I never know quite how I feel about cake. If it comes in a box, either from a bakery or the kind where you “just add oil and eggs,” I can take it or leave it. Mostly, leave it. Especially if it is covered in super-sweet icing. Ick.
Homemade cakes and frostings are a different story. Perhaps because I have more control over the process and can take it in the direction I want it to go.
It seems as if I’m repeatedly drawn to the same basic flavors, too, like pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg… Red, orange, yellow. Warmth. The kind of cake that could just as easily be a muffin. The good kind of dense – the sturdy-enough-to-hold-a-piece-in-your-hand, no-plate-or-fork-needed, wash-it-down-with-a-cold-glass-of-milk kind. What my friend Mary would call an “old-fashioned” cake.
So it’s no surprise that when I was paging through the November 2010 issue of Real Simple, (courtesy of the free box at the library!) and saw a recipe for a simple Spiced Pumpkin Cake, it instantly was added to my mental to-do list. It was one of those little things that I gave a lot of thought and planning to, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it out of my hea until I tried it.
I wasn’t expecting to get to baking it until at least Thursday, but a two-hour delay turned cancellation meant I had most of today free. (Though next time, school district, would you please cancel school before we all get to work so peoples don’t have to drive to and from work and stuff in the ice? Kthanxbai.) Snow day, baking day. Soup day, too.
I knew going in that I wanted to use butternut squash puree in place of the pumpkin, if only because we had the squash on hand, already pureed, in the freezer, and that wasn’t the case with pumpkin. The other change that was rolling around in my head was to replace the lemon juice in the glaze with Earl Grey tea. That one I wasn’t entirely sure about – would the flavor pair well with the spices of the cake or would they both want to hog the spotlight? In the end I decided the only way to find out was to go for it. Sure glad I did!
Here’s the recipe (my notes and changes in bold) :
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan
- 5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I never measure things like spices, so I just shook this in, keeping in mind that I wanted to try the tea in the glaze. I’m estimating I used closer to 3 tsp.)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (1 1⁄2 cups) (1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (2 TB strong brewed Earl Grey tea, room temperature, and I found I had to gradually add more to thin the glaze.)
- Heat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the pumpkin (squash) puree, milk, and molasses (the mixture may appear curdled) (They’re not kidding. It looked gross). Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not over mix).
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice (tea) until smooth. Drizzle over the cake. Let set before serving.
The result? Just as I had hoped. The cake is wonderfully moist and tender, while the Earl Grey, with its citrus flavor was reminiscent of the lemon, but with the floral notes it was just different enough to add a new flavor dimension.