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Brown butter pumpkin cake, with vanilla bean buttercream and decorated with buttercream pumpkins, sitting on a white cake stand next to a yellow linen napkin, with one slice being lifted from the cake.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake

Heather Smoke
Light and fluffy pumpkin cake full of warm spices and brown butter, with fluffy vanilla bean cream cheese buttercream.
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 22 mins
Total Time 47 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 15


  • Stand Mixer



  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup whole buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg


  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 8 oz (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp meringue powder, optional
  • tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste)
  • 2-4 tbsp milk or cream, only if needed



  • Preheat the oven to 350, and spray the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the water has evaporated, and the butter is forming nutty, fragrant golden brown solids at the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and let the butter cool for 10 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Whisk in the browned butter.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk for about 30 seconds until smooth.
  • Divide the batter between the pans. Bake the cakes on the center oven rack for about 22 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
  • Set the pans on a wire cooling rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.


  • In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for one minute.
  • With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder, salt and vanilla bean seeds. Increase speed to medium, and whip for 3-4 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy. Only add the milk or cream if needed for desired consistency, but you don't want to add much liquid to cream cheese buttercream, or it will become too soft to hold its shape on a layer cake.
  • Remove the cooled cakes from the pans. Fill, frost and stack the cakes, then frost all over with a thin crumb coat of buttercream. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then finish frosting all over with a final coat of buttercream.


This cake will stay moist and fresh-tasting for days.  Since it has cream cheese buttercream, it should be kept in the refrigerator, in an airtight container or cake carrier.  Let come to room temperature for several hours before serving.
For the piped pumpkins on the side of the cake, fit a piping bag with Wilton tip 1M, and fill with the leftover buttercream.  Pipe 3 vertical rows to form the shape of the pumpkin.  Use a small round piping tip to pipe the vines and stems.  Garnish with candy leaves, or, tint some of the buttercream green or black to pipe leaves with a leaf tip.
Keyword Brown Butter, Cake, Cream Cheese, High Altitude, Pumpkin