To celebrate fall and the holiday season, I made this gorgeous high altitude pumpkin cake. It’s not the first pumpkin cake I’ve shared on my blog, but it is the first one I decorated to actually look like a pumpkin. The cake is soft and tender, rich with brown butter and full of warm fall spices. Frosted with a sweet and tangy, spiced cream cheese buttercream, and decorated with chocolate leaves, I think it makes the prettiest pumpkin cake I’ve ever seen, not to mention delicious. And wouldn’t this make a spectacular centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner or a Halloween party? Read on to find out how to make your own pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cake!
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Making the Cake
The pumpkin shape of this cake is easy to create. You need two identical bundt pans to bake the cake batter in. When the cakes are put together with one upside down and the other right side up, the shape resembles a pumpkin.
Now, although this is made from two bundt cakes, it’s only about 1 1/2 times as much cake as a standard layer cake. Since I didn’t want the cake to be too huge, I adjusted my favorite pumpkin cake recipe to 1 1/2 x its volume, so that the bundt pans would be full enough to fill out the pumpkin shape, but not so full that the finished cake would end up too big.
The cake is absolutely delicious. I always make my pumpkin cakes with brown butter and dark brown sugar, which adds moisture and incredible flavor. I add plenty of fall spices, because I love a spicy pumpkin cake. And of course, the pumpkin is the star ingredient. It keeps the cake so soft, moist and tender.
Cream Cheese Buttercream
I just love cream cheese buttercream with pumpkin cake. They seem made for each other, just like carrot cake and red velvet cake are perfectly paired with cream cheese buttercream. My cream cheese buttercream recipe is sweet and tangy, flavored with vanilla and more spices, and tinted a soft shade of orange.
The texture of the frosting on the sides of the cake is what I really love. No worries about trying to get perfectly smooth sides, because texture is where it’s at. And anyone, no matter their experience with cake decorating, can make a pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cake like this that looks beautiful.
I’ve made this particular cake design twice now, once with the buttercream tinted orange, and then with white buttercream. I think the white pumpkin is my favorite. It’s just so beautiful and elegant.
Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stem & Chocolate Leaves
A pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cake needs a stem and leaves, and I wanted them to be chocolate. For the stem, I dipped large pretzel rods in chocolate, and I love how their rough, uneven texture really does resemble the stem of a pumpkin.
And because I have a silicone leaf mold that can be used for either chocolate or fondant, I made chocolate leaves as well. I’ve made chocolate leaves before by using real maple leaves to make an impression in the chocolate before peeling it away, and while stunning, they are far more time consuming than just pouring melted chocolate into a mold. A mold is the way to go, and they’re very inexpensive.
After the chocolate hardened, I brushed it all with an edible bronze shimmer powder. The shimmer powder not only conceals any bloom you sometimes get on chocolate after melting and cooling it, but gives it a beautiful, luminous finish.
Be sure to read all of my BAKING FAQs where I discuss ingredients, substitutions and common questions with cake making, so that you can be successful in your own baking! I also suggest reading these comprehensive posts on making Perfect American Buttercream, How to Stack, Fill, Crumb Coat and Frost Layer Cakes and How to Use Piping Bags.
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High Altitude Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cake
All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet. See FAQs for adjusting to higher or lower elevations.
- Bundt Pans (two identical pans)
- Stand Mixer
- 1 ½ cups (339g) unsalted butter
- 22 ½ oz (1 1/2 15-oz cans or 638g) canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 ¼ cups (360g) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 6 (330g) large eggs
- ¾ cup (202ml) whole milk
- 1 tbsp (12g) vanilla
- 3 ¼ cups (423g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 ¾ tsp (8.75g) baking soda
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 8 oz (227g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (339g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 5-6 cups (700-840g) powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp (9g) meringue powder (optional)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 2 ½ tsp (10g) vanilla
- orange gel food coloring, optional
Stem & Leaves
- 3 large pretzel rods
- chocolate candy melts or chocolate chips
- leaf mold for chocolate leaves
- edible bronze shimmer powder
- Preheat the oven to 350. Thoroughly grease all the crevices of two identical bundt pans with non-stick spray.
- Place the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Melt the butter, and then continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until nutty brown solids form on the bottom of the pan. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the browned butter with the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until moistened. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and smooth out the surface of the batter.
- Bake the cakes for about 27 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set the pans on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, gradually add 5 cups of powdered sugar, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt, meringue powder, vanilla and a few drops of orange food coloring. Beat the buttercream on medium speed for several minutes, scraping the bowl down occasionally, until very light and fluffy. If the buttercream is too soft, add up to 1 additional cup of powdered sugar; if it’s too thick, add milk, a tablespoon at a time. It should be thick enough to hold its shape.
- Remove the cooled cakes from the bundt pans.
- To assemble the cake, place one of the cooled cakes upside down on a cake board or cake pedestal. Spread the flat side with buttercream.
- Place the other cake on top right side up so that you have a round, pumpkin shaped cake.
- Use an icing spatula to frost the cake all over with a thin layer of frosting, or a "crumb coat", then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don’t skip the step of crumb-coating the cake – your frosting will not stick to the cake if you try to pipe it directly onto a naked cake without a crumb coat.
- For the final layer of frosting, I find it easiest with this shape of cake to use a piping bag. You don't need a tip or couple on your bag, just fill a piping bag with buttercream and snip off about 1/4 inch from the tip. Pipe the buttercream onto the cake in vertical rows (from top to bottom) just to get it onto the cake. Then, take an icing spatula and drag it through the frosting from bottom to top, making it as textured as you like.
Chocolate Leaves & Stem
- These can be made a day in advance so that the chocolate can set and harden. Start with half a bag of chocolate candy melts, and melt more as you need them, melting them according to the instructions on the package.
- To make the stem, first secure the 3 pretzel rods by tying a piece of twine around one end to hold them together. Holding that end, dip the other end in the chocolate, and use a spoon to drip more chocolate halfway up the pretzels. Shake off the excess and place on a piece of parchment paper to cool and harden. Once hardened, repeat and dip the same end a second time for the best coverage. Once that end has hardened, untie the twine. Dip the other end to coat in chocolate, then let that harden.
- For the leaves, spoon the melted chocolate into your molds, let harden in the refrigerator, and then pop the chocolate out.
- After the chocolate is completely hardened, I like to brush them with shimmer powder to add dimension and sparkle. Just dip a clean brush in the powder and dab onto the chocolate decorations.
- Insert the stem into the middle of the frosted cake, piping a little more frosting around the stem to fill in the hole. Garnish with the leaves.