10 Oct Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.com

First off, THANK YOU TIMES INFINITY to everybody who wished me happy birthday last week! I felt so very warm and fuzzy from all of the sweet comments on my birthday cake post and Instagram. You guys are the best. My 27th was so overwhelmingly fantastic that I want to tell you all about it but I almost don’t even know where to begin.

My morning kicked off as all autumn birthdays should, with a pumpkin spice muffin + a pumpkin spice latte from the coffee shop down the street, which I scarfed down with zero muffin-top guilt or basic-white-girl shame (#1). Sometimes (just sometimes) eating a muffin that you didn’t bake makes it like, 1000x better.

Like every other Thursday, I had to work at my day job (womp, birthdays should always fall on Saturdays, don’t ya think?) but my company’s monthly cookout just happened to fall on the same day so it almost felt like my coworkers threw me a really awesome daytime party complete with Mexican beer, beef fajitas on the grill, these always-the-favorite cookies, and this very Browned Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake made by yours truly.

(I obviously have no issue with making my own birthday cakes.)

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.comBrown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.com

The real highlight though, was the night of, which started off with a bang when Steve surprised me with the most perfect bouquet of flowers in the whole world (fall colors, no carnations <– snob) and a homemade gift certificate for private photography lessons with my shiny, new camera (a recent gift to me, from me <–humming Destiny’s Child “Independent”).

Then we put on our fancy-ish clothes (which means I put on real make up and subbed my American Eagle jeans for Paige’s) and headed downtown to listen to my current man-pipes obsession, Sam Smith, put on a to die for performance. Upon arrival (and after taking a couple selfies) I tasked Steve with buying me the largest plastic cup of Rex Goliath Cabernet he could order, then drank it with my pinky finger in the air while pretending the entire show was a birthday serenade for me, and me alone. Magical.

Sam sounded just like he does on his record, the voice of a (very soulful) angel, I tell you. An angel with a British accent, tight suit pants and the cutest cheek rosacea you ever did see. AND after confessing that as a wee lad he only listened to powerful female vocals (really Sam, we never would have guessed) he covered Whitney Houston. That man, he gets me.

The show was followed by late night bourbon cocktails at Bar Congress and then fried snacks (on snacks on snacks) at Second Bar & Kitchen. We noshed on fried pickles, truffle fries and a some suspiciously (but deliciously) cheesy guacamole. And then, to mitigate some of the guilt, we had a kale salad for dessert.


The next three days were spent at Austin City Limits Festival, drinking faaaar more 16 oz. Miller Lights than I’m willing to admit and dancing our butts off. I could write a whole post about ACL alone (and I just might) but right now, it’s time to talk about cake.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.comBrown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.comBrown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.com

PUMPKIN cake. Because it’s October and I’m shamelessly jumping/diving/leaping onto the pumpkin bandwagon. Bring it on. I want all the pumpkin. In my mouth. Right now.

I adapted this Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake from a pumpkin cupcake recipe that I posted on the blog waaaay back in it’s tiny baby blog days. I’m not going to link to it because the picture is really awful and I admit, it embarrasses me. So you’ll have to use the search bar if you’re curious. Great recipe, bad photography.

This time around, I browned the butter to add a nutty warmth to the cake — the perfect complement to the already cozy pumpkin and spice flavors we’ve got going on. The result an oober moist, dense pumpkin cake, bursting with autumnal flavors and just begging to be covered with caramel-y penuche frosting.

At this point you may be wondering, what the heck is penuche frosting?

Until recently, I had no idea either. I’ve had penuche many times over the years and loved it, but I knew neither its name nor how it was made. For as long as I can remember, I thought of it as “that praline-like, caramel frosting that people put on chocolate sheet cakes”. But as I began brainstorming fall recipes, it occurred to me that because of it’s deep caramel flavor, it would be the perfect icing to tie together a spiced pumpkin cake. So, I did some research and found out that it has a name, a history, and is even eaten as candy sometimes. Here are the facts:

The word penuche may come from the Spanish word panocha meaning raw sugar. It’s pronounced puh-NOO-chee, and in some places called Noochie. Try saying either out loud without giggling, I dare you.

Penuche frosting is a boiled frosting, made by caramelizing butter and brown sugar, then adding milk & powdered sugar.

It’s both a frosting and a fudge. And since you know how much I like putting candy on cake, it’s becoming pretty obvious why this one’s a winner in my book.

It’s not the prettiest frosting (as you can see), but it tastes like a cross between pralines and caramel so it’s freaking awesome.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting // butterlustblog.com

Whether you’re secretly or shamelessly, openly in love with all things pumpkin this fall, you’ll go bonkers over this cake. It’s the antidote to my jacket-wearing, apple-picking fall envy. One bite and you’ll be transported to a crimson and orange gilded forest, stepping on crunchy leaves with your vintage leather Frye boots and snuggling up in your infinity scarf to shield yourself from the crisp October air. <– things I have to eat cake to imagine because I live I’m still stuck in the midst of Texas’s endless summer down here.

A Few Notes About This Recipe:

Penuche frosting is very sweet. I used a double batch (and included those measurements in the recipe below) because I knew it would look prettier in pictures, but if you prefer a less sweet frosting definitely halve the recipe. It also set up very quickly so you’ll need to ice your cake immediately. If the frosting becomes to thick, just pop it in the microwave in 15 second intervals until it becomes easy to work with again. 

This is a fairly dense cake, but in a good way, I think. If you’d like to make it a little lighter in texture, separate the egg whites from the egg yolks, beat them until fluffy, then fold them into the batter just before the pumpkin puree. 

Enjoy! XO, Katie

Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting


    For the Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 eggs, room temperature & lightly beaten
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (not to be confused with pumpkin pie mix)
  • For the Penuche Frosting:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 - 4 cups powdered sugar


    For the Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake:
  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line and grease two 8-inch round pans.
  • In a medium saucepan heat the butter over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. As it melts, the butter will foam and froth then start to crackle and pop (this is the water cooking out). Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the burner and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all, to stop the butter from cooking. Set aside to cool.
  • While your butter is cooling, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice in a medium bowl.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cooled butter, sugar and eggs and beat until well combined, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just barely combined. Fold in the pumpkin puree.
  • Divide batter evenly between the grease cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes in the pans then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
  • For the Penuche Frosting:
  • In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the milk, raise the heat, and cook until the mixture boils.
  • Remove from heat, and let it cool until the mixture is lukewarm. Gradually stir in the powdered sugar, beating until smooth.
  • Frost your cake fairly quickly, as the icing will harden.
  • Nora @ Savory Nothings
    Posted at 17:01h, 10 October Reply

    Sounds like you had an amazing birthday! 🙂

    Now I kind of wish my birthday wasn’t in April just so I could have this as my birthday cake, too! What beautiful pictures! And now I’m off to check out those pumpkin cupcakes you talked about!
    Nora @ Savory Nothings recently posted…Crispy Garlic ChickenMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 18:32h, 10 October Reply

      eeek! no judgement!! (and thanks!!!)

  • Rachael | Spache the Spatula
    Posted at 18:02h, 10 October Reply

    This cake looks fantastic! Hooray for jumping on the pumpkin bandwagon—the best bandwagon in the whole wide world!

    And I’m so jealous you went to a Sam Smith concert! It sounds like it was incredible!
    Rachael | Spache the Spatula recently posted…Double Chocolate Pumpkin SconesMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 18:33h, 10 October Reply

      definitely THE BEST of all wagons! thanks, Rachael!

  • Megan @ My Bacon-Wrapped Life
    Posted at 11:44h, 11 October Reply

    This looks SO good! I’ve never heard of penuche frosting before, I need it in my liiiiiiiife!
    Megan @ My Bacon-Wrapped Life recently posted…Foodie Favorites – October 8, 2014My Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 15:16h, 11 October Reply

      You HAVE to try it, Megan! so good!

  • Natasha
    Posted at 12:40h, 11 October Reply

    I love a good, dense pumpkin cake. I’m not sure why people think a cake always has to be light and fluffy. Your photos are gorgeous, as always!
    Natasha recently posted…No Bake Tiger Butter TartMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 15:17h, 11 October Reply

      Right?! Pumpkin by nature is hearty and MOIST, so why would it = fluffy?! Glad we’re on the same page 🙂

  • Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers
    Posted at 19:04h, 11 October Reply

    What a beautiful cake and I love the penuche frosting! Will be trying this 🙂
    Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers recently posted…Simply Perfect Roasted Butternut Squash SoupMy Profile

  • Thalia @ butter and brioche
    Posted at 21:54h, 11 October Reply

    This is THE best cake I have seen in a while… it looks so moist, delicious and packed full of delicious brown butter and pumpkin flavour. You can definitely cut me a slice! Pinned!
    Thalia @ butter and brioche recently posted…Single Lady French Onion SoupMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 18:08h, 12 October Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Thalia!

  • Laura
    Posted at 11:51h, 13 October Reply

    This looks AMAZING!! So excited to try it out! Just wondering how deep your cake pans are? 😀

  • Alexandra @ Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker
    Posted at 14:22h, 13 October Reply

    The cake sounds amazing and I definitely had no idea what penuche was, but it sounds amazing too! Sounds like such a fun, food-filled birthday, as it should be. 😉
    Alexandra @ Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker recently posted…Kitchen Reorganizing for POPtober + a Giveaway!My Profile

  • Steve's Gram -Mickey
    Posted at 21:26h, 13 October Reply

    Cake looks wonderful, and perfect with our beautiful fall foliage in Rochester. Sounds like you and Steven had a wonderful birthday celebration. Love Gram

  • Maryna
    Posted at 10:59h, 15 October Reply

    Hey! I’ve just discovered your blog) Your photography is stunning!)) Really glad to find you)

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 11:24h, 15 October Reply

      Thanks, Maryna! Checking out your blog as well – you’re photography is phenomenal!!

  • Jessica @ Sweet Menu
    Posted at 18:55h, 15 October Reply

    Delicious! What a beautiful cake and that penuche frosting sounds A-mazing!!!
    Jessica @ Sweet Menu recently posted…Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough BallsMy Profile

  • Elizabeth @ SugarHero.com
    Posted at 12:27h, 17 October Reply

    We are so on the same wavelength! I have a brown bread pumpkin cake recipe coming up too–obviously great minds think alike. I’m wishing it had this awesome penuche frosting, though. And your birthday celebration sounds like THE BEST–so glad you had a fun time!
    Elizabeth @ SugarHero.com recently posted…Double Caramel Popcorn BrowniesMy Profile

  • kendra
    Posted at 00:01h, 18 October Reply

    Katie, I just saw your post for your fabulous pumpkin cake with the penuche icing. I am in my mid-fifties and when I was young this frosting with a spice cake was my favorite birthday cake, (Dallas, Oct. 9 – enjoy going to the state fair as a celebration each year). My mother would make a scratch spice cake with this smooth tasty icing! The taste still lingers in my minds imagination. It has been years since having it, and with my love of pumpkin nothing sound better!The holidays can not come soon enough!! Thank you for your sweet reminder of a childhood

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 01:18h, 18 October Reply

      Kendra, I am so touched by your comment! I’m so glad you know and love penuche icing as much as I do, and hopefully you get to enjoy some very soon! A very happy belated birthday as well!! (the State Fair is the best!!! so sad I missed out this year!)

  • taylor
    Posted at 02:15h, 01 November Reply

    okay wow. I made this tonight and it was INCREDIBLE! especially the cake.

    I don’t know if these are dumb questions/concerns (and obviously show that I don’t bake enough), but what is the consistency of the penuche frosting supposed to be like before you ice the cake? I felt like after adding the powered sugar it was still not thick enough, so I added 1/2-1 cup more sugar, and that helped a bit, but It still kind of just ran off the cake a little. And it also made it just taste like pure, straight up sugar. Did I do something wrong? How do I get it to the right consistency?

    Thank you!!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:05h, 02 November Reply

      Hi Taylor!! So glad to hear you likes the cake — sorry to hear you had trouble with the penuche frosting. The consistency of the frosting should be pretty thin when it is warm, but it should firm up pretty quickly as you spread it on the cake and as it cools in the bowl. Next time instead of adding more sugar, try letting it sit to cool for a few minutes so that it becomes more easily spreadable — though it will never spread like buttercream. It’s also a very sweet frosting so you can definitely halve the measurements in my recipe for a thinner layer, if you prefer. Thanks again!

  • Vicky
    Posted at 10:52h, 04 November Reply

    This is a wonderful recipe with an outstanding frosting. Thank you for posting this.

  • Ines
    Posted at 07:03h, 20 November Reply

    Hello, Love the look of this cake and i’m gonna do it this weekend.
    I live in Portugal and the measurements here are very different. I found a little strange the measurements of the pumkin pure. 1 15 oz ? Is it 33 grams? Isn’t that a small amount?
    Can anybody help me?

    It’s for my husband’s anniversary 🙂
    Thanks a lot!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 08:49h, 20 November Reply

      Hi Ines! It is 15 oz by volume which would equal about 1.875 cups, 443.6 mL. I hope this helps and I hope you and your husband enjoy!

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  • Ihjaz Ahmad
    Posted at 03:05h, 12 December Reply

    Oooh i made something very similar a few months ago, and it was delicious! Loved seeing how you had a different take on it. Looks like a great dinner to me, enjoy.

  • Victoria
    Posted at 11:14h, 12 December Reply

    hi – my sweet daughter whose birthday is coming up on Christmas Eve just sent me this recipe. I’m going for it – so here’s my question. Is the recipe for the icing that you posted already doubled, or do you double the recipe instructions? (I’m thinking if I triple it by accident it’s death by sucrose . . .:).

    looks delicious, I’ll let you know!


    • KWahlman
      Posted at 11:21h, 12 December Reply

      Hi Victoria! The measurements in the recipe are already doubled. So yes, you would definitely have a TON of penuche on your hands if you doubled it again. 🙂 I hope your daughter has a very happy birthday and enjoys the cake!

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  • Suzi
    Posted at 06:38h, 26 November Reply

    Do you think I could make this in a bundt pan? And, if so, how long should I bake it?

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 14:18h, 01 December Reply

      Hi Suzi! I’m so sorry for the delayed response, I hope I’m not too late. I do think you could make this in a bundt pan, but since I have no tried it myself I can’t provide an proven baking time. My advice would be to bake for 30-40 minutes, then check on the cake every 5 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Good luck!

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