You’re already preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, aren’t you. On the off chance that you haven’t started on dessert yet, I highly recommend walking over to the pantry and pulling out the jar of speculoos that you’ve been saving for something special. (Or is that just me??) Let’s all stay cool and calm and collected– Pumpkin & Cookie Butter Sheet Cake with Toasted Meringue is going to change your life. Okay, maybe the swirly frosting is causing me to get a little overly dramatic, but it’s at least going to up your Thanksgiving dessert game A LOT. I know I just got done harping on pumpkin yesterday, but it’s really more the “pumpkin + pie” thing that bores the crap out of me; it’s probably, like, #26 on my list of favorite ways to eat pumpkin. My favorite preparations of pumpkin are generally when it’s combined with something else, such as chocolate or pillowy dough or cream cheese. But cookie butter, known in Belgium as speculoos, is an ingredient that, I feel, takes pumpkin to a whole different plane of heavenly existence. I once made pumpkin cupcakes with a speculoos filling, which were fab, but I had never thought to actually combine pumpkin and speculoos into the same batter before. Fortunately, Epicurious helped me see that there was more out there in the world for me.
If you’re like, “what is this speculoos business, lady?”, I can tell you that it’s a magical substance that will change your life– and I’m not being dramatic (at least not excessively so). Speculoos cookies are caramelized biscuits invented in a small town in Belgium in 1932, and they went on to be manufactured by the Lotus company and have been known as Lotus Biscoff Cookies ever since. They say the recipe remains unchanged, and the cookies made their way to America starting in the 1980s. I am ever-so-grateful for this trans-Atlantic migration, because they really are one of my favorite things in existence. The cookies were eventually made into “cookie butter“, which has a similar texture to peanut butter, but with the spiced, caramelized flavor of speculoos biscuits. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of speculoos in my opinion, although graham crackers would be a very (very) distant comparison. Trader Joe’s now makes its own version of cookie butter, but it’s made with margarine, and I think the flavor of the original Biscoff is much better. I would recommend the latter for this recipe, but it’s quite likely that the Trader Joe’s version (or other brands) would work fine here.
This is a simple, yet handsome, sheet cake. It is tall and stately, super moist, and so, so flavorful. The toasted meringue is jazzed up with a bouquet of warm Fall spices and a shower of pumpkin seeds, and I added one more element to bump up the speculoos flavor even more: I melted some speculoos and spread it directly on top of the cake before adding the meringue. I feel like that’s been my best life choice this week.
I hope you have a delicious, fun, and enjoyable Thanksgiving, and may your dessert table be graced with speculoos. 🙂
Pumpkin & Cookie Butter Sheet Cake with Toasted Meringue
Adapted from Epicurious
Yields 20-24 servings
For the cake:
- 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks/16 tablespoons/8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1⅓ cups (160g) canned pumpkin purée
- 1 cup (225g) full-fat sour cream
- ¾ cup (200g) speculoos cookie butter (preferably Biscoff – should have the texture of thick peanut butter)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups (425g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
For the meringue:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the speculoos layer:
- ½ cup (135g) speculoos cookie butter (preferably Biscoff)
For the garnish:
- 2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds, toasted
Make the cake:
Preheat an oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13″ baking pan. Line it with parchment paper so that there is an overhang on the long sides, then grease the parchment. Dust the pan with flour and knock out the excess.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the pumpkin purée, sour cream, cookie butter, and vanilla extract– the mixture should be a smooth, light orange color. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (You can also do this with an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed.) Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed after each addition just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again and mix the batter for another 5 seconds or so.
Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the pumpkin mixture, and beginning and ending with the flour. Fold the batter a few times with the spatula to make sure the batter is evenly mixed. Scrape it into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 47–55 minutes. Set the pan on a wire cooling rack and let it cool, about 2 hours, then pull the cake up and out of the pan using the parchment paper overhang (or flip the whole thing onto a cooling rack).
Make the meringue:
Whisk together the egg whites, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and set the bowl over a saucepan filled about ⅓ full with simmering water; make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk the mixture constantly until the egg whites are hot to the touch and the sugar is dissolved, 1–2 minutes, or several minutes if your egg whites were very cold; I used frozen ones that needed to melt first. (If you plan to leave the cake out for several hours, it’s best to heat the egg whites to 175°F to pasteurize them.) Remove the bowl from the saucepan and place it on the stand mixer. Beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until it is cooled, glossy, and holds medium-stiff peaks, about 10-12 minutes.
Assemble the cake:
While the meringue is mixing, put the speculoos cookie butter in a small bowl and melt it in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds, or until it is warm and liquidy, then give it a stir; take care not to scorch it. Pour it over the cake and spread it to all edges with a small offset spatula, gently nudging a little over the edges so that it drips down the sides of the cake.
Spread the meringue evenly on the top of the melted speculoos, creating swirls and dips all over with an offset spatula. Sprinkle the toasted pumpkin seeds over the meringue. Use a kitchen torch to lightly toast the meringue, being careful not to burn the pumpkin seeds.
Let the cake set for about 15 minutes before serving. Once frosted, store the cake in the fridge for up to 2 days.
The cake can be made a day ahead without the meringue; cover and store at room temperature. Make the meringue shortly before serving for ideal texture. That being said, mine did sit in the fridge with the meringue overnight, and it was perfectly fine (the meringue did not weep), though it did deflate a bit.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.