I first made this cake five years ago, back in the early days of this blog.  Now as I reflect on that time, I realize it was probably one of the first legit layer cakes I had ever made.  Not only was it an impressive, drool worthy combination of pumpkin cake + butterscotch filling + brown sugar frosting, at the time it gave me confidence to know that yes, I could successfully make a cake with multiple components.  My cake assembly and decorating skills did leave much to be desired, but we all have to start somewhere right?

A cake this decadent is certainly something best saved for special occasions only.  It has made rare appearances over the past few years and each time I have tweaked it just a bit.  A few weeks ago my youngest brother celebrated a birthday and when he requested a pumpkin cake, I decided it was time to update the recipe and photos for all of you.  Because this cake does not belong buried deep in the archives.

Note: Since people always ask for a photo of the inside: Per my usual birthday  policy, I do not photograph the sliced cake.  Birthdays are about the birthday honoree, not the perfect photo!  The assembly shot above will have to do.  Thanks for understanding!

  • Yield about 16-20 servings


For the cake:

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¾ tsp. ground cloves
  • 1¼ tsp. salt
  • 1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
  • 1¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2½ sticks (10 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1¼ sticks (5 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 5 chunks
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

For the frosting: 

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 sticks (12 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature


  • 01

    To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Butter and flour the edges of 3 8-inch round cake pans and shake out the excess.  Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.  Combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars.  Beat together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and scraping down the bowl between additions.  Blend in the vanilla extract and the pumpkin puree.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix in each addition only just until incorporated.

  • 02

    Divide the batter evenly between the prepared baking pans.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cake layers are just set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes total.  Let cool in the pans about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

  • 03

    To make the filling, heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until warm (not boiling).  In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and lemon juice and stir with a whisk to combine (the sugar will resemble moist sand).  Allow the sugar to sit undisturbed until it begins to melt and caramelize.  Once melting begins, continue to stir gently until all the sugar is melted and has turned a golden amber color.  (Watch carefully, as burning can happen in the blink of an eye or a few minutes sucked into social media.)  Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully add the heavy cream in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly to incorporate.   Whisk in the butter, one chunk at a time, stirring to incorporate completely before adding the next portion.

  • 04

    Cool the butterscotch in the refrigerator at least 45 minutes, until the mixture is no longer warm and has a slight chill.  Place the chilled butterscotch in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed for about 2 minutes, until it has thickened and is smooth.  Fold in the chopped pecans.

  • 05

    To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, brown sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F  on an instant read thermometer and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Whisk on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.  (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)  Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer – don’t worry, it will come together!)

  • 06

    (Level cake layers if necessary.)  To assemble the cake, place one of the layers on a serving platter.  Top with half of the butterscotch pecan mixture and smooth in an even layer.  Place a second cake layer on top of the filling and spread with the remaining filling.  Place the final cake layer on top.  Frost the top and sides of the assembled cake with the brown sugar buttercream.  Use a pastry bag with a decorative tip to pipe additional accents on the cake if desired.  Garnish with the cinnamon sugar and pecan halves.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.