10 Oct Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice Cake with Penuche Frosting
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.)
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.
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.
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
- 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)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 3 1/2 - 4 cups powdered sugar
- 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.
- 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.