Autumn in Brooklyn: Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting & Maple Roasted Pepitas

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I’m lucky to live near San Francisco, I really am. We have a glorious bounty of beautiful, artisanal foods –in the actual, real sense of the word, i.e. handcrafted foods borne of a painstakingly detailed and loving process, not in the annoying, trendy sense– at all times of year. There is never a time when fresh, seasonal produce is not available. Our local food producers take advantage of this to the fullest to create all sorts of delicious things year-round; autumn is always my favorite. And yet… my culinary heart lies in New York– I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have many favorite bakeries throughout both cities, but my favorites of the favorites are in New York. Although I love different spots for different reasons, my undisputed Numero Uno is BAKED (as evidenced by dozens of blogs posts and my participation in Baked Sunday Mornings). This tawdry love affair with Brooklyn-born cakes, brownies, and bars has gone on unchecked since 2009. But a new player has come onto the scene in the past couple of years: Ovenly. I didn’t expect any bakery to rival my feelings for BAKED, but Dear God The Brooklyn Blackout Cake. And the scones. And the shortbread. And the banana bread. When I saw Ovenly’s Instagram photo of their seasonal Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake with Maple Buttercream, I knew I had to recreate it at home. And then I realized that I don’t have to choose between the two bakeries– there’s enough love and dessert stomach to go around for both.

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Thus was born my Brooklyn cake mashup, Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting. I found the pumpkin-olive oil cake recipe in Ovenly’s book, albeit in a loaf form, and I remembered that BAKED has a maple cupcake and frosting recipe in Baked Explorations. I wasn’t sure if the cake would need to be modified for a layer cake, as in adjusting the eggs for structure or something, but I took a gamble and made it as-is… and it was freaking terrific just the way it was. The cake texture was moist, dense, and perfectly pliable for splitting and stacking without any cracks or fragility. The maple frosting was in fact a perfect complement with its tangy goodness against the warm spices in the cake. The maple is very subtle, which I thought worked nicely with all the other flavors packed in here. Finally, I garnished the cake with roasted candied pumpkin seeds (pepitas) to give it a festive look and crunchy contrast.

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This is one of my Top 5-ish cakes ever, and simulaneously one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made. It can be whipped up in an afternoon (and I say this as a painfully slow baker), or you can make the cakes one day, and make the frosting and decorate the cake on the second day. Truth be told, I made the cakes after work one night, froze them, and finished the cake over the weekend easily.

Furthermore, there is a bit of flexibility on the size of the cake pan that you can use. Being that it’s supposed to be baked in a loaf pan to begin with, I feel like this batter is pretty forgiving (I also thought I had over-baked it, but it was fine). I used two 9″ pans (the deep 3″ kind, since Ovenly cakes are extra tall) and split both cakes to make four thin layers… in other words, a delivery system for an extra layer of cream cheese frosting. I must say that this was not my best cake leveling job; the cakes were a bit shorter than anticipated, so I didn’t want to lop off even more from the tops. Hence, while I was able to even things out during the frosting phase, the interior cross-section gave me away! To avoid splitting the cakes altogether, you can use three 8″ pans instead (they probably don’t need to be extra deep), and opt for a 3-layer cake, though this does mean less frosting, a sacrifice that is largely unthinkable for the frosting-obsessed among us. Nevertheless, I’ll probably do that next time for more even layers. Or, you could make the two 9″ cakes and simply keep them intact for a 2-layer cake… although this meager amount of cream cheese frosting is wholly unacceptable if you ask me. 😉

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Anyway, you will find that both the batter and frosting come together easily. The batter is gorgeous– medium-thick and velvety, perfectly spiced, with a lovely olive oil fragrance. This aroma disappears a bit after baking, but the oil still lends a nice complexity to the flavor and texture. The frosting is also a snap; just make sure not to over-whip it, as cream cheese frosting will lose its structure.

This cake is the essence of Fall, meant to be served alongside a cozy cup of tea or cocoa, while watching the rain fall outside your window. Let’s all revel in the Fall season for just a bit longer before the holidays take over… *sigh*  🙂

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Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting & Maple Roasted Pepitas
Adapted from the Ovenly & Baked Explorations cookbooks
Yields 1 – 8″ or 9″ round layer cake, or 2 – 9×5″ loaves (with enough frosting for 4 cake layers)

For the cake:

  • 3 ⅓ (400g) cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ cup (8 tablespoons/4 ounces/1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 cups (600g) granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (540g) pumpkin purée, canned or homemade
  • ⅔ cup water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

For the roasted pepitas:

  • 1 cup (130g) raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons fine or coarse white sanding sugar

For the frosting:

  • 1 ½ cups (24 tablespoons/12 ounces/3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 24 ounces (3 blocks) cream cheese, softened
  • 8 cups (900g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Grease two 9″ or three 8″ round cake pans and place a parchment circle in the bottom of each. Grease the parchment, dust the pan with flour, and knock out the excess; set aside.

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To start the cake batter, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger in a medium mixing bowl.

Place the sugar, pumpkin purée, water, olive oil, and melted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or you can do this with a large mixing bowl and a hand mixer) and beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium-low speed after each addition until well combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl in-between additions as needed.

Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing each time on the lowest speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated. After the last addition, mix for 15 seconds on low to make sure that the orange batter is smooth and homogenous and no loose flour remains.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans; a kitchen scale is helpful for this, or you can eyeball it. Tap the pans lightly on the counter to settle any air bubbles.

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Bake the cakes for about 35-38 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans set over a metal cooling rack for about 15-20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack and allow them to cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

Turn the oven down to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

To make the roasted pepitas, toss the raw seeds with the olive oil and maple syrup in a medium bowl. In a small dish, stir together the brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Sprinkle this mixture over the seeds and stir everything together so that the seeds are evenly coated with sugar and spices. Spread the seeds onto the prepared baking pan in a single layer. Bake for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through– the seeds should be moderately toasted and plumped. Allow them to cool completely and toss them with the sanding sugar. The seeds can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.

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While the cakes cool and the pepitas are roasting, make the frosting. Place the softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until it is completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat just until it is fully blended with the butter.

Add the sugar and the maple syrup to the bowl and beat on the lowest speed for a few seconds, then turn it up to medium and mix until the frosting is smooth. Be careful not to overbeat at this point or the frosting will lose its structure; it should be thick enough to hold peaks and swirls, but smooth enough to spread easily.

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To assemble the cake: Decorating is much easier with a cake turntable. If using 3 intact 8″ cake layers, trim the domed top of the first layer (if needed). Place the layer upside-down on a cake circle and put this in the center of the turntable, or directly onto a cake platter if not using a turntable. With 3 layers, you can afford to be generous with the filling; dollop about 1 cup frosting onto the center of the cake and spread it evenly to the edges with a small offset spatula. Trim and place the next cake layer on top and repeat with the frosting. Trim and place the final cake layer on top upside-down.

If splitting 9″ layers into 4 thinner layers as I did, place the first cake right-side up on a cake circle/platter and trim the top if needed. Carefully slice the cake horizontally with a gentle sawing motion using a long serrated knife; turn the cake as you cut, eventually cutting through the center cleanly. Carefully remove the top half to a piece of parchment paper nearby.

Dollop about ¾ cup frosting onto the center of the cake and spread it evenly to the edges. Place the top half of the split cake upside-down over the frosting. Layer on more frosting and split the second cake same as the first; keep stacking cakes and frosting as above. Make sure the top-most cake is upside-down in order to have the flattest possible top for the finished cake.

Once all the layers are stacked, cover the entire cake with a crumb coat, a thin layer of frosting to seal in any crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge to set for about 20 minutes. Put the bowl of frosting in the fridge as well if possible.

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Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake generously with the offset spatula; you can use a bench scraper to help smooth the surface. There should be just enough frosting, though you’ll have more to work with if you have fewer cake layers.

Garnish the top rim of the cake with the roasted pepitas as well as the bottom edge, or decorate as you wish.

Refrigerate the cake to set for several hours or overnight. Let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

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Make ahead: The cakes can be made a day ahead and tightly wrapped in plastic, or even frozen (tightly wrapped) for a couple of weeks. The frosting can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated. Let it come to room temperature before using. The pepitas can be made a couple of weeks ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.

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