To finish off my 4-week long fondant cake decorating class, we were tasked with making a cake to cover in fondant and bring the uniced cake into class. Seeing as Halloween was later that week, my class decided pumpkin cakes would be fitting to make as our final cake project. Since we decided to decorate our cakes as pumpkins, I decided, fittingly, to make mine pumpkin-flavored. Now, I could have used my pumpkin spice cupcake recipe that I made last fall, which was delicious, but thought I would look around for something different, just to shake things up. That is when I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest that sounded quite yummy: Chocolate Layer Cake with Pumpkin Pastry Cream and Maple Bourbon Buttercream. This sounds dreamy, right? I thought so too. So I gave it a whirl….Well, things did not go quite as smoothly as expected, to say the least. I should have seen it coming though – it had been quite a while since I’d had a baking disaster, so I guess I was due…As a result, there were multiple issues, so this is quite a lengthy post…Let’s break it down:
The baking process went smoothly. I only needed ONE bowl, which was awesome, since I despise doing dishes with a fiery passion that only those who have journeyed to the depths of H-E-double-hockey-sticks could possibly understand. (Slight exaggeration maybe? Again, I blame it on the aftermath of Halloween.) The cake was yummy. Moist enough, and had a good chocolate flavor. I have made better chocolate cakes though, so I would not make this cake recipe again. Anyway, since I was making a pumpkin cake, I wanted it to be round, so I baked it in a glass Pyrex bowl (2.5L – size matters!). I could have bought a bowl cake and – let’s be honest – I did try to, but the Cake and Wedding Cottage was out of them. (It is the pan used for a “doll cake”, and apparently they sell out as soon as they get them in – guess I’ll have to order one online!) No matter – the Pyrex bowl worked great.
This part went surprisingly smoothly. Seeing as I had never made a bowl cake before, or that particular chocolate cake recipe, I assumed some disaster would strike during baking the cake. Well, it turns out the cake was easy to make, and to adjust for the single-layer bowl-shape structure of the cake, I simply put the bowl on a baking sheet and baked the cake at 325°C instead of 350°C (25°C lower than the recipe calls for is the standard exchange when baking a bowl cake)…And I baked it about twice as long (it took 50 minutes to 1 hour).
Since I made a bowl cake, which was one big solid half sphere of cake, I had to torte it…Well, I guess I didn’t HAVE to torte it, but then there would have been no inner layers to put my pumpkin pastry filling in! This was another first for me, but it went surprisingly well.
For Amy’s wedding cake in August, I had to shave off the tops of the cakes to get it level, and this was much more difficult with my torting tool. It would have been easier just to shave it off with a knife. The torting tool is not rigid, so when I was trying to shave off the top of each layer for the wedding cake, it bent with the contours of my cake, rendering it basically useless. However, when actually slicing through the middle of a layer, it was a breeze! Since there is a solid layer of cake above and below the saw-like device, it evenly cuts though the layer flatly. Yay. Torting Success!
Unfortunately, this is where the success ended…
Pumpkin pastry cream sounds pretty yummy, right? I imagine something sweet, kind of like pumpkin pie, but maybe a little lighter and fluffier. Like a pumpkin-flavored cloud. A pumpkin mousse, even. Well, it did not work out exactly this way. It ended up being a less sweet version of pumpkin pie…not necessarily a bad thing, just a fact.
Tangent alert: I find myself referring to fillings and any sweet thing I can as “clouds”. I think this is a reflection of my childhood fantasy in which I believed clouds were giant marshmallows and you could bounce around from one to the other and fly through them weightlessly. And then, when you get sleepy, you snuggle up in the cloudy softness and take a little nap. And when you get hungry, you simply roll over and take a bite of marshmallow cloud, and you are in heaven (pun intended).
Reel it back in. OK. The filling was simple enough to make and pretty tasty. I just followed the directions and it came together nicely. If you’ve ever made a custard before, this was no different. It is basically a pumpkin custard. My problem was the taste, basically. It just wasn’t quite sweet enough. With the richness and darkness of the chocolate cake, I felt the filling should have been a little sweeter. I found myself needing filling AND frosting in every bite to get enough sweetness to satisfy the chocolately goodness. The consistency really wasn’t bad for a filling. It was nice and thick and stayed put in between your layers – no oozing! And my boyfriend and coworkers liked it and ate it. But I still feel it would have been tastier if it was sweeter. I think this could be easily remedied – maybe add some more sugar and you would be good to go. I’ll add a little more sugar and vanilla extract next time, but overall, not a bad filling. But enough about the filling; let’s get to the BIG one.
What do I mean by “the BIG one”, you ask? The big what, you ask? The BIG disaster, I cry! AGH! The frosting can be described as nothing other than an Epic Fail. I think there must have been some typo in the recipe units or something, because, as it was written, that recipe basically made flavored butter – not buttercream – straight up butter. It was NOT pretty. By the time I finally got it to something somewhat edible, I couldn’t taste-test it anymore because all I could taste was butter.
Sidenote: Let me be clear – I hate butter. I just hate it. The slippery, slimy texture weirds me out, and the fatty flavor completely grosses me out. It’s just so…buttery. UGH. I do not put it on bread, or bagels, or corn, or popcorn, or anything that most normal people typically put butter on. If it is in a recipe or is used during cooking, that is fine, but you will NEVER catch me spreading butter on ANY substance I am about to consume. So, imagine my disgust when I took the first taste of this buttercream to taste nothing but butter. I almost vommed. For realz. It was not pretty…But I digress…
I guess I should have realized this recipe was going to be pure butter. If the texture of the supposed “buttercream” when made to the recipe’s specifications didn’t give it away (nothing more than pure, slimy, whipped butter), my baking knowledge should have kicked in: My Classic Buttercream recipe uses ONE cup butter, for one POUND of powdered sugar. This recipe calls for TWO cups butter, for one CUP of powdered sugar. Why was I so blind!?!? It was one of those “blinded by beauty” moments. The recipe sounded so delicious, and the pictures looked so pretty, and I was on autopilot and did not stop to think about what I was pouring into the bowl. If I had, I immediately would have vetoed the 2 cups butter to 1 cup sugar notion. CRAZY! But, alas, my better baking sense did NOT kick in, and I was left with 2 cups of buttery mess. In a desperate attempt to salvage this frosting fiasco, I finally settled on throwing out half of it – so, going back to one cup of basically whipped butter in my bowl – and adding the appropriate amount of sugar to that. I then added slightly more maple and bourbon to give it a stronger flavor. I’m not sure if the final product tasted at all like maple or bourbon, but it did taste quite yummy. I also threw in some vanilla extract for good measure. And a little meringue powder to top it off, since I use it in my classic buttercream. In the end, I basically transformed my Classic Buttercream recipe into Maple Bourbon Buttercream, and pretty much completely disregarded the original measurements. (I used the maple syrup and bourbon in place of the water in my classic recipe.) My recipe below will reflect (roughly) what I did…
Note: I was surprised by the weakness of the maple syrup flavor in the buttercream. I think I might try to use something with a stronger mapley taste next time to make it shine through (extract maybe…does that exist? …I just Googled it – it does. :P). And be careful not to overdo the bourbon! Just add a little; taste; add a little; taste. On top of it possibly getting too strong of a bourbon flavor, you don’t want to make your buttercream too thin by adding too much liquid. (I am a pro at making too-thin buttercream.)
The idea behind this recipe is lovely, and chocolate and pumpkin go surprisingly well together, but you really do need to make some improvements to make this a truly delicious cake. I’m kind of surprised, because I usually find Gotta Get Baked so reliable for recipes. I guess nobody is perfect (or I did something seriously wrong…) Once again though, my boyfriend and coworkers all loved it and ate it happily. Not my best work, but still quite yummy. I think using your best chocolate cake recipe and making the modifications I made to the pastry cream and frosting would bring this cake from good to great. Good luck!
To finish this post off, I’m going to briefly go over the decorating of the cake, in picture-book form again…because it is fun…
Chocolate Pumpkin Layer Cake with Pumpkin Pastry Cream and Maple Bourbon Buttercream Frosting
Prep time: 60 mins
Bake time: 30 mins for round cake (60 mins for bowl cake)
Yield: One 8” round cake, 6” tall (or one 2.5L bowl cake, 6” tall)
Recipe from Gotta Get Baked
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup hot brewed coffee
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour pan(s).
- In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients and mix.
- Create a well in the center and add all the rest of the ingredients except coffee.
- Mix until combined and then add the hot coffee. Mix again. The batter will be very runny.
- Pour the batter into your greased pans and bake in the middle rack of the oven for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out just clean.
- Cool on a wire rack in the pans for about 15 minutes then turn out onto the wire rack to cool completely.
Pumpkin Pastry Cream
Recipe modified from Gotta Get Baked
NOTE: I doubled the recipe and made about 3 cups of pastry cream. The recipe as written below will yield about 1 1/2 cups.
1 cup whole milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, pumpkin puree, sugar, flour, spices and cornstarch until the mixture is completely smooth.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until steaming.
- Once the milk is steaming, add half of it to the pumpkin mix, whisking constantly.
- Add the milk and pumpkin back into the small saucepan with the remainder of the hot milk, whisking continuously.
- Heat for 3-4 minutes, until the custard thickens.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. If there are lumps, put pastry cream through a sieve. Chill before using.
Maple Bourbon Buttercream
(Basically completely rewritten from the original to my own creation)
1 cup unsalted butter or shortening, at room temperature
1 lb pure cane confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp meringue powder
1-2 tsp maple extract, to taste*
¼ cup bourbon**
- Put room temperature butter in a large bowl. Mix until light and fluffy.
- Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix until thoroughly combined.
- Taste as you go along.
*I used ¼ cup maple syrup, because that is what the recipe called for, but, in the future, I would use extract instead, for a bigger maple flavor.
**This may be too much bourbon and may make the frosting too thin, so start with about 7 tsp and go from there.