It’s finally October, which means that I can bake and cook fall recipes to my heart’s content. First on my list is anything pumpkin related. I always make dozens of pumpkin muffins and many loaves of pumpkin bread, and I wanted to try something new. After a little brainstorming, I came up with the idea for a pumpkin gingerbread, full of spicy ginger and molasses, to pair with a rich Dulce de leche frosting.
The pumpkin complements the traditional gingerbread spices of ginger, cinnamon, and pepper, while contributing to a tender texture. Gingerbread is traditionally a very delicate cake, so in order to provide lift and structure, a lot of chemistry must be utilized in this recipe—among other things, this makes me appreciate my Honors Chemistry class. This cake involves a lot of acidic ingredients—pumpkin, molasses, and brown sugar—which can prevent a cake from rising properly. To avoid this, I neutralized the acidic ingredients with a base, baking soda, early on in the recipe rather than using the typical method of adding the baking soda with the dry ingredients. For a foolproof way to avoid a sunken gingerbread, there must be a significant amount of gluten development to provide structural support to the cake. A simple way to do this is to vigorously beat the cake batter, which sounds counterintuitive to a seasoned baker, but actually works wonders when baking a tall layer cake that must hold its own against buttercream and car transport.
A simple Swiss buttercream full of a deeply caramelized Dulce de leche makes this layer cake the perfect accompaniment to a fall birthday or special event. It was thoroughly enjoyed as a dessert for our homecoming dance dinner. After all, what more do you need once you have dinner, friends, cake, and a dance?
Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting
Makes 1, 9 inch layer cake, serving 16-20
1, 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon pepper
¾ cup mild molasses
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk (whole or low-fat, not skim)
Dulce de Leche frosting (recipe follows)
Powdered sugar and a pinch of cinnamon, to serve
- In a small skillet over medium heat, cook the pumpkin for 10-12 minutes until thickened and fragrant, stirring frequently. It is done when the color has deepened slightly and the kitchen smells like pumpkin pie. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
- While the pumpkin cooks, preheat the oven to 350F and grease and flour 2, 9 inch cake pans. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the molasses, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and baking soda together at medium speed. Add the eggs, vegetable oil, milk, and cooled pumpkin and beat at medium speed until well combined, 1-2 minutes. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on medium high for 30-45 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and add the remainder of the flour and beat at medium-high speed for 1 minute, until well combined. Remove bowl from the mixer and stir and few times with a rubber spatula to ensure that all the flour is incorporated.
- Divide the batter between the prepared pans. If you have a kitchen scale, each cake pan will have about 1 ½ pounds of batter in it. Bake the cakes side by side on the middle rack of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cakes spring back with lightly touched, 25-35 minutes. Do not open the oven until at least 25 of baking time has passed. Once the cakes are finished, remove them from the oven and let cool on wire racks for at least 3 hours before frosting. Cake will keep overnight, covered, before frosting.
- To frost the cake, line the edges of the serving platter with parchment strips, then place one of the cake layers on the platter. Spread ¾ cup of the frosting into an even layer on top of the bottom layer, then top with the second layer. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Combine the powdered sugar and the cinnamon in a sifter and use it to dust the top of the cake. Remove the strips of parchment from the edges of the cake, and serve.
Note: The frosting for the cake should be kept refrigerated, so once the cake has been frosted, store it in the refrigerator until serving time.
Dulce de Leche Frosting
Makes enough to frost 1 layer cake
3 egg whites
¾ cup granulated sugar
Pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 12 pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Dulce de leche
Set a saucepan with 3-4 cups of water in it over medium heat and bring to a simmer. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly until foamy and voluminous. The mixture should be 150F. This will take about 3 minutes.
Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until cooled slightly, 1-2 minutes.
With the mixer on medium, add the butter 1 piece at a time, whisking after every addition.
Turn the mixer off, add the vanilla and Dulce de leche. Turn the speed to medium high and beat until smooth and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.