to make a pumpkin cake. First I had to settle on a pumpkin cake recipe I really loved. While the decoration of a cake is always fun, taste is always my first priority!
This pumpkin cake recipe makes moist, fluffy pumpkin cake layers, which I’ve frosted with my vanilla buttercream recipe. I couldn’t resist the cake tops when I was leveling these cake layers, which is always a sign that I have a winner 🙂
Once I was happy with the flavor of the cake, it was time to figure out how to decorate it. I love matching the outside of cakes to the flavor hidden inside, and that’s exactly what I did with this cake.
Not only is it pumpkin flavored, it’s shaped just like a pumpkin too.
Sculpting This Pumpkin Layer Cake
We’ve all seen the pumpkin cakes that are easily made with bundt pans. You simply bake two bundt cakes, level the bottoms, and stack one on top of one another.
Believe it or not, I don’t own a bundt pan. I also wanted to try something new, and challenge myself a bit. I might also be a little bit crazy!!
Instead of taking the easy route, I decided to carve and frost a layer cake to create that iconic pumpkin shape.
This method is way more time consuming and difficult, but that also means it’s super rewarding once you finish the cake! Or at least that’s how I look at it.
I trimmed the top and bottom cake layers with a serrated knife to start creating a round shape. I like to chill my cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes, so that they’re cold to the touch but not fully frozen.
This is done before assembling my cakes, to make them easier to stack and frost. It minimizes crumbing, and makes them easier to carve.
Crumb Coat and Shape
Once I was happy with the shape of the cake, I added a thin crumb coat around the cake. This traps any lose crumbs, and makes it easier to add the second layer of frosting.
Because this cake has some curved sides, I smoothed the frosting using an acetate sheet (as seen below). This is a flexible, thin piece of plastic that works wonders when it comes to sculpted cakes.
In this case, the second layer of frosting was going to be INTENSE! You know those symmetrical little panels that line the sides of a pumpkin? We’re going to make them completely out of frosting!
This means you’re going to need a LOT of frosting. You will use 1.5 batches of frosting, to be more precise! I made my orange buttercream a few days in advance, to allow the shade to deepen.
It’s colored with americolor orange gel food coloring, which is my favorite food coloring brand.
To create the shape of the panels, I used a wide, flat frosting tip. This is a Wilton 789, which I used to pipe two thick lines up the sides of the cake.
Heating Things Up
I started to smooth these out with a small offset spatula and my acetate sheet, then tried out a new technique.
I did my best job smoothing the frosting with those tools, then chilled the cake to let the buttercream firm up a bit.
It’s a bit wild, but this next technique sure is fun! I used a small kitchen torch to heat up the back of a small offset spatula.
This allows you to use heat to smooth out any lines, and it also actually deepens the color of the frosting as well.
Because the heat changes the color of the frosting, it’s important to go over the entire cake with the heated spatula if you decide to try this technique.
Throughout this process, the spatula will get covered in melted buttercream. I wiped off the spatula and reheated it several times while I smoothed the frosting.
Once the frosting was FINALLY smoothed, it was time to add the stump. I saved the cake tops, and mixed them with some frosting and melted chocolate.
I formed a little cylinder and placed it on top of the pumpkin.
To add some texture and to help keep the stump in place, I brushed the stump with some melted chocolate. It helped set its shape, and looked so cool!
The Finishing Touch
When I took a step back at this point, the cake board seemed a little bare. It needed something else.
I ended up marbling together some yellow, orange, and red fondant, and cut out little leaves using some leaf punch cutters.
I surrounded the base of the cake with these leaves, and then was finally content with how the cake looked.
She was beautiful, and radiated the beauty of Fall.
Let Me Know What You Think!
If you make this pumpkin cake recipe, I’d love to hear how it goes! Please leave a rating, and let me know your thoughts by sharing a comment 🙂
Or if you share your creations on social media, be sure to tag me @chelsweets!
Pumpkin Cake Layers
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (390 grams)
- 3 cups granulated sugar (600 grams)
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder (10 grams)
- 1 tsp salt (6 grams)
- 2 tsp cinnamon (6 grams)
- 1 tsp ground ginger (3 grams)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (2 grams)
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (226 grams) - 2 sticks
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract (8 grams)
- 1/2 cup pasteurized egg whites from a carton (or about 4 egg whites) (118 grams)
- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree (112 grams)
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream, room temperature (345 grams)
- 1/8 cup vegetable oil (28 grams)
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- 3 cups unsalted butter, room temperature (678 grams)
- 11 cups powdered sugar (1375 grams) - or about 3 lbs
- 1 tsp salt (6 grams)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (or whipping cream) (115 grams)
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract (12 grams)
- orange gel food coloring
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted and cooled
- Kitchen paint brush
- Large piping bag
- Ateco 789 frosting tip
- Red, orange, and yellow fondant
- Leaf cookie cutters
Vanilla Cake Layers:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line four 7 inch pans or three 8 inch round pans with parchment rounds, and grease with non-stick cooking spray.
- Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until fully combined.
- Mix chunks of room-temperature butter slowly into the dry mix, on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture becomes crumbly.
- Pour in egg whites, and mix on low until just incorporated.
- Mix in the sour cream, then the pumpkin puree on a low speed.
- Add in vanilla and oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on low speed for about 15 seconds.
- Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 34-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the pans to cool for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around perimeter of the pan to separate the cake from the pan.
- Place cake layers into the freezer for 45 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process. Once the layers are fully cooled, carefully flip the pans and remove the layers from the pans.
- Use a serrated knife to level the tops of the layers, and save in a bowl to make the pumpkin stump.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
- While the cake layers bake and cool, make the vanilla buttercream frosting.
- Beat the butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment, until smooth. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Alternate with small splashes of cream.
- Once fully mixed, add in the vanilla and salt, and beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated, and the desired consistency is reached.
- If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream (1 TBSP at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).
To Assemble The Cake:
- Stack and frost the pumpkin cake layers on a greaseproof cake board, using a dab of frosting to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
- Add an even layer of buttercream between each cake layer.
- carve the top and bottom edge of the cake to begin to make a sphere shape.
- Apply a thin coat of frosting around the cake, to fully cover the cake layers. Smooth using a bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (5 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
- Color the remaining frosting orange with gel food coloring, and place in a frosting bag fit with a wide, flat frosting tip (Wilton 789).
- Pipe lines of buttercream vertically up the sides of the cake to make the panels of the pumpkin.
- Smooth using an offset spatula and an acetate sheet.
- In a separate bowl, crumble the cake tops using a fork. Mix with 1/2 cut of frosting, and some a 1 inch tall stump.
- Place this on top of the cake, then brush with melted dark chocolate.
- If desired, place fondant leaves around the base of the cake.
- Then cut in and enjoy!
Once the layers have fully cooled, I like to trim the caramelized bits from the sides of the layers using a serrated knife.
These cake layers can be made in advance!! Learn more about how far in advance they can be made, and how to properly wrap them in my post on how to make cake layers ahead of time.
Since this frosting will be used to decorate a cake, it is important to mix the buttercream on the lowest speed at the end of the process for a couple minutes, to get out any extra air that might have be incorporated during the mixing process.
You can also stir the frosting in a bowl with a rubber spatula, pushing it from side to side, to get rid of any air bubbles.This will make it easier to get super smooth sides on your cake!
Amount Per Serving Calories 460 Total Fat 23g Saturated Fat 14g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 8g Cholesterol 58mg Sodium 193mg Carbohydrates 64g Net Carbohydrates 0g Fiber 1g Sugar 55g Sugar Alcohols 0g Protein 2g