Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

pumpkin cake with brown butter icing

So I walk out onto the Project Runway stage holding this cake on a pedestal and Michael Kors gasps!  He cries, "EFFORTLESSLY CHIC!"  Then I proceed to ask him why the screw always comes out on my ritzy MK sunglasses??! Come on Michael! My Isaac Mizrahi sunglasses from Target have held up for almost 4 years now! Of course Nina Garcia would like to talk some mad crap about my cake, but the caramelized walnuts shut her up. Yeah girl. You know it's totally editorial. Zip it. Later on I catch Heidi scarfing down half of it....

sluttly caramelized walnuts

Then I woke up.... Why is this cake effortlessly chic?  Well there's three different recipes that come together to produce a simple, yet killer pumpkin cake. At first I was intimidated because I usually avoid recipes that refer to ANOTHER recipe to complete an ingredient. I just want it all there, right in front of my face. I want to know how hard I need work and if the effort is going to pay off.  So yeah... I was blown away by the ease of this cake. Three different recipes? Child's play. Chic? Check! Effortless? Pretty much!


This is the cake that we ate on Halloween night. YES. After all that candy wrangling, my friends & neighbors made room for this cake. Once you lay eyes on a cake like this, your stomach sends singles to your brain. "Hey! Let's make some room for this cake!"  Yes, surprisingly they'll synchronize their swatches and suddenly your devouring a big slice.

Oh and did you get a load of those nuts? Make sure you snag one because I might fight you for it.

And we're off!

Time to gather your ingredients.


Mix up all the dry stuff.


Cream the butter & sugar. Now add your eggs and mix.


Add in the pumpkin & warm milk. MIX.

hello warm milk

Dry meets wet. Mix.

dry and wet

Put in your lubed pan. Now off to the oven with it! Bake!

to the oven

And then it cools. Get your paws off it!


Icing time! Brown the butter.

brown butter

And pour it over your strained powdered sugar. Control those brown butter bits. Add some milk & vanilla.

hey brown butter

And suddenly you have icing. I wish this was a face mask. I'd use it daily.


Melt sugar in a pan and toss your walnut halves in there.


Set them aside and get ready to ice your cake.


The icing is a snap to work with. There's not a lot of it. That's ok!  You don't really need much.

pretty icing

Top with the walnuts.... put it on a pretty plate. Oh! How did those leaves get there??!!!

i cut a slice for you!

Eat it, Nina Garcia!

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing

(recipe from Martha Stewart)

For the cake:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup warm (110 degrees) milk
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line pan with parchment, and butter the parchment. Coat pan with flour, and tap out any excess.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, and beat until combined. Add pumpkin puree and milk; beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture; beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool. Let cake rest 20 minutes.
  5. Unmold cake. Using an offset spatula, spread icing over top of cake, and decorate with caramelized walnut halves.

For the Icing:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used salted!)
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nut-brown in color, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and pour butter into a bowl, leaving any burned sediment behind.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk; stir until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add the remaining tablespoon milk, a little at a time, until consistency is spreadable. Let cool 5 minutes. Use immediately

For the Caramelized Walnuts:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 10 well-shaped, large walnut halves
  1. In a small skillet, melt sugar over medium-high heat until medium golden, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, drop walnut halves, one at a time, into the melted sugar. If the sugar hardens, return skillet to low heat, and stir several minutes. Using a fork, turn walnuts until they are evenly coated. Transfer walnuts to a wire rack to cool completely. Use to decorate cake.
Shutterbean notes:
-I made this cake a day in advance, wrapped it up in plastic wrap and it was still super fresh & moist the next day!
-I used salted butter for the icing! It tasted AWESOME.
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  • November 2, 2010

    Yum! So beautiful! I would love to see Heidi Klum eating half of it :)

    • November 2, 2010

      you know she would!

  • November 2, 2010

    This looks like the most delicious. I love the outside pictures.

    P.S. You'd totally win project runway the cake remix with this cake.

    • November 2, 2010

      hahaha! what would the prize be?

  • November 2, 2010

    Oh my goodness. YUM! Those walnuts.. I think I'll make this for Thanksgiving, but as cupcakes to make it easier for the several dinners I'll be attending in my family - then there's be less fighting over the nuts, too! :)

    • November 2, 2010

      oh dear! what about MINI cupcakes??? So each walnut dwarfs the cake? LOVE IT.

  • November 2, 2010

    Wow this cake looks great! I can't wait to try it myself.

  • November 2, 2010

    I really love these kind of cakes. The flavors are amazing and it looks so so good.

  • November 2, 2010

    Those walnuts look absolutely incredible! This is such a great recipe post, the pics are fantastic. We must share this with all of our walnut lover friends!

    • November 2, 2010

      YES! Walnut Lovers UNITE.

  • November 2, 2010

    i'll take a giant bag of those walnuts

    • November 2, 2010

      You mean-- a big nut sack?

  • November 2, 2010

    Wow. This looks just wonderful. So pretty and fall-like.

  • snowystylista
    November 2, 2010

    That looks delicious! Will give it ago! e xxx
    ps. loved your halloween costume!!

  • November 2, 2010

    this cake looks just heavenly!! wish i had a slice right now. thank you for sharing this.

  • November 2, 2010

    hee hee, love your witty style. we must add this to the list of when-we-actually-get-a-date-on the calendar for blog lady extravaganza time :)

    • November 3, 2010

      yessssssssssssssssss!!!!! Let's! My November weekends are packed so far!! I need to block out some time!

  • November 2, 2010

    it's BEAUTIFUL. however after the craziness that took place during season 8 i don't think you should waste this ossum cake on those cracked judges. just give it to me.

    bean, you're in.

    • November 3, 2010

      does that mean I get one of those HP pads? SCORE.

      • November 3, 2010

        yes. and the piperlime accessory wall is yours to keep!

        • November 3, 2010

          I'll be sure to weed out all those thigh high boots Gretchen exploited! BOO

  • November 3, 2010

    What a yummy looking cake. Browning butter makes everything better. Mmmm.

  • November 3, 2010

    This caught my eye on Tastespotting b/c I have those same plates! I have them in brown and LOVE them. (A TJ Maxx find:)
    Great lookin' cake. And yes to wearing browned butter icing as a fatty fat fat face mask.

    • November 3, 2010

      YESSSSSSSSS!!! It was the score of a lifetime at TJ Max! I bought 4 of them and so glad I dug them out of my cabinets. Total fall plate ;)

      I'm glad im not crazy in my fatty fat face mask fantasy! tee

  • November 3, 2010

    This is stunning and sounds like it tastes just as good! Man...my mom wants me to make pumpkin cheesecake for T-Day, but I'd so rather make/eat this!

  • marci
    November 4, 2010

    Kick those PR princesses to the curb, girl! You'd so be getting the cash to start your own line. Oh- and a ton of crap from loreal. ;-) it's breakfast time for me now and damn i wish I had me a piece o' that cake!! Ah, there's always tomorrow :-)

  • November 9, 2010

    Pumpkin. YES. Brown butter. YES. Sounds like perfection.

  • WJ
    November 10, 2010

    So, inspired by your lovely pictures I just made this for an office birthday meeting thing, and let me tell you this tastes as good as it looks! I was the hero and there was a lot of leftover fancy store-bought cake. Fighting over the extra nuts, even...

    Thanks so much for sharing!
    (It's possible that I made frosting so I could put it on things. So. Good.)

    • November 14, 2010

      GO YOU!!!! That icing is pretty darn addictive. I think you could put it on just about ANYTHING and it would taste divine. I'm jealous of your co-workers!

  • November 19, 2010

    This is the only thing I'm making for Thanksgiving dinner. I can't wait.

  • December 13, 2010

    Miss Tracy, I just made the the Brown Butter Icing and it is sooo good. I'm going to a party tonight and needed a dessert and am in a rush, so I made a box mix of brownies and this homemade icing. Deeliciousness.

    • December 13, 2010

      That's FANTASTIC!! Good improv J! That icing is such a dream, huh?? xoxoox

  • September 20, 2011

    When I make my pumpkin cookies, I make an icing with brown sugar and powdered sugar. Makes the icing all mapley. I def want to try this. Looks sooo good! I love the pretty candied walnuts. YUM!!!

    • September 20, 2011

      oh yum! I think you'll like how nutty/savory/sweet this frosting is!!!

  • Laura
    September 29, 2011

    Did you use brown sugar for the candied walnuts? Is that why it looks brown?

    • September 29, 2011

      this is what the directions say:

      In a small skillet, melt sugar over medium-high heat until medium golden, about 3 minutes

      the white sugar gets caramelized! :)

  • Colleen
    September 30, 2011

    I used this recipe last night to break in my brand new mixer. I sent the recipe to my partner first and she was really, really skeptical about the frosting, but once she tried it she LOVED it and said "Oh, you are going to be making this cake again and again this fall."

  • September 30, 2011

    Question!! I'd like to make this for my office next week, if I made and frosted it the night before then covered it up in the fridge would it be ok? Or would you recommend I wait till the morning to frost it??

    • September 30, 2011

      It should be fine! The frosting will harden- so it will be most like a day old donut (if that makes sense)

      • September 30, 2011

        Ok perfect! thank you!

  • October 16, 2011

    My gal (who **adores** you, but is too shy to write) made this cake last night...and half of it remains in my fridge today...it's ridiculously good. It's silly good. I think we need more. My question...if we wanted to make cupcakes with this mix, what do you recommend for baking time? I have the standard pans with 12 cake slots...ideas? I'm not a baker...my job is 'mixer' and 'parchment paper cutter' and 'butter-er'...

  • Erin
    October 16, 2011

    I just made these as cupcakes and cooked them at 350 for 25 minutes. They turned out perfect. (It made 17, btw). I think I might have burned my butter a little, but the frosting is still fantastic. :)

    • October 16, 2011

      Great! Problem solved!

      • Erin
        October 16, 2011

        I must say, however, that the cupcakes were not nearly as brown as your cake. However, I like very soft, light cupcakes, so they were perfect for me. :)

  • June
    October 20, 2011

    This looks great! I usually make a new dessert every Thanksgiving. Last year I made a fantasic Pumpkin Cheesecake. I think I found this year's new item!

  • October 30, 2011

    Just made this... completely amazing! (I made 2 6" layers instead of a 9" because I like tall cakes). Thank you for the awesome recipe!

  • Caitlin
    November 21, 2011

    Hi, I was wondering if you think it would be possible to make this cake in a bunt pan? For the icing I was thinking of thinning it just a bit and then drizzling it over the cake. Do you think that would work? Thanks for your help.

    • November 21, 2011

      It should totally work!

      • Caitlin
        November 23, 2011

        Great! Thank you.

  • Marilyn
    November 22, 2011

    This. Looks. Awsome.

  • Marilyn
    November 22, 2011

    It's so Awesome...I spelled awesome incorrectly!

  • November 25, 2011

    Recently made this and it turned out great.
    1) I made it in a bunt cake. (I was inspired but my big fat Greek wedding)
    2) I burned my hand caramelizing the walnuts, rookie mistake
    3) The icing was phenomenal
    4) This was a big hit in my house and we ate it much faster than we'd like to admit


    • November 25, 2011

      Hooray! I'm glad it worked in bundt format. I'd love to try that myself now!

  • Kerri Anne
    May 6, 2012

    Always a hit. Thanks for sharing :)

  • September 6, 2012

    I brought a similar cake to my beauty parlor last Fall. Everyone is STILL raving and is asking for the cake again. I made a cream cheese frosting which almost brings tears to my eyes!!!!! Aaah the power of food :).

  • September 7, 2012

    I made something really similar to this a few years ago for a party and the Booze Hound STILL talks about it, which is impressive since he doesn't even remember what we ate for dinner last night. Brown butter ANYTHING is amazing! I might put these nuts on it next time I make it. Walnuts make everything better!

  • Sini
    December 7, 2012

    Made the cake last night. It was delicious although a tad too sweet for my taste. Next time I gonna cut back on the sugar.

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