The Great Pumpkin Cake

great-pumpkin-cake

Goblins and ghosts are one thing at Hallowe’en, but a full-page glossy photo of Rose’s Great Pumpkin Cake is in quite a separate realm of terror. If you plan to make it, that is. Or, more specifically, if you’ve rashly promised to take that very cake to a Hallowe’en party in full knowledge of the fact that you have never before made either a caramel crème anglaise or an Italian meringue, and that these very tasks now lie between you and the burnt orange silk meringue buttercream that covers this cake so smoothly and so beautifully in that horrifyingly daunting photo on page 127 of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.

Not only did I promise this cake to my friends and hosts for Hallowe’en this year, but I felt doubly bound to attempt this cake in gratitude to Rose for having very kindly lugged the pumpkin-shaped cake pan halfway across the world in her baggage for me earlier this year.

“I can’t wait to see the look on your children’s faces when they see this cake,” she told me. What she didn’t tell me was that I would be required to boil a supersaturated sugar solution not only once but twice during the process of making the cake’s burnt orange silk meringue buttercream.

Well, there wouldn’t be much for my children to look at unless I somehow managed to overcome my fear of boiling sugary syrups.

When broken apart and concentrated in a supersaturated solution, sugar molecules are unstable. They want to come back together again at any chance to return to their previous crystalline structure. An unclean pot, any jarring or stirring of the supersaturated solution at the wrong time, can send them back to their original crystalline pattern and dry state, crystallizing the mixture and ruining the whole candy batch. (From Baking 911)

I am in awe of anyone who can successfully make fudge and toffee in their home kitchen. When I phoned my Mum several months ago for a bit of motherly sympathy after yet another batch of my fudge crystallized and crumbled, she helpfully told me about the wonderfully shiny, brittle toffees and smooth, creamy fudges she remembers her Gran making for her when she was a little girl. Thanks, Mum! Grrrr.

Perhaps I have the wrong sort of sugar. My sugar has either overly-friendly or pathologically co-dependent molecules that stubbornly stick together regardless of the care I take to keep them apart. I must have sticky sugar. Yes, that’s it – I definitely have the wrong sort of sugar.

Or perhaps I have the wrong sort of weather …

It was procrastination rather than thoroughness that led me to read and re-read Rose’s instructions multiple times through on Saturday morning. The cake itself had baked beautifully the day before and I even tried to convince myself that it would look fine just sandwiched together with a bit of marmalade. After all, once it was covered in buttercream, you wouldn’t be able to see those lovely pumpkin grooves anymore.

In my heart of hearts though, I knew what I had to do. With trembling fingers, I carefully placed my super-sensitive sugar into the centre of a saucepan and poured the water around it. I drew an ‘X’ through the sugar and ensured that not even one single crystal dared to venture stickily towards the edges of the pan. I stirred as the sugar dissolved, I held my breath as the solution boiled … and I watched helplessly as the caramel crystallized.

“Icantdothisitsnotfairwhydoesthisalwayshappentome
nobodylovesmeeverybodyhatesmeguessIllgoeatWORMS!”

Some kindly spirit must have had the worms’ best interests at heart because the whole thing wasn’t quite such a disaster the second time around and I was finally able to set aside my burnt sugar crème anglaise and turn to the Italian meringue.

This time, I managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by knocking the saucepan as my super-clear, supersaturated solution was boiling. Despite being so depressingly frustrating, it was actually quite a mesmerising sight watching the crystals starting to form so insidiously in one section of the pan, then rising and falling on the boiling crest of the sugary bubbles as they linked hands with increasingly more of their crusty friends.

How time flies when you’re boiling sugar. I had donned my apron that morning at 10.30 am. It had only taken me five hours to successfully get my burnt orange silk meringue buttercream ready for slapping on the cake!

pumpkin-cake-assembly

As I painstakingly applied lines of darker orange to mark the segments of the pumpkin’s outer skin, M watched me thoughtfully.

“Is it supposed to look like a pumpkin, Mummy?” she eventually queried. I think she must have inherited her knack for saying the right thing at the right time from her Granny ;-) .

I only had a short time left now before the witching hour, which was when I risked having my pumpkin turn back into a coach if it was still unfinished (magic can be a tricky thing at Hallowe’en). My twirling cocoa tendrils and garish, green marzipan leaves were still a little floppy, but I arranged them artlessly on top of the cake before jumping into my witch’s dress and cape. I grabbed hold of my broomstick, a couple of little witches and an even smaller warlock, and we all set off together down the street with the Great Pumpkin Cake in tow.

witching-hour

No Hallowe’en party would be complete without an unearthly danse macabre …

halloween-dance

… and a suitably ghoulish feast.

halloween-feast

And the Great Pumpkin cake?

It was delicious – moist, subtly spiced and perfectly complemented by the smoothest buttercream I have ever had the pleasure of rolling around my tongue. Every forkful was savoured with relish …

pumpkin-fork

… right down to the last crumbs.

pumpkin-last-crumbs

Although Melinda and I are self-confessed Fallen Angel Bakers, you can see further renditions of the Great Pumpkin Cake by members of the Heavenly Cake Bakers group this month as they work their way through all of the cakes in Rose’s book. My thanks go to Marie for steering the project – it was certainly encouraging to know that I wasn’t alone in my buttercream trepidation!

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58 Comments

  1. I just found out today that November 15 is National Bundt Cake Day–I don’t know if that transfers to other countries, but I’m sure you could lobby for it. ;)

    I’ve always wanted to make this cake–I first saw it in an issue of Cook’s Country–but it’s so large, that made it a little daunting. I’m glad you were able to tackle it!

    Reply
  2. Your cake is brilliant! Well done. I bet the children loved it. It needs a little sugar mouse by it’s side!

    Did you Kate flour the flour? I have wanted this pumpkin pan since it first came out. I think it is so sweet. I finally found the giant cupcake mould but the giant pumpkin isn’t to be found on these shores yet. That was good of Rose to lug/bring one over to you and a big baking project!

    I know what you mean about sugar syrups and being afraid of them. My old thermometer was really off 6 degrees and has ruined quite a few caramel batches for me. My new thermometer is very accurate and it was a good purchase for a cake maker.

    This Fallen Angel baker is going to make the Christmas wreath fruitcake from HB. My fruit has been soaking up the rum since last Friday. I have a poor record of failure with fruitcakes, so I am hoping Rose will help me produce a nice fruitcake for Christmas this time. One of the Rose Blog Forum gals, Annie MacD in Scotland, has made it already, and she told me that the Lakelands website is selling the wreath pan for 1/2 price, so I have ordered that. I am actually going to try to make 2 fruitcakes.
    I made my own citrus peel again and it was an ordeal but it sure tastes delightful.
    This time I sat in front of the telly and pithed those oranges and lemons. 4 hours later…done.
    Well, guess I should get out of your comment box. Your cake looks so good I wish I was there to help you eat some it. Cheers x

    Reply
  3. This looks fantastic!

    Reply
  4. Vicki

     /  November 4, 2009

    What a delightful scientific explanation of sugar syrup turning into rock candy. I seriously wondered if my favorite All Clad pan was doomed to be a permanent Stalagmite. Really enjoyed your post.

    Reply
  5. What a great story, love the picture of the cake and the danse macabre!

    I’ve had trouble with sugar syrups and caramel, too, but this time all went well. Here’s what has worked for me — stir well once the sugar and water come to a boil, then wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water. (That washes away the crystals.) After that, DON’T STIR. Just let it bubble away. Swirl the pan gently, only if needed.

    It helps to use a pan that conducts heat evenly (copper coated or with a thick aluminum insert in the bottom).

    I’ve also seen hints that adding a bit of an acid (like lemon juice) or something with different forms of sugar (like corn syrup) can help prevent crystallization.

    I admire your persistence! And what a great result!

    Reply
  6. Jeannette

     /  November 5, 2009

    Your cake looks superb Kate! I think you are very brave to attempt it, but with the lovely tin waiting to be filled you didn’t have much choice, did you? LOL! All worked out well in the end and now you have done something I still have to try. It looks as though a good time was had by all, and I bet your cake was enjoyed too!

    Reply
  7. Kate
    Your cake is lovely! What a wonderful treat for Halloween!
    There is nothing that keeps me from making a cake more than having to make syrup for it. I have so often failed making a sugar syrup that my confidence has suffered and I completely shy away from making a recipe requiring one. But when I see amateur bakers (though at this point I can hardly call you or Marie amateurs) pulling it through and producing such lovely cakes I feel there may be a glimmer of hope for me.

    Reply
  8. Gosh, National Bundt Cake Day sounds like a bit of a mouthful, ruhama! My girls have ballet exam mocks (another mouthful!) on that day, so I don’t guess I’ll be making any cakes, bundt or otherwise …

    Hi Melinda – yes, the flour was ‘kated’. I hope you’ve recovered from your citrus peel trauma. I still have that to look forward to for this year. It makes the difference in mince pies, so I’m sure that with a combination of the peel and Rose’s recipe, you’ll begin a new love affair with the fruitcake!

    Thanks, thecoffeesnob :-)

    I know what you mean about the pans, Vicki! Isn’t it miraculous though how those stalagmites just melt away if you leave them soaking in water for long enough? It seems like such a disaster at the time, I can never quite believe it will work out okay!

    Thanks for the tips, Bungalow Barbara – much appreciated :-) I’m limited to stainless steel and cast iron pans (I have an induction cooker), but fortunately they’re fairly heavy bottomed … which only means I can’t blame my mistakes on their inability to conduct heat evenly!

    I doubt that I would ever have dared attempt to make this cake in exactly this form if Rose hadn’t brought the pan over for me, Jeannette! But you must give it a go, even if you don’t try the buttercream (which is lovely, but troublesome). The cake itself stands up very well as it is without any icing – in fact, my husband (who generally dislikes all things sweet) actually said that he would like it if I made the cake part again for him sometime (but fortunately not the buttercream!).

    I know exactly how you feel, Oriana. As I say, this was something completely outside my own comfort zone. But if I can do it, then I know that you absolutely surely can too!

    Reply
  9. Jeannette

     /  November 5, 2009

    Kate, I forgot to add that I followed your technique for making my candied peel this year! i made my Christmas cake today and usually I buy the peel, not the chopped up type, I chop it myself. But this year I thought I would give your recipe a go to see if I like it,haven’t tasted it yet but it has gone into the cake so hopefully it will be good! I WILL LET YOU KNOW!

    Reply
  10. I enjoyed reading this post. Nothing feels better to another baker than to read about the struggles and frustrations of a kin spirit!

    Reply
  11. I know exactly what you mean, Tasteofbeirut :-)

    Reply
  12. You are a great mom. I bow in respect.

    Reply
  13. Susan

     /  January 10, 2010

    Kate

    I wonder if you could suggest what sugar I should use or substitute for turbinado sugar which is dotted about in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes recipes.
    Thanks (and love your attempt at the pumpkin cake!).

    Susan

    Reply
  14. Hi Susan,

    Depending on the context, I think I’ve used demerara sugar in place of turbinado (I think turbinado is finer than demerara, but I may be wrong …). Muscovado is also unrefined, but Rose usually suggests using that specifically whenever she suggests ‘light brown soft’. When we made the ginger scones from one of her bibles, I seem to remember that she was quite okay about our sprinkling them with demerara instead of turbinado!

    I hope that helps – and I’m quite happy to be corrected by any of my more US friends out there … :-)

    Reply
  15. Susan

     /  January 11, 2010

    Kate, thanks for your response.
    Google (hadn’t thought of this before) also suggested demerara or soft light brown.
    My next questions is for canola or safflower oil. Would you substitute a mild olive oil or perhaps a rapeseed one, or what is your preference. Much appreciated.
    Susan

    Reply
  16. I love Rose’s cake books, I haven’t dared try this one yet though :D Nice work

    Reply
  17. SJ

     /  July 19, 2012

    Do you mind if people pin your photos to pinterest?

    Reply
  18. Carol

     /  July 24, 2012

    Looks great. I am gong to give it a try around Halloween.

    Reply
  19. pamela

     /  August 12, 2012

    My son’s birthday is November 2nd and I made this for his birthday years ago. Put the fall leaves under the cake on the edges and it looked amazing. Used a Little Debbie roll cut in half for the stem

    Reply
  20. Shelli Thomas

     /  August 18, 2012

    You might check attitude u live at as that makes a difference in candy making ..
    Cake is very nice .. Loved it

    Reply
  21. Mila Mason

     /  August 26, 2012

    is there a specific recipe website? I would love to attempt this for my daughter’s wedding celebration in October

    Reply
  22. This cake is perfect for fall and even though it looks difficult at first sight, it isn’t. I will be using it in one of my October posts. Thank you.

    Reply
  23. This is so cute! I made a version of it, but took the easy way out! But I used your style idea! Thanks! I will be sharing it on my blog under easy-pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cake! Thanks!

    Reply
  24. Hey, I really like this recipe. Do you mind if I cross post it on my blog and will include a link back to your site?

    Reply
    • That’s fine, Jilian. It wouldn’t be much of a web without links. I look forward to reading your post :-)

      Reply
      • Here’s my blog. whilethecatssleep.com
        Thanks for sharing this recipe. My take on your recipe wasn’t as pretty as yours but it tasted great!

        Reply
  25. Toni Wood

     /  August 13, 2013

    I made this cake years ago for the cake walk at Halloween Festival when my kids were small.It was such a success thatthey auctioned it off instead of using it in the cakewalk.Itsold for 300.00 dollars!!I I just made two cream cheese pound cakes and iced it with stem and leaves.I love your idea for adifferent cake.Will make one for my grandchildren.Thanks for the Post.

    Reply
  26. Lozano

     /  September 15, 2013

    Fanastic halloween treat. I loved your story that you shared along with The Great Pumpkin Cake.
    I can not wait to make this same cake with my 5 year old grandson this year for Halloween. I will try to send you a post.
    Keep sharing please.
    DixieDarling

    Reply
  27. brian chinn

     /  September 28, 2013

    greetings, the cake looks great! i will have to make it for a up coming church function this year. bungalow barbara is right with all of her tips about boiling sugar. a couple more tips about your sugar issues: make sure the brush you use to brush the sides of the pan with water is clean and free of any grease or oil. also boil the sugar in copper or stainless steel, not iron. the sugar will react with the iron and “seasoning” and crystallize on you. and lastly, use “new” sugar fresh from the bag or box. if there is any flour, grease, or oil in it; it will react with them and crystallize. so don’t double dip your flour and sugar. i am sure you have found out about all of this in the last 3 years, but in case you might not have. good luck!

    Reply
    • Thank you very much for the tips, Brian :-) I still shy away from boiling sugar, so any advice is much appreciated! I hadn’t thought about the contaminated sugar issue before …

      Reply
  28. emily

     /  October 24, 2013

    can we have the recipe?

    Reply
  29. I’m going to be making this for my family this weekend!

    Linked you in my monthly meal plan:
    http://littleworldcalledwonderland.blogspot.com/2013/10/our-month-of-meals-october.html

    Reply
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