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+ servings
A white pumpkin cake with chocolate leaves and chocolate covered pretzel stem.

High Altitude Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cake

Heather Smoke
A pumpkin cake that's shaped like a pumpkin! The pumpkin cake is rich with brown butter, perfectly spiced, and covered in cream cheese buttercream. Chocolate leaves and a chocolate covered pretzel stem make the perfect finish.

All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet.

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 50 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 20 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American


  • Bundt Pans (two identical pans)
  • Stand Mixer



  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
  • 22 ½ oz (1 1/2 15-oz cans) canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 6 large eggs
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 ¾ tsp 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 cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups (12 oz) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp 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 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.


Leftover cake can be stored at room temperature for 1 day, then refrigerated for up to 5 days.
If you need to, you can also bake, assemble, frost and freeze the cake in advance, keeping it frozen in an airtight container.  The cake should be thawed in the refrigerator, then brought to room temperature for serving.
Keyword High Altitude, Pumpkin Cake, Thanksgiving
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