These past few months have been crazy. Between the demands of the holiday season coming up and working on a never-ending list of house projects, I am feeling perpetually frazzled these days. Despite the chaos, I thought a little recipe creating sesh would be perfect for me because baking does something good to my soul. I was right. I put on some Springsteen and decided to try my hand at creating the perfect pumpkin layer cake. Five rounds of bakes and a handful of albums later, I am so thrilled with how this Pumpkin Layer Cake turned out.
I tried baking this recipe with all purpose flour vs. cake flour, with buttermilk vs. whole milk, with just white sugar vs. a combination of white and brown sugars. In the end, the winners were cake flour, buttermilk, and the white and brown sugar combo. It’s deliciously moist because of the buttermilk, totally fluffy from the cake flour, and the combination of sweetness and spice is divine. Just look at this crumb:
The pumpkin flavor of this cake comes from canned, pureed pumpkin and a medley of beautiful spices: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger. It’s so classic to pair this pumpkin layer cake with cream cheese buttercream, and in my opinion the flavor combo never gets old. I bet it would taste amazing with my spiced chai vanilla buttercream too if you want to get really autumnal (imagine a pumpkin spiced chai latte but in cake form!).
The cream cheese buttercream recipe you’ll find below is sturdy and pipe-able without being overly sweet, which is why it’s my forever go-to. I colored some of it with Americolor Orange and Wedgewood and used Wilton Tips 8B and 4B to pipe those cute little pumpkins on top. Probably the easiest way to create buttercream pumpkins, ever. I piped them into a crescent moon shape because it gives me all the feels, but you do you.
I decided to repurpose some of the pumpkin cake scraps into toasted cake crumbs that I pressed onto the sides of the cake and sprinkled around the piped pumpkins on top. It adds a great texture and I always feel good about finding a way to use leftover cake! I just crumbled the cake scraps into a pan and toasted them on the stovetop for about 10 minutes, stirring them frequently until they began to crisp. You can toast cake crumbs in the oven as well, but it takes almost an hour at a low temp, and I was impatient (hence the stovetop). Just be sure to let them cool completely before you use them on your cake and you’re good to go!
Perfect Pumpkin Layer Cake
Pumpkin Layer Cake
- 2 3/4 Cups (290g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 Cup (140g) packed brown sugar
- 1 Cup (205g) white granulated sugar
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 Cups (12 oz) canned pumpkin puree
- 1 Cup (240ml) full fat buttermilk DIY recipe in notes below
Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 16 Oz cream cheese, room temperature brick-style, not the spreadable kind
- 8 Cup (960g) powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
Make The Pumpkin Layer Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF and prepare three 6-inch or two 9-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with cooking spray and placing a wax or parchment paper circle into the bottom of each one. Measure the cake flour by spooning into your measuring cup and leveling it. Place it into a medium sized bowl and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger. Whisk together and set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter on high for two minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add in white and brown sugars and continue to mix on high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla and mix for one minute on medium-high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more.
- With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the buttermilk in a steady stream and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps. Batter will be slightly thick, but pourable.
- Pour batter evenly between the cake pans (fill them no more than ⅔ full) and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pan for ten minutes before removing and continuing to cool on a wire rack or flat surface.
Make The Cream Cheese Buttercream
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese on high until light, fluffy, and uniform (no lumps), about five minutes. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar a few cups at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add the vanilla and salt, mixing on low for another 30 seconds.
- Once the Pumpkin Cake layers have cooled completely, fill and frost the layers with Cream Cheese Buttercream. To create the design pictured, divide the leftover buttercream into four separate bowls. Use food color gel of your choice to create orange buttercream in the first bowl, light blue buttercream in the second, and brown buttercream in the third, keeping the last bowl uncolored. Fit three piping bags with Wilton Tips 8B (for the larger pumpkins) and 4B (for the smaller ones), then fill them with the orange, blue, and white buttercreams. Pipe pumpkins in a crescent moon design on top of the cake, then pipe a dot of brown buttercream on top of each one to look like stems. Finish the cake by pressing toasted cake crumbs** onto the sides and sprinkling them over the top (recipe in the notes below).
- The cake layers can be made ahead and stored, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to two days. Alternatively, you can store the wrapped cake layers in the freezer for up to 2 months before thawing and frosting.
- The Cream Cheese Buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and re-whip in your stand mixer to bring back to smooth buttercream consistency.
This pumpkin layer cake recipe is a true crowd pleaser, perfect for any Fall gathering! I hope you love it as much as I do. Let me know what you think in the comments below and feel free to tag @sugarandsparrowco on Instagram if you post a pic! I love to see what you create.
Kimberly Hart says
I made this as a sheet cake & it was AMAZING!! It’s reminiscent of carrot cake, but so much better.
The icing recipe makes enough for 2 sheet cakes (FYI) which came in handy since I broke my first cake.
My sister in law asked for the recipe immediately & it’ll be going into my fall baking repertoire for sure!
That’s amazing to hear, Kimberly! So happy that the recipe was such a hit and it worked well as a sheet cake!
Amanda Lucero says
Absolutely AMAZING cake!!!! Super moist and tender. Made a streusel topping with it and turned it into a pumpkin coffee cake. For my fall baby shower :). Thanks for the recipe!
That sounds incredible, Amanda! I am going to have to try this with a streusel topping. So happy you love this recipe as much as I do!
I loved it! But I tried to make your buttercream recipe but it was watering and doesnt look good the different shapes
Glad you loved the cake recipe, Hany! Next time if the buttercream ends up too thin, you can always add a little more powdered sugar to thicken it up. Just be sure to add a little extra salt if you do that so you can balance out the sweetness!
Can this same recipe be used for 8 inch cake pans, or how would I adjust it?
Thanks so much! Can’t wait to try this!
Hi Katherine! This recipe makes just enough for three 6 inch pans or two 8 inch pans. If you want more 8 inch layers I would 1.5 the recipe!
I just had to come back and say I made this recipe and it was AMAZING! The cake turned out sturdy but moist, and so flavorful. Can’t wait to share this cake at my company’a Thanksgiving luncheon tomorrow!
Yay, Katherine!! So happy you love this recipe as much as I do and I hope it’s a hit at your company’s Thanksgiving lunch!
Juby Mathew says
I was going to frost it and put it in the fridge until the party, how early would you suggest to take it out of the fridge to thaw.
Hi Juby! Cakes take about an hour to come to room temperature and I usually leave mine in the fridge until right before the party begins.
Kristy Ballantine says
Do you have any tips for piping the pumpkins? I just practiced and I can’t seem to get them to look as round and uniform as yours. Can’t wait to eat this cake tomorrow. It smells amazing in the oven right now!
Hi Kristy! The only tips I really have for the pumpkins are to make sure you’re using the piping tips specified, hover the tip a few centimeters off the surface of the cake while squeezing the piping bag to make more of a rounded shape. If the tip is too close to the surface of the cake it won’t be as round and voluminous. Hope that helps!
I made this cake and it was fantastic! I’d like to use it for pumpkin crumb muffins, Have you ever tried the recipe as muffins or cupcakes?
Hi Lisa! I have tried this recipe as cupcakes and it works really well! If you want to try it, be sure to fill your cupcake tins no more than 2/3 full and bake for 15-18 minutes at 350. So happy you loved this recipe in cake form!
I only have low fat buttermilk will the cake still be okay?
Hi Leah! I’ve never tried that before but the recipe should be fine with low fat buttermilk. It may not be as moist, but it should work!
I have made this cake many times with lowfat buttermilk and it always comes out great! Super moist still!
Made this for family for Thanksgiving and it was a hit! Only issue I had was when smoothing sides, the icing kept thinning to show slightly the layers of the dark cake. I did two crumb coat layers with chilling between to help but so much of icing kept coming off when smoothing sides. Should I just thicken next time with powdered sugar/salt? I loved the taste of icing so def want to use more going forward
Hi Callie! So happy this recipe was a hit for Thanksgiving! This cream cheese buttercream is a little trickier to work with and what I recommend if it seems too thin is doing a few layers of buttercream and chilling in between layers. Adding more powdered sugar only seems to sweeten the buttercream and takes a lot to thicken it up, so instead I would add one layer on top of the crumb coat and smooth it, chill for 20 minutes, add another layer of buttercream and smooth it, repeat until you’re satisfied!
I didn’t use your recipe this time but I followed your decorating scheme and it was absolutely adorable! I just loved the little pumpkins on top. 🙂
Here’s my cake: https://i.imgur.com/jCKTC2k.jpg
What a beautiful cake, Mina! So happy you loved this decorating technique!
Hi…Wanted to know if had to bake in one 6inch or 7inch tray and frost…how should the whole.recipe be converted?
Hi Mary! If you want to make just one layer, you’ll need to divide this entire recipe by 3. Basically divide each ingredient by 3 and you’ll have the correct amount of ingredients. Hope that helps!
Hi. Just wanted to ask if I would be able to use all-purpose flour rather than cake flour in this recipe? I’m from the UK and we don’t have cake flour. I read that whilst you were recipe testing, you used both cake and all-purpose flour, and would using all-purpose drastically change this cake. Thanks.
Hi Zak! All purpose flour will make this cake more dense than cake flour, but it shouldn’t affect the taste. If you don’t have access to cake flour, here’s a DIY version made with all purpose flour and it’s what I’d recommend: https://sugarandsparrow.com/homemade-cake-flour-recipe/
Shay Stuckey says
Would this work in terms of “cake pops”? By adding the icing in with the cake and molding it into balls and dipping it in almond bark/choice of chocolate?
Hi Shay! It absolutely would work. That sounds divine!
Hello! Do you think the fully decorated cake would hold in the refrigerator for 24 hrs in a tupperware cake dome? Making this for my daughters birthday, but would love to have it completely done the night before. Thank you! Excited to try this.
Hi Angie! It would absolutely be ok to refrigerate the decorated cake a day ahead. I do that all the time. Just be sure to bring it to room temp by taking it out of the fridge an hour or two before you plan on eating the cake. It tastes better at room temp. Enjoy!
I’ve never understood blogs and used recipes from them. I stumbled across this cake recipe on Pinterest and gave it a try! It was so light, and the frosting was amazing! Thank you for this recipe!
Yay, Stella! I’m so happy to hear that this recipe was a hit! Thanks for taking the time to let me know 🙂
Is it possible to cut back on the powdered sugar in the frosting? I like frosting to be buttery/rich as opposed to sweet.
Hi Karn! I’ve already cut back on the sugar in this recipe (most cream cheese frosting use 5-6 cups with this amount of other ingredients). That said, you could decrease the powdered sugar by 1/2 Cup and balance it out by not adding as much liquid. Hope that helps!
Hi! I am making this recipe today for my sons bday. I just have a question with the powdered sugar. Is it 8 cups of powdered sugar? I feel like it’s too many, can I cut to lesser sugar?
Hi Keysi! Yes, 8 cups is correct. It makes enough to fill and frost a triple layer cake. You can certainly try adding less powdered sugar, but the less you add the thinner the frosting will be. The salt and cream cheese in this recipe help cut the sweetness though. Enjoy!
I’m making my niece’s wedding cake in October and had already decided on pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting when I saw this on Pinterest! Have you baked a 10- or 12-inch layer with this recipe, and if so, do you know how many batches of batter 8 should make?
Hi Jessica! I haven’t baked this cake in pans that size but it should totally work! This recipe makes about 7 Cups of batter. You’ll need about 6 cups of batter per 10×2 inch pan and 8 Cups of batter per 12×2 inch pan. Hope that helps!
Baked this yesterday and frosted it today for my niece’s wedding! 6, 9 and 12 inch layers. Delicious! Received so many compliments! And I was pretty pleased with my piped pumpkins and the toasted cake crumbs on the sides!
Yay, Jessica! I’m so happy to hear that this recipe was a hit and was fun to make!
What would be a corresponding number tips for the pumpkins. I have a huge a selection but none of them have letters
Hi Cathy! You can use pretty much any open star tips for the pumpkins. If yours don’t have numbers on them, just look for a tip that looks similar to Wilton Tip 4B and 6B. Hope that helps!
I have been baking with the fervor of an April 2020 Portlander. I made this cake today, with your Vanilla Chai Buttercream recipe. I am a gluten-free baker, and opted to not transform my flour blend to cake flour. It was a little dense as i expected it would be (I may have underbaked one layer) but so flavorful! I went by measurement, not weight, since gf flour can be a little heavier, which may have also contributed. But OMG! this was so good!
Oh my gosh that flavor combo sounds heavenly! I need to try that asap! I’m so glad the GF version worked out
Delicious! I doubled the recipe and made a three layer cake and 18 cupcakes for a baby shower for my daughter-in-law! Thank you for this wonderful recipe, everyone loved it! I will definitely try more of your recipes for other items!
Yay, Tammi! That makes me so happy! Thanks for letting me know it was a hit 🙂
Great cake. Delicately spiced. One taster remarked it was like pumpkin pie in cake form! Next time I make it I’ll make the pumpkins in buttercream, not cream cheese frosting. The CC frosting is too “stretchy” and my pumpkins were a bit long and pointy for my liking. This made a ton of frosting…more than enough for 3 six inch layers! Left overs for carrot cake pancakes this weekend! =)
Made this for Thanksgiving because my mom was wanting a Nothing Bundt Cakes Pumpkin Spice cake and I thought I could probably make one just as good. It got rave reviews and worked well in a bundt tin — although I would do 1 1/2 times the recipe next time, just to fill the pan up the right amount.
Yay, Caitlin! I’m so pleased to know that this recipe works well in a bundt pan! Thanks for letting me know. I’m so happy it was a hit!
Can I make this in a bundt pan? Any changes you would recommend if I do that?
I just saw the above comment about a bundt cake! I will give it a try.
Yay! Perfect timing on that comment 🙂
Yummy and super duper soft! I personally would add a little bit more spice next time but that’s just a preference. So moist that I slightly under baked it (noticeable in the cross section) but did not ruin it. Paired well with brown butter frosting 🙂
So happy you loved this recipe, Samantha! I love this cake with brown butter frosting too 🙂