When the weather starts to get cooler, I automatically start drinking more coffee, eating more soup, and craving caramel. For me, caramel is the flavor that defines fall. Pumpkin is also a seasonal favorite, and I was inspired to put the two together in this luscious torte that is perfect for autumn dinner parties. When sliced, the caramel topping runs a bit, so the cake practically sauces itself on the plate!
Cakes that include heavy, wet ingredients like canned pumpkin or applesauce are often very dense and better for fluted tube pans than layer cakes. Since I planned on making a rich caramel buttercream icing, I wanted my cake to be moist and light.
Instead of going the traditional creamed cake route, I baked up a delicate pumpkin chiffon cake. Chiffon cakes get their fluffy texture by separating the egg yolks from the whites, whipping the whites until they hold a stiff peak, and then folding the airy whites into the rest of the batter.
When the cakes were totally cooled, I torted the layers, which is a fancy way of saying that I cut them in half horizontally. If you are not comfortable doing this with a serrated knife, it’s easy to cut thin, even layers with the Ultimate Cake Leveler.
For special occasions or when I want to really treat someone, I make French buttercream from scratch. It is ultra-smooth and decadent, which is why I call this icing Caramel Silk Buttercream. This recipe is great because it makes enough caramel for the icing, the sauce, and you’ll have a little left over to serve with the sliced cake or to pour over ice cream.
I decorated the cake very simply because all of that gorgeous caramel looked so pretty on its own, and I didn’t want to hide it. The crunchy candied nuts are simple to make, and they really tie the flavors of the cake together, so I piped ball shapes around the perimeter of the cake with a tip 1A and nestled a pecan on top of each. Then I piped a few smaller balls in varying sizes, and in no particular arrangement using a tip 6. I think that the result is quite elegant! What do you think?
Pumpkin Caramel Torte
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
4 whole eggs + 4 egg whites, divided (reserve 4 egg yolks for caramel buttercream)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
In large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg.
In another bowl, whisk pumpkin with whole eggs until well combined. Add to flour mixture and whisk until well combined.
In large bowl, whip egg whites on high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar and beat to soft peaks. With mixer running, gradually add granulated sugar. Continue beating until glossy and stiff.
Fold 1/3 egg whites into pumpkin mixture until no white streaks remain. Fold in remaining egg whites completely. Pour into prepared pans.
Bake 28-32 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Invert pans on cooling grid and cool completely. When cooled, run a knife along sides of cake to release from pan.
Caramel Silk Buttercream and Caramel Sauce
2 eggs + 4 egg yolks
2-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Wilton Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, warmed slightly
2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened and cut into chunks
In large mixing bowl, whip egg yolks and whole eggs on high speed with electric mixer until very thick and pale, about 6 minutes.
In heavy saucepan, combine sugar, water, corn syrup and salt; stir gently to combine. Cook over medium heat, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with pastry brush and water, until deep amber in color (about 330°F). Immediately remove pan from heat and carefully measure 3/4 cup caramel into large glass measuring cup. Add 1/4 cup warmed heavy cream to this caramel; mixture will boil up. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
With mixer on medium speed, slowly drip remaining caramel from pan down side of mixing bowl into whipped eggs, being careful to not let syrup fall directly into eggs or onto whip. Continue whipping on medium speed until outside of mixing bowl is room temperature, about 10 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low; add butter, one chunk at a time, beating until each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Add vanilla.
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In large skillet, toast pecan halves lightly over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is deep amber and nuts are coated. Dump nuts onto parchment paper and separate with spatula. Cool completely.
To assemble cake, torte pumpkin chiffon layers with Ultimate Cake Leveler or serrated knife. Position first cake layer on plate with a rim. Spread a thin layer of caramel silk buttercream on top. Repeat with remaining cake layers and icing. Ice top and sides of cake. Refrigerate until icing is firm.
When icing is cold and caramel sauce is at room temperature, pour about half of caramel sauce over top of cake and smooth to edges. Allow caramel to drip down sides of cake and set on top for 5 minutes. Using tip 1A, pipe 12 balls of caramel icing around the top of the cake. Top each with a candied pecan half. Using tip 6, pipe smaller balls around the 1A balls.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate until 30 minutes before ready to serve. Serve with additional candied pecans and caramel sauce.
Makes 12 servings.