Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

It’s October and pumpkin recipes are hitting hard on my blog feeds and Pinterest right now — and it all looks so good. I was due to make my next cake, so scoured recipes for the perfect chocolate pumpkin cake. Yes, I need chocolate in my cake. But I’m a chocolate purist. I don’t want my pumpkin bits mixed up with my chocolate bits. So I came up with this chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting. The layers keep the two flavors separate, and the brown butter frosting is so incredible, I wrote a blog about it.

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

This cake looks beautiful with the deep orange pumpkin layers and dark chocolate layers all wrapped up in vanilla bean-specked white frosting. My husband says it’s my best so far. It’s fun to see my baking abilities improve now that I’m up to my sixth chocolate cake (not in my lifetime, but documented on my blog). I tried piping on a few of my other cakes, and wasn’t very good at it. This time I used the back of a spoon to swirl the frosting around once it was on the cake. It worked like a charm.

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

The cake recipes are pretty basic and I’ve made the chocolate recipe before. I just halved the cake recipes and they cooked up moist and delicious. The cake stays moist in the fridge for a while, too. Mine is going on day three and was even left cut and uncovered for a day. The frosting is adapted from a cooked flour frosting recipe by Leelabean Bakes. This is probably the hardest part of the recipe, since there are some extra steps and lots of waiting for things to chill before proceeding to the next step. It’s all worth it, though. Browning the butter gives it a nutty flavor that matches perfectly with the pumpkin cake.

Serve this cake at your holiday party and you will get rave reviews. I promise. If you do, please take a pic and send it to me…I’d love to see it recreated in someone else’s hands.

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting


Chocolate pumpkin cake with spiced brown butter frosting

Pumpkin cake adapted from Pumpkin Cake III by Sue Case.

Chocolate cake adapted from The Best Chocolate Cake {Ever} by Add a Pinch


    Pumpkin cake:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (I like to use walnut)
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Chocolate cake:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • Brown butter frosting (increased to accommodate the layers):
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup salted butter (if using unsalted butter, add ¼ teaspoon of salt)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg


Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Grease 2 8” round cake pans and line with parchment.

For the pumpkin cake:

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a mixing bowl.

In another mixing bowl, beat together sugar and oil on low. Add the vanilla and pumpkin puree. Beat in one egg at a time and then gradually add the flour mixture. The resulting batter will be thick. Add it to your pan and give it a tap on the counter to settle it evenly.

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. The pumpkin layer will take longer to cook than the chocolate layer, so be ready with a toothpick (I use a long bamboo skewer) to test for doneness.

For the chocolate cake:

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder in a large mixing bowl.

Using your hand or stand mixer on low, add the milk, vegetable oil, egg and vanilla to the flour mixture. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed to low and carefully add the hot water. Mix on high for about a minute, scraping the sides.

Pour into the cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until your cake tester comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans to cool completely on a wire rack.

Using a bread knife, cake cutter or dental floss, slice through each cake horizontally. Assemble with the a chocolate layer on the bottom. Frost with a big dollop of frosting. Add a pumpkin layer, frost. Add a chocolate layer, frost. Then the last pumpkin layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake, using the back of a spoon to make the swirls.

For the brown butter frosting:

If you are using a vanilla bean, you first need to infuse your milk/cream. This adds an extra step, but all of those vanilla bean specks are worth it. Add the milk, cream and split vanilla bean to a small saucepan. Heat on low for about 10 minutes. Don’t let it come to a boil. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk/cream. Allow to cool completely.

Add the butter to a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until it foams, then carefully watch until you see brown specks at the bottom of the pan. Don’t let the butter blacken. Remove from the heat and strain the butter. Chill until solid, about 20 minutes. Remove from the fridge, and allow to come to room temperature.

Now that everything is cool, we can start to make the frosting. In a small bowl, whisk the flour into about ¼ of the cooled milk/cream mixture. Once it’s formed a nice paste without lumps, add to the rest of the milk/cream. Add the sugar and heat on low, whisking so you don’t get any lumps. Once hot, the mixture will thicken.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. You can stir periodically over a bowl of ice, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to speed up the process. If you don’t stir or cover, it will form a skin and create lumps.

Add the room temperature browned butter, pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg to a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until light in color and fluffy. Add the milk mixture (and vanilla extract, if using), and beat until smooth and fluffy.


    • Marni Mutrux

      Hi Britanny!
      Just skip the first step of steeping the vanilla bean in the milk/cream and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the whipped frosting.

    • Marni Mutrux

      Thank you Dina! We are still eating it…yum! I plan on making it again for Thanksgiving so the whole family can share. 🙂

  • Christine

    I have to say, although your recipe sounds amazing, what really impressed me is your cake layers. They are perfectly straight and all exactly the same thickness, something is very difficult to accomplish. Kudos to you!

    • Marni Mutrux

      Thank you Christine! It was a little luck. I’m not the most experienced baker-and have my flops when it comes to assembling, but I’m certainly trying!

  • Jeri

    This is one of the most beautiful and intriguing cakes I have seen in a long time. I admire how even your layers and frosting filling are. Bravo! I will try this myself, hoping to bring it to my book club next week. Love your photography too. Double bravo!

    • Marni Mutrux

      Thank you Liz! I used 2 8″ pie pans. You could use a 9″ as well, but the layers won’t be as thick. Send me a pic if you make it!

  • Brandi

    Made this cake for my mother-in laws bday! Huge hit. Now my sister-in law wants me to make it for her bday. Not sure if I browned the butter properly, but it was still good. Seemed to take a long time and I was afraid I was going to burn it.

  • Casey

    Just attempted making this cake for “Friendsgiving” this weekend. The cake layers were super easy to make and tasted delicious! However, the icing didn’t quite turn out as expected. For some reason, my icing was extremely grainy and runny–not smooth at all. I followed the directions to a T; any ideas what might’ve gone wrong? I’d love to give it another shot! 🙂

    • Marni Mutrux

      The cooked flour frosting can be temperamental. This has happened to me before if the flour/milk mixture doesn’t get cold enough. Two things to try: stick the frosting back in the fridge to chill, then whip the dickens out of it. If still lumpy, take about 1/2 cup of it and heat until just melted in the microwave. Then slowly pour it back into the frosting while beating.

  • Jamaica

    I made this for Thanksgiving, it turned out wonderful and delicious! I impressed my family and myself with this one! The frosting was the best frosting I’ve ever had. Mine was quite runny, i just added a bunch of powdered sugar to thicken it up. Thank you!!!!

    • Marni Mutrux

      Congrats on making it! It’s definitely a challenge, but so beautiful and delicious. That icing IS tricky. I made it for my son’s birthday cake (not allowing myself enough time) and it didn’t work out so well. Good job and thanks for posting!

  • Monica Renner

    I want to make this cake for Christmas Eve, which so happens to be my husbands great grandmothers 95th birthday!! My question is, if I make the cake two days prior and then wrap it and put it in the fridge.. Then make the frosting the day before and frost the cake.. Will the cake still taste ok? Also if I frost the cake the day before should I refrigerate this cake or leave it at room temp, covered of course? Thank you!

    • Marni Mutrux

      Hello Monica!
      These layers keep very well. A 2 day prep time will be fine, but expect them to get a little moist and more dense. Try not to store them stacked on top of each other. Definitely make the frosting the day before. It benefits from being chilled as it has a tendency to get a little soft. Refrigerate the day prior, then take it out a few hours before serving. It will cut better this way, too, with more defined layers.
      Taste-wise, it will be delicious! I think the cake layers benefit from a few days of rest. No worries there.
      Good luck and have a wonderful Christmas! Let me know how it goes. 🙂

  • Teresa

    A little disappointing… after hours of prep. The frosting did not fluff and therefore did not cover the cake nicely, but instead dripped off sides.
    Recipe requires more information:
    When the brown butter is returned to room temperature, should it still be a solid?
    How do you strain the brown butter?
    How thick should you allow the sugar/milk for frosting mixture to get? Or how long should you cook it after it begins to thicken?
    Maybe some pictures of these steps in the process would be helpful.

  • Bluesy

    How tall is this cake? Last time I made a 3 layer and it was huge a 4 layer cake sounds gigantic. I may be making this cake today, if so I will post pics.

  • Eric

    I’ve made this cake for Thanksgiving and it was a hit. I had people testing me up to a week later telling me they are still thinking about it.
    I’ve just started baking last year and found the instructions very clear, yes it’s labor intensive, but well worth it.
    Funny thing is I’ve been using the same chocolate recipe as well for all my chocolate cakes.
    As a request by everyone, this will be desert for Christmas dinner.

  • AS

    I’ve just made this cake. Both (pumpin and chocolate) cakes are really delicious, but my icing is quite different and very little (I had barely apply on the layers – it was impossible around). Should make double icing?
    We are tasting it tomorow, I hope that it will be delicious anyway. 🙂

  • Tasha Richards

    The cake recipe is quite straight forward and simple to make. The frosting however was very time consuming and did not turn out like the picture at all. I would like to know how yours is so light or even white in color. There is no way it should be that color. The spices and brown butter definetly give it a light brown color. I had to add three cups of icing sugar to get it to stiffen enough to spread. The smell is great though. I’ll let you know how it tastes. For now I’m exhausted.

  • kae

    This recipe sounds good and I’d like to try to bake it for Halloween. I wonder if I can bake in cupcake pan. If I can, do you know how many cupcakes I can bake? Thanks!

  • anonymous.

    Really nice cake!
    I found the pumpkin lack some flavor, so I added cayenne pepper. I also dry heated the spices before hand. To dry heat the spices just throw the spices in a dry clean pan and heat on med. low for 2-3 minutes.

  • Jane Phillips

    The cake recipes are great. Both yielded moist, yummy cake that was not too hard to split into layers. The frosting recipe did not make enough to cover all four layers of the cake plus the outside. I had to quickly make another browned butter recipe, as this one was labor-and-time-intensive.

  • Magen

    This recipe looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it for Thanksgiving dessert. I live in a high altitude part of the country and I was wondering if I needed to make any changes to ensure the cake turns out as expected? I look forward to your reply.

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