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I think we’ve established around here that I like to bake (what, you thought the name of this site was an accident? Steam is for steam oven but Bake is ALL about the treats). In case your memory needs refreshing, some of my enduring steam oven baking favourites are here and here. And then there’s this sugar-overload concoction. Or this new go-to (incidentally, fast outstripping the 12 Minute Brownies as the most searched-for recipe on the blog). I think you get the picture.
In the interest of all things baked and sweet, today I thought I’d share another long-time favourite cake recipe with you, updated and improved for steam oven cooking (hooray!). It’s a perfect fall baking recipe for those of you in the Northern hemisphere but I am happy to make it at any time of year.
I first discovered the idea of pumpkin cakes when I was about fourteen and cooking my way through every baking book I could get my hands on (it’s a miracle I didn’t end up diabetic given the sheer amount of refined sugar I consumed as a teenager). I think I saw a pumpkin cake recipe in an American baking book I borrowed from my local library. The book’s name is long since forgotten, and to be honest I don’t even remember making the cake itself, so it probably wasn’t too special. But the idea stuck and while we were travelling in the USA in 2010 I bought a bunch of food magazines to read in airports, on planes and trains. On the cover of Fine Cooking was something called Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake. This thing taunted me through city after city for several weeks, begging to be made but with no hope of fulfilment until I arrived home to my own kitchen, still clutching the magazine under my arm.
And it was worth the wait, in the way so many recipes aren’t when you finally get around to making them. You know how it goes – you see something which looks fantastic, spend ages thinking about it, finally get around to recreating the dish and it’s just not as special as your mind had you believe. No? Happens to me all the time. But then I do spend most of my life thinking about food, so it’s bound to happen on occasion!
Back to the cake – I’ve since made a few changes but the things I loved about it the first time are all still there. It’s deeply toasty thanks to a good amount of browned butter, richly spiced and tender crumbed. The pumpkin is definitely on show, adding earthiness and a gorgeous golden hue, but it’s not overwhelmingly pumpkin-y. And it’s topped with the best cream cheese frosting a person could hope for – loaded with yet more browned butter – and toffee covered pecan nuts and pumpkin seeds. Also, it keeps for days and days. Really. I finished off the last cupcake from the pictured batch this morning, fully four days old, and it was still excellent. The worst that happened was the caramel on the pecans and seeds softening and running a bit, and that wouldn’t happen if you topped them right before serving, which is what I do when I’m not trying to take a photo.
While cupcakes are being mentioned, I have written the recipe below with cupcake baking temperature and timing, but it bakes up beautifully in two or three larger layers if you prefer. You just need to drop the temperature about 10 degrees (Celsius) and adjust the timing if necessary, depending on the size and depth of your layers.
The part of the recipe requiring a little organisation is the pumpkin itself, which you need to cook and puree before you start. If you have a steam oven you’ll be set, though if time is tight and it’s available where you live, canned pumpkin makes an ok substitute (really just ok, though, as it’s got nowhere near the flavour of the fresh stuff and when I tried the recipe with some difficult-to-procure cans of puree from the USA I really noticed less depth of flavour overall). I often do the pumpkin puree the day before to make the cake baking quicker.
The toffee nuts and seeds on top are totally optional but the crunch is fantastic. If you wanted to go halfway with it and get crunch but no extra sweetness, you could lightly toast the nuts and seeds and just use them without the toffee. The quantity below will make more than you need for the cupcakes but about the right amount if you’re topping a larger cake. Any leftovers can be bashed up and sprinkled over ice cream (or, you know, you could just pick at them every time you go past until they’re gone. Not that we know anyone who’d think to do that).
Happy steam oven cooking (and baking!), see you here soon.
Steam Oven Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
This quantity will make 18-20 moderate sized cupcakes, or 2 to 3 x 8 inch (20cm) layers, depending on the thickness you want them. If you’re baking three layers I’d recommend doing 1 ½ times or even twice the frosting quantity so you’ve got enough not to be stingy when you ice it.
On brown butter: if it’s not something you’ve come across before, where have you been?! Kidding (but you have been missing out and I’m glad this will set you on the right path). It brings a deep, rich flavour to your baked goods and I absolutely love the stuff. In this instance you get a double whammy, using it in both the cake batter and the frosting.
A word of warning – this is pretty sweet, both the cake and the frosting. I have dropped the sugar quantity somewhat from the original but it’s still not something you’ll be into if low sugar is your thing.
The frosted cakes will keep, covered, in a cool place (but not the fridge) for about 4 days.
Ingredients for the cake
About 700g pumpkin, skin on but seeds removed, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks (I use Kent or Jap pumpkin but any dense-fleshed pumpkin will work)
310g (oz) unsalted butter, cold is fine (some of this is for the cake and some for the frosting, so follow the directions carefully!!)
280g (1 ¾ cups) plain flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate soda)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
300g (1 1/3 cups) caster sugar
100g (½ cup) brown sugar (I used dark brown)
80ml (1/3 cup) milk or buttermilk
At least a couple of hours before baking the cake, or up to a couple of days ahead, bake and puree the pumpkin:
Set your oven to 200⁰C (combination steam setting). If your oven has variable steam settings, use 100% here. Put the pumpkin into a solid baking tray and roast it for about 20 minutes, or until very soft and starting to brown on the edges. Let it cool slightly, then scrape the flesh off the skin (discard the skin) and puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Set aside until cool. You’ll need 1 ½ cups in total, if you have a little leftover you can freeze it for next time or use it for something else (I quite like it stirred through hot pasta with ricotta, peas and bacon for a quick dinner).
When you want to make the cake:
Put the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Let it melt, then cook, stirring or swirling the pan frequently, until the milk solids start to turn a lovely golden brown colour (it takes about 5-7 minutes total for me but will depend on how hot the pan is). It’s hard to miss when it’s done as your kitchen will start to smell like buttery roasted nuts. Tip it out of the hot pan into a heatproof bowl immediately as it’ll keep cooking otherwise and black butter is not good for much. Let it cool a bit while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.
Set your oven to 180⁰C (combination steam setting). If your oven has variable steam settings, use 60% here. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases (you’ll need to do 2 batches, so you’ll end up turning out and re-using the tin later).
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, spices and salt together, then make a well in the centre.
Measure 170g of your brown butter into a mixing jug or bowl (stir it up just before you pour it in as the solids will have sunk and you want some in the cake!) and set the rest aside for the frosting. Add the cooled pumpkin, sugars, eggs and milk and whisk well to combine. Pour this mixture into the flour and stir to mix everything together.
Divide your batter into the cases (if, like me, you’re pedantic about these things, you could set your tray atop your scales and put exactly 70g into each case. Or just be a normal person and guess it). Bake for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven, let them sit in the tin for a couple of minutes, turn out and repeat the process with more cake cases and leftover batter.
Let the cakes cool completely before icing.
Ingredients for the cream cheese frosting
The remaining 110g (a smidge less than 4oz) brown butter from the cake recipe, set but not cold (if you have ten or fifteen grams either side of this, that’s fine – the water in the butter cooks out during the browning process, and water content varies from brand to brand so it might be a little different from mine)
1 x 250g (8oz) block cream cheese, softened
45g (¼ cup) brown sugar (again, I used dark brown)
150g (1 ¼ cups) icing/confectioners sugar
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle blade (I use my lovely KitchenAid mixer – if you have one but haven’t come across these AMAZING scraper blades yet, go and buy one right now as it will change your baking forever). Mix on low speed until creamy, then either spread onto the cooled cakes with a palette knife or put into a large piping bag with a plain round nozzle and squeeze a dollop onto each cake (the piping bag is my preferred method because it’s super quick and looks quite neat). Top with toffee nut topping (below).
Ingredients for the toffee nut topping
50g (¼ cup) caster sugar
80g (2/3 cup) pecan nuts
25g (¼ cup) pumpkin seeds/pepitas
¼ tsp salt
20g (1 tbs) unsalted butter
Line a large sheet pan with non-stick baking paper. Put the sugar into a medium saucepan over high heat. Melt the sugar, swirling the pan occasionally (don’t stir it!) and let it caramelise to a mid-dark amber colour. As soon as that happens, remove from heat and add the nuts, seeds, salt and butter and stir so the butter melts and everything is incorporated. Working quickly, spread the mixture out on the tray and use a silicone spoon (this is my favourite one) to separate as many of the big clumps as you can before the toffee sets. Don’t panic, you can always break them up later if it sets too quickly.
When cold and set, break up any remaining larger pieces and use to top the iced cupcakes. I’d recommend only topping the cakes right before serving so the toffee stays crunchy. This topping will keep, in an airtight container, for a few days (the more humid your environment the less well it keeps).
But I don’t have a steam/combi-steam oven! Preheat your oven to 170⁰C and bake the cupcakes for around 18-20 minutes until they test clean with a skewer.