Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fallen Leaves Pumpkin Cake

OK, I know it's the middle of winter (although you'd never know it here in Colorado with the weather we've been having). But here I am regardless, posting a pumpkin cake, since I don't want to wait 9 or 10 months to post it in the fall. It doesn't really matter, because it's a delicious cake for any time of year. Don't limit your pumpkin recipes to October, people.

It was the first grade team's turn in September to throw the birthday celebration for the staff. Somewhere around the 29th (OK, so maybe it was more like the 24th or 25th), we realized that we needed to get our sh...tuff together and plan something. We decided to put together a breakfast. The other teachers would be bringing quiche, fruit, juices, and other such delicious breakfast accoutrement. Far from being disappointed about the fact that the food would be served at 7:45 in the morning, I started planning a cake anyway. Who doesn't like eating cake for breakfast?

With October bearing down on us, there was no question of the cake being pumpkin. And the frosting? Cream cheese. Mmmmhhhhmm. I love cream cheese frosting (and have been known to put it on anything remotely logical). I knew I wanted to add a little something else, a little flair, if you will. That flair ended up manifesting itself in some fallen leaves in the center of the cake. I made them with gum paste and painted them with luster-dust-lemon-extract "paint." Finished off with some chopped pecans on the sides, the cake ended up a great success. The rest of the teachers clearly agreed, as it was polished off within an hour, and there were rumors of pieces being hoarded in classrooms, hidden behind stacks of ungraded papers. Rumors indeed. I don't think there was a piece left uneaten in the whole school after 9am.

Pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. The breakfast of champions.


Pumpkin Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pumpkin puree (you can cook and mash your own, but canned is fine)
cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 lb cream cheese (room temperature)
2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs in the bowl of your mixer or a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
Sift dry ingredients together into another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating well.
Stir in the pumpkin puree.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Beat cream cheese and butter and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add the sugar in 1/2 to 1 cup increments, mixing well in between. Beat until sugar is incorporated, then turn the mixer on high for 3 to 5 minutes, beating the frosting until it is light and fluffy.

Frost the cake layers, then gently press the chopped pecans into the sides of the cake.

If you are making the gum paste leaves, follow the directions on the gum paste package. I do not make my own gum paste (maybe one day I will, but today is not that day). I used tiny leaf-shaped cookie cutters to cut the leaves, and then used my Wilton gum paste tools to etch the veins in by hand. You could also do this with whatever you have in your kitchen; butter knives, toothpicks, etc.
I left the leaves to dry on an egg carton draped with tin foil. I made sure that the leaves were draped over the foil at random to create a natural look.

Once the leaves were dry, I mixed up some luster dust "paint" in fall colors. Some people use vodka, but I prefer to use lemon extract, as it also has a high alcohol content, and it smells lovely.
In hindsight, I should have colored the gum paste so that I wasn't trying to paint over white, but rather was just adding depth. Since I didn't think of this at the time, I had to use quite a bit of the "paint" to cover the white. This made some of the leaves kind of soggy, and they lost their shape. Some of the others stuck to the foil. And some of them did not end up with a natural-looking color.
In the end, I ended up with enough leaves that I liked to add a pretty little pile to the top of the cake.
I quite enjoy the final result, and I learned some lessons for next time.


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