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This pumpkin crunch cake is delicious, fragrant and a true celebration of autumn. Made with shredded pumpkin for maximum flavour, crunchy caramelised walnuts, and pillowy soft cream cheese frosting. Perfect for Thanksgiving and other celebrations!
Nothing screams autumn like pumpkin, caramel, cinnamon, and nutmeg. And guess what? This pumpkin crunch cake has it all! Made with layers of moist pumpkin sponge, this fragrant pumpkin cake is like the autumnal version of a carrot cake.
Most pumpkin crunch cake recipes I’ve ever tried are usually like a sheet cake, with a single layer of sponge. They’re also typically made with pumpkin puree. I wanted to turn the beloved pumpkin crunch cake into a celebration tiered cake.
This pumpkin cake is made with the real shredded pumpkin, making it extremely moist and fragrant. The technique is very similar to a carrot cake, but even better!
Why this is the best pumpkin cake ever
This pumpkin crunch cake is seriously delicious and is guaranteed to become your favourite autumn celebration cake. I love this recipe because:
- It’s moist, crunchy, and fragrant
- Tastes like autumn in a slice
- Uses real shredded pumpkin for maximum flavour
- Is a real Thanksgiving showstopper
- Is like carrot cake, only even more delicious
- Has crunchy walnuts between each layer
- Is seriously next level from the classic recipe
The cake components
Pumpkin cake – made with real shredded pumpkin for maximum flavour. The sponge is very soft, moist and melts in your mouth. Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice for a classic pumpkin spice flavour.
Cream cheese frosting – match made in Heaven with the spiced pumpkin sponge. This pillowy smooth frosting is made with white chocolate for an extra silky texture. The frosting is used in between the layers and to cover the entire cake.
For this pumpkin crunch cake, I used my all-time reader favourite White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.
Caramelised walnuts – the crunchy layer in this cake. Walnuts are toasted in the pan to release a deep flavour, then they are coated in caramel for extra crunch.
The ingredients used for this pumpkin crunch cake are very common and can be found in most pantries.
- Pumpkin – the star ingredient. This recipe calls for raw shredded (or grated) pumpkin, so it’s important to get the right type. See below for more details on how to choose the right pumpkin variety. Raw pumpkin cannot be replaced with pumpkin puree in this recipe.
- Spices – the second most important element of this pumpkin cake. A combination of ground (powder) cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger is used in this recipe.
- Lemon zest – optional, but highly recommended. The lemon zest adds in a subtle zing and gives the cake a warmer flavour. It can also be replaced with orange zest.
- Flour – cake flour is needed for this recipe, as it gives a softer texture to the sponge. You can also use plain flour, although you might need to reduce the wet ingredients slightly. Self-rising flour is not recommended for this recipe.
- Brown sugar – used to give a caramelised flavour to the pumpkin sponge. Brown sugar can also be replaced with plain or muscovado sugar.
- Vegetable oil – really important to make a super light and moist pumpkin cake. I recommend using a flavourless and odourless oil such as sunflower or rapeseed (canola) oil.
- Buttermilk – used to make the sponge fluffy. This ingredient can also be replaced with double cream or milk.
- Maple syrup – adds a wonderful, deep flavour to the sponge. It can also be replaced with butterscotch syrup or golden syrup in the UK.
- Raisins – optional, but highly recommended. Any raisins and sultanas can be used for this recipe. You can also use dried cranberries, dried apricots or pitted dates.
- Walnuts – the crunchy element of this pumpkin cake. Walnuts can also be replaced with pecan nuts, hazelnuts or almonds.
What type of pumpkin should I use for pumpkin cake?
This pumpkin crunch cake recipe calls for real pumpkin, not pumpkin puree. Pumpkin is the main star of this cake, so choosing the right type is really important. The type of pumpkin we’ll be using in this cake is also ideal to use in pumpkin pies.
Let’s look at the best kinds of pumpkin to use in pumpkin cake:
- In the USA, we’ll be looking at sugar pumpkins (also called pie pumpkins). The best varieties are: Dickinson pumpkin, Fairytale pumpkins (Castilla squash), Nantucket pumpkins or Jarrahdale pumpkin.
- In the UK, the best varieties are: Crown prince pumpkin, Kabocha squash (Sweet Delica), Munchkin pumpkins, Culinary orange pumpkins.
How to make pumpkin cake
Making the sponge for pumpkin crunch cake is super easy and only takes minutes. Before starting the cake batter, we will be doing a little preparation on the ingredients.
Peel, core and slice the pumpkin into smaller chunks ready for grating. I recommend using a food processor to shred the pumpkin easily, without using a box grater. If using a box grater, choose the largest side to get bigger shreds of pumpkin.
- Start by beating the eggs until they turn frothy. Keep whisking and pour in the sugar gradually, until fully incorporated. Add in all the liquid ingredients (oil, buttermilk, maple syrup) and mix again to combine.
- Separately, combine the flour and baking powder. Pour it over the batter, along with all the spices, lemon zest and salt. Combine all the ingredients with a whisk or hand mixer. Do not overmix.
- Toss in the shredded (grated) pumpkin, along with the raisins. Fold everything with a spatula until fully combined.
- Divide the batter equally between three 8-inch (20 cm) round pans. Rap each pan on the work surface to remove any larger air bubbles, then bake for 50 minutes.
Whilst the cake is baking, prepare the caramelised walnuts.
- Toast the walnuts in a large pan over medium heat until they start browning.
- Reduce the heat, then make a whole in the middle to add the sugar. Let the sugar cook until it starts caramelising. Try not to stir the sugar too often to prevent it from crystallising.
- Combine the caramel with the walnuts, coating them evenly.
- Place the caramelised walnuts on a lined sheet, spreading them out flat. Let dry until cool to the touch.
As the cake and walnuts need to be fully cooled, I recommend making them the day before assembling the pumpkin cake.
Prepare the cream cheese frosting on the day by following my recipe on White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.
Assembling the cake
Making cakes is always fun but putting them together is always the best part. Before assembling the cake, we need to:
- Ensure the pumpkin sponge has chilled in the fridge
- Crush the caramelised walnuts into smaller pieces. I like to use a ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
- Place the cream cheese frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large ½ inch (1 cm) nozzle.
- Place the first layer of pumpkin cake on a cake board or plate. Pipe cream cheese frosting on top.
- Sprinkle caramelised walnuts over the cream cheese, avoiding the edges.
- Place the second layer of pumpkin cake on top, pressing down slightly.
- Repeat the process by piping cream cheese frosting and sprinkling caramelised walnuts over it. Place the third layer of cake on top, pressing down gently.
- Cover the entire cake in cream cheese frosting. You may need to do two coats of frosting for full coverage. Chill the cake for at least 1 hour in between coats.
- Add more crushed walnuts at the base of the cake for decoration and extra crunch. Decorate the top with walnuts, pipe colourful dollops of frosting or whipped cream to resemble mini pumpkins.
How to store pumpkin cake
This pumpkin crunch cake contains cream cheese frosting, which can become runny if left outside for too long.
Store this cake in the fridge for up to 3 days. I recommend using an airtight cake holder or container, to avoid the cake catching any fridge smell. Alternatively, ensure there are no strong smells in the fridge (onion, garlic, curry etc).
This pumpkin crunch cake can also be frozen for up to 2 months. To freeze, cover up the cake in plastic wrap, then 2-3 layers of aluminium foil. Thaw the cake in the fridge for 1 day before consuming. Do not leave at room temperature.
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Pumpkin Crunch Cake Recipe
- Food processor
- 3 x 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans
- Piping bag with ½ inch (1 cm) nozzle
- 250 grams vegetable oil (1 ⅛ cups)
- 100 grams buttermilk (⅓ cup)
- 200 grams brown sugar (1 cup)
- 50 grams maple syrup (¼ cup)
- 4 eggs, large
- 500 grams raw pumpkin, grated (3 cups)
- 1 lemon zest
- 400 grams cake flour (3 ⅛ cups)
- 10 grams baking powder (2 teaspoons)
- 5 grams baking soda (1 teaspoon)
- 8 grams cinnamon powder (3 teaspoons)
- 3 grams nutmeg powder (1 teaspoon)
- 3 grams ginger powder (1 teaspoon)
- 3 grams allspice powder (1 teaspoon)
- 5 grams salt, fine (¾ teaspoon)
- 150 grams raisins, optional (1 cup)
- 200 grams walnuts (1 ⅔ cups)
- 200 grams sugar (1 cup)
Cream cheese frosting
- 600 grams cream cheese, full fat (2 ⅔ cups)
- 400 grams butter, unsalted (1 ¾ cups)
- 400 grams white chocolate, chopped (2 ½ cups)
- Prepare the pumpkin by peeling, coring and slicing it into smaller pieces. Use a food processor to shred the pumpkin. Set aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line three 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans with baking paper.
- Beat the eggs together with the salt until they become frothy. Start sprinkling in the sugar, whilst continuously mixing until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Pour in the vegetable oil, butter milk and maple syrup, mixing well to combine.
- Separately, whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add the flour and all the spices into the batter. Use a whisk or hand mixer to combine everything, without over-mixing.
- Toss in the grated pumpkin and raisins. Fold everything in with a spatula until the pumpkin is evenly incorporated.
- Divide the batter equally between the three trays. If using a kitchen scale, each pan should have roughly 570 grams (26 ounces) of batter.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. If the top begins to brown too quickly, cover the cake pans with aluminium foil.
- After baking, let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes. Afterwards, remove them and let them cool fully before placing in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
- Toast the walnuts by placing them in a wide-base pan over medium heat. Keep tossing them around until they start browning slightly.
- Reduce the heat, then form a well in the middle of the pan. Pour the sugar in to caramelise it. Avoid mixing it too much.
- Once the sugar has melted into a caramel (2-3 minutes), mix everything together to fully coat the walnuts.
- Place the caramelised walnuts on a lined baking tray, ensuring there are no clumps. Let them cool down for at least 2 hours.
- Put the cooled walnuts in a ziplock bag and crush into smaller pieces with a rolling pin.
Cream cheese frosting
- Follow the steps in my in-depth recipe for White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. This recipe calls for 4 batches of frosting.
- Place the cream cheese frosting in a piping bag fitted with a ½ inch nozzle and use immediately. Do not refrigerate once placed in the piping bag.
Assembling the cake
- Place the first pumpkin cake layer on a cake board. Pipe cream cheese on top, levelling it with a spatula. Sprinkle some caramelised walnuts on top, avoiding the edges.
- Place the second layer of pumpkin cake on top, pressing down gently. Repeat the process above for the filling.
- Put the final cake layer on top, then cover the entire cake with cream cheese frosting. If two layers of frosting are needed, chill the cake for 1 hour in between layers.
- Stick caramelised walnuts on the base of the cake, pressing down gently to help them stick.
- Decorate the cake with orange and blue dollops of cream cheese to resemble pumpkins.
- I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead.
- Weigh the pumpkin after peeling it and removing the seeds.
- Raw pumpkin cannot be replaced with pumpkin puree in this recipe.
- Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- This cake is enough for 20 small slices or 16 larger slices.