Because pumpkin doesn’t have to be exactly the same way each and every year, right? It’s such a versatile ingredient that it would be a mistake to limit it to pie, bread, lattes, and granola. In fact, pumpkin is so essential to our baking lives that Baked devoted an entire chapter to it from their Elements book: a chapter it totally deserved.
Nothing crazy in the chapter, mind you: I think pumpkin flavor naturally pulls us toward the familiar; it’s just part of our history, of our growing-up, most likely. Confession: for all my moaning and groaning about PSL frenzy this time of year, you should know that I bake a whole-wheat pumpkin bread every week for the Wee One, almost all year long. It’s less about pumpkin and more about how she loves it and it’s a fairly healthy treat option, and I do it happily for her. And also for me: no matter what else we have going on in a week, it’s a guarantee that at least once during the chaos, my kitchen smells faintly of Thanksgiving, and I dig that.
Back to this cake: I wanted to do something slightly different than what I see out there; pumpkin almond cake seemed promising. I’ve been really into simple cakes lately: cakes which require zero gussying up, no frosting even: just cake. This is a pitch-perfect example of a cake which needs no adornment: they Baked boys give it a frosting in the book, but I wasn’t super into doing that. The best way to describe this is 50/50 cake-to-pie: the top 2/3 is a dense, pumpkin-bread like cake, while the bottom half is very pie-like and approaching custardy, but still cakey, sturdy but soft. And the almonds in this give it this unbelievably lovely texture, as only almond meal can.
The flavor is staunchly classic pumpkin pie: all ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, all the time. It’s intensely fragrant and wonderful coming out of the oven, or 3 days after. I make it in a Springform pan, which gives me increased headroom (it’s a tall cake) and makes it easy to unearth. And it’s one of the easiest cakes you’ll make all year; festive all on its own…
…or with what I made specifically to go with it. Soooo…here’s where I stand on cake/frosting/ice cream: I firmly believe that if cake has frosting, it shouldn’t have ice cream b/c it’s gratuitous. It’s either scraping the edges of overkill or it’s reached far beyond it; there’s simply too much happening there in terms of flavor and texture. I have nothing against frosting, I just don’t think frosting and ice cream belong on the same plate. I do, however, believe that ice cream CAN serve as frosting in the right situation.
This would be what I consider “the right situation.” Because here’s what: this ice cream is made by steeping windmill cookies in the warm ice cream base then pressing them through a strainer so only the essence of cookie remains. Never heard of a windmill cookie? Sure you have…but you may know it as a speculoos (speculaas, sometimes) cookie. As in what they make that crack cookie butter out of. If you know anything about what speculoos tastes likes (besides heaven), it’s got spices which very much mirror what is used in – you guessed it – pumpkin pie, but with a gingerbread kick. The combination? Autumnal perfection.
And if that weren’t enough, I wanted to honor the pumpkin pie-ishness of the cake with a “pie crust” of sorts – enter the Momofuku pie crumb, only made with windmill cookie crumbs. So to recap: you have a pumpkin almond pie-cake with creamy, gingerbread cookie-like ice cream, topped with a coordinating pie crust crumb.
But that’s a lot to put in a post (or so I’m been told), so I’m splitting it up: today, cake recipe. Best to get the ingredients for that and bake it right up. Next up, the ice cream and crumb recipes, so go ahead and throw that ice cream maker in the freezer so it’s ready to go. You will want to make this.
Adapted (very slightly) from Baked Elements: Our Ten Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. A book I highly recommend, by the way: it may be my favorite book by them, although that rotates. I’ve had the most success with it, so definitely my favorite in terms of ease of use.
Pumpkin Almond Cake
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup almond meal (fresh ground from about 1 cup blanched almonds)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I used regular versus my Vietnamese to keep it classic)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (seriously, makes a big difference if grated fresh)
- scant 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup pumpkin puree (which you can make yourself or use from a can)*
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Butter a 9-inch round Springform pan, line bottom with a circle of parchment paper, and butter the parchment.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
Add butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high for 4 to 5 minutes until fluffy and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the pumpkin and beat again for 30 seconds or so until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and mix on medium for 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, making sure to get under the mixture all the way to the bottom.
Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 parts, starting with the flour mixture, scraping down the bowl as needed to incorporate; this should take a total of 1 to 2 minutes maximum. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and scrape down the bowl, working in any unincorporated ingredients; mixture should be homogenous.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, checking at the 35-minute mark for doneness; cake is finished when wooden skewer or cake tester comes out cleanly or with very few crumbs. Remove and place on a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Remove from pan and serve…with that ice cream and crumb topping I have coming up for you next.