Pumpkin Butterscotch Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

pumpkin cake

Adam’s birthday is tomorrow, and he asked repeatedly asked for “those pumpkin ball amazing treat things” I brought in last semester. Actually, ever since I made those, he’s been bringing them up and requesting them again. It doesn’t matter what new treat I bring in, he just wants those pumpkin bread balls. Unfortunately for Adam, even though it’s his birthday, that still doesn’t change the fact that: 1) I prefer to try new recipes rather than repeat old ones, and 2) birthdays require birthday cake. Period. Very little room for negotiating here, folks.

Of course, with that said, I’d rather not be a total jerk who ruins birthdays by denying someone their lone, long-standing request. So for a few weeks now, I’ve been brainstorming how to capture all those magnificent flavors from the pumpkin bread balls (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch, walnut) and highlight them together in one glorious cake. And you know what? It worked. Really, really well. Even better than I anticipated. So please, for me, make this cake. Try this and share it with your friends and tell me it’s okay that this cake makes me want to run to the grocery store and hoard all the ingredients and never leave my kitchen and not care a single ounce about developing diabetes…

pumpkin cake slice

Give me details, you say; the pictures are nice and all, but what exactly is going on here? I’m so glad you asked! Start with a great pumpkin cake recipe and add more spices, pumpkin, vanilla, and butterscotch chips. Cover completely with my favorite fluffy cream cheese frosting recipe. Whip up a simple and rich chocolate glaze and pour it over the top so it runs over the edges in dreamy dribbles. Finish off with butterscotch drizzles and chopped walnuts, and say “hello” to your drool-inducing, prize-winning, bribe-fulfilling, love-inspiring, debt-erasing, happiness-spreading cake that is shockingly easy to make, though you’d never be able to tell from looking at it. It’s dense, moist, and oh-so-rich, with the most satisfying combination of flavors. Everyone loved it, and in addition to more “normal” accolades, it was described using some rather colorful language that I can’t repeat here. Care to join me at the grocery store? I need to purchase all the canned pumpkin they have in stock…

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PUMPKIN BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE

Adapted from: Diana Rattray at About.com

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. clove

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cans (30 oz total) pumpkin puree or cooked mashed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

3/4 bag butterscotch chips (save the other ¼ for the top)

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom using baking spray or butter, cut out a circle of parchment or wax paper and place on the greased bottom, and grease the top of the paper as well. Dust bottom and sides lightly with flour. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-mixed. Stir in the dry mixture until just incorporated. Gently stir in pumpkin puree, and finally stir in the butterscotch chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine were perfect at 30), rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely in pans.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

From: Southern Living (minus the pecans)

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1 (32 oz) package powdered sugar (or two 16 oz packages)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you freeze the cake before assembling, and do the crumb coat! This cake is very delicate.

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CHOCOLATE GLAZE

From: Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Directions to make the chocolate glaze:

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth.

Pour over the top of your frosted cake, and gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines.

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FINISHING TOUCHES

¼ bag butterscotch chips

1 tsp. light corn syrup

2 tsp. half-and-half

½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions to make your cake b-e-a-utiful:

Melt butterscotch chips and corn syrup in the microwave for 45 seconds and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake (which should already be frosted and glazed). Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Store in the refrigerator but remove at least 2 hours before you plan to serve it so everything can reach room temperature and bring out the flavors best.

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See, what did I tell you? So simple! The cake layers take ~15 minutes to make, 30 to bake, and 20 to cool (if you’re impatient and throw them in the freezer). The frosting takes ~10 to make and ~20 to put on the cake. The glaze takes ~10 total to make and pour on top, as do the finishing touches. Which clocks you in at well under 2 hours to make this delicious cake. I declare that totally do-able. And if you are anything like me and have an unhealthy obsession with pumpkin, butterscotch, cream cheese, and chocolate (walnuts are healthy – they don’t count), you will love it. Guaranteed.

pumpkin cake side view

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Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal Muffin Tops (with Walnuts and Butterscotch)

chocolate banana muffin tops

I have used up the last of my ripe bananas, thank goodness. I have so many other ideas hanging out in my brain, clamoring for attention and getting jealous that I’ve been spending so much time with bananas lately. Nonetheless, I’m excited about this recipe because it gave me the perfect opportunity to use the World Market dark chocolate spread my mom gave me for Christmas. While the spread is good on toast and whatnot, I couldn’t wait to find a way to bake with it. And the opportunity finally presented itself with this recipe idea! Of course, you could use any chocolate spread – including Nutella, like the recipe over at Chef in Training that inspired this post – but I like the dark chocolate because it’s not too sweet, so it doesn’t overpower the other flavors in the muffin tops.

Alright. About that. I need to come clean: I adapted the above recipe so much that it’s basically my own recipe at this point, which means I have to take full blame for these should-have-been-cookies. They have a very soft, dense-cake texture. The walnuts give a bit of a crunch, the oats add some chewiness, and the butterscotch and chocolate swirls bring in some much-appreciated sweetness. But ultimately, these don’t really taste like cookies. They’re just too soft/squishy/cake-y. Clearly, I haven’t quite mastered the art of recipe development yet! However, someone in my building took a bite and brilliantly suggested, “Call them muffin tops!” Genius, I tell you. If you eat these as cookies, you’ll wonder at the slightly strange texture. If you eat these as muffin tops, your brain won’t be confused and you’ll like every bit. So, enjoy these muffin tops! This recipe makes about 4 dozen muffin tops; I had to make a big recipe, because I needed to use up 3 ripe bananas.

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DARK CHOCOLATE BANANA OATMEAL MUFFIN TOPS (WITH WALNUTS AND BUTTERSCOTCH)

2 ½ cups flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. salt

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

½ tsp. vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 ¾ cup quick-cooking oats

¾ cup chopped walnuts

1 cup butterscotch chips

½ cup dark chocolate spread (World Market has a great one!)

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1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with parchment paper (what I did) or greasing with baking spray.

2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, sugars, baking powder, and baking soda, and salt. “Cut in” the shortening (see photos below; I used two knifes and keep cutting the shortening, coating it with the mixture, cutting again, coating, etc. until you have a bunch of pea-sized clumps and there’s no “dry” powder left).

3. Using an electric hand mixer, add the eggs, vanilla, and bananas and beat until well mixed.

4. Stir in the oats, walnuts, and butterscotch chips.

5. Pour the chocolate over the dough and gently swirl it into the dough (mix carefully by folding the dough and chocolate together, or use a knife to make grooves for the chocolate – the key is to not mix it together all the way, so you still have some ribbons of color that make it look pretty).

6. Use a tablespoon to drop heaping scoops of batter on prepared cookie sheets. Leave at least 1.5-inches between drops.

7. Bake for ~12 minutes, until the muffin tops are set and spring back from your touch. Immediately remove from tray when done cooking and transfer to cooling racks.

8. Pour yourself a glass of milk and sample one fresh from the oven. You deserve it!

Just starting to "cut" in the shortening, using two knifes and making "x" cuts into the shortening.

Just starting to “cut” in the shortening, using two knifes to make “x” cuts into the shortening.

Further along in the process. Be sure you're coating the cut pieces with the powder mix as you cut - this will keep the shortening from sticking to itself in the center.

Further along in the process. Be sure you’re coating the cut pieces with the powder mix as you cut – this will keep the shortening from sticking to itself in the center.

At about this point, when it's pretty well mixed and the largest clumps are about the size of peas, I stop using the knives and switch to mixing it in by hand. You want to crumble the dough together, not smoosh it like bread dough. Think of it like you're picking up sand and feeling the grains between your fingers and thumbs. Do that motion with the mixture to get the shortening to mix in nicely with the powder.

At about this point, when it’s pretty well mixed and the largest clumps are about the size of peas, I stop using the knives and switch to mixing it in by hand. You want to crumble the dough together, not smoosh it like bread dough. Think of it like you’re picking up sand and feeling the grains between your fingers and thumbs. Do that motion with the mixture to get the shortening to mix in nicely with the powder.

What the final shortening + dry ingredients should look like when you're done cutting and mixing it by hand. There should be no obviously large sections of dry powder; you want it to look almost like damp sand.

What the final shortening + dry ingredients should look like when you’re done cutting and mixing it by hand. There should be no obviously large sections of dry powder; you want it to look almost like damp, coarse sand.

Gently swirl in the chocolate. Do not mix past this point! In fact, I almost think I mixed it in too much. These cookies are pretty because they are multi-toned, so don't get too zealous with the mixing here!

Gently swirl in the chocolate. Do not mix past this point! In fact, I almost think I mixed it in too much. These muffin tops are pretty because they are multi-toned, so don’t get too zealous with the mixing here!

Using heaping tablespoon scoops to plop cookie down onto the tray, leaving space for the cookies to spread a bit. Almost there...

Using heaping tablespoon scoops to plop the batter down onto the tray, leaving space for the muffin tops to spread a bit.

chocolate banana on plate

Cookies… er, muffin tops for everyone!!

Good-Luck-on-Quals Brownies (or, Seven-Layer Bar Cookies Baked into Fudgy Brownies)

Do you think they got the "good luck" message?
Eleven students in my department recently took their qualifying exams (“quals”). Quals consist of five very open-ended, difficult questions written by five different professors. You have three days and three hours to complete the take-home exam, using any books, notes, the Internet, etc. that you want – you just can’t discuss the questions with anyone. Remember open-note exams in college? And how they were often more difficult than close-note exams? Well this is like that… but a million times harder. You have to pass quals to become an official PhD candidate, and you only get two chances. Yikes!

I’ll be taking this monstrous exam in a year, but this time around, I got to be on the “good luck” committee! Which doesn’t exist. I invented it. But it ought to exist. Because who doesn’t want a good luck brownie when they’re going into a three-day exam?!

While all the quals kids suffered, you can 1) be thankful that you are not in their shoes, and 2) consider making this recipe of fudgy, sugary ridiculousness. These brownies were inspired by a recipe from the book “Bake it in a Cupcake” by Megan Seling, which my best friend gave me for my birthday. This cookbook contains a bunch of fantastic desserts baked into various flavored cupcakes for double the awesomeness. I adapted the Seven-Layer Bar Brownie Cupcakes and made a tray of brownies instead. I increased many of the ingredients, added toffee bits to the brownies, and went bonkers over the crazy increase in baking time. These brownies are almost like fudge on the inside, they’re so gooey and sugary.

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SEVEN LAYER BAR COOKIES

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) butter, melted
1 1/5 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 ¼ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 ¼ cup chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

BROWNIES

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
1 1/8 cup (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

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1. Make the seven-layer bars first. Preheat oven to 350F, spray a 9”x13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir the melted butter & graham cracker crumbs together until all crumbs are moist; press them into the bottom of the pan. Evenly layer the rest of the ingredients, in the order listed, over top of the crust. Pour the condensed milk over the top and bake for some crazy amount of time. The book says 25 minutes; mine took 35+. You want the edges to be bubbling and the coconut starting to turn golden brown, but the inside of my bars was still a bit gooey at this point so I ended up cooking an extra 10+ minutes. Cool completely before cutting (but be sure to sample the corner while it’s warm, accompanied by a glass of milk!).

2. Make the brownie batter once the seven-layer bars are cool. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 90 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir the butter and chocolate together. Continue stirring until everything melted together – you can microwave a tiny bit more as necessary, but be really careful you don’t burn the chocolate. It’s much better to stir and wait for the chocolate to melt slowly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the granulated sugar until it’s well-mixed. Stir in the eggs, one at a time until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt and vanilla and stir for 30 seconds, until they’re both well-mixed. Mix in the flour until just combined – don’t overstir!

3. Finally, assemble the brownies. Cut up the seven-layer bars into 1.5-2 inch squares (it doesn’t matter how neat these squares are) and move to a different plate/container. Wash the 9-inch by 13-inch pan, dry, and spray again with nonstick cooking spray. Pour about half the brownie batter into the tray, gently place squares of the seven-layer bars on top so they’re almost touching each other, and pour the rest of the brownie batter on top. Bake for goodness knows how long. I think I ended up baking for 50+ minutes. Keep testing the brownies with a toothpick. The edges and top will be very crusty, but the inside stays oh-so-gooey, so pull them out when there’s just a tiny bit of dough sticking to the toothpick. Allow them to cool before cutting (you can refrigerate them after 15 minutes if you want to speed this step up).

If everyone fails quals because they OD on sugar, this recipe never happened

Pumpkin Bread Balls

A single one of these is rich enough to turn anyone into a gold digger.

I will never be satisfied with this name… Pumpkin bread balls? Pumpkin bread cream cheese cake balls? Pumpkin bread cream cheese chocolate- and butterscotch-covered cake balls decorated with walnuts? If you think of something, please share!!

I bookmarked this banana bread balls recipe a while back from Vanilla Sugar Blog. But then my wonderful roommate made pumpkin bread for me. A few adjustments to the recipe later, and this recipe was born. Isn’t she lovely?

These flavors (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch) blend shockingly well together. Try them. You can thank me later when you can’t stop sighing contentedly each time you eat one.

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INGREDIENTS

Pumpkin bread

1 package (8oz) cream cheese

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup butterscotch chips

2 tbsp. butter flavored shortening

~3/4 cup chopped walnuts

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1. Mix together pumpkin bread + 8oz cream cheese + 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Roll into 1.5″ balls and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

2. Make the dipping sauce according to this food.com recipe, but use the chips specified above. You could use normal shortening, but the butter-flavored kind will increase the buttery, rich flavor.

3. Dip bread balls in sauce (two forks work well together). Tap off excess sauce and set the balls on wax paper. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on top immediately, so the sauce doesn’t harden.

4. Let them harden (you can pop them in the refrigerator after a bit) and then hand these out to anyone you need something from. You’ll get what you want. I promise.