The last pumpkin of 2022 proved to be the inspiration for my number one favorite pumpkin cake ever. I will admit that all my tinkering to come up with something new led to a rather complex recipe, but a lot of my ingredients were holiday purchases. I just cleaned out the cupboards, and, as often happens, I ended up creating a happy accident.
Of course, I have had to perfect this cake a bit. Since I winged the first attempt, on second try I finally figured out measurements that were nonexistent on first try; I also had to readjust oven temperatures and pan arrangements—the very first batch got a bit too brown because I over-loaded the oven with two tart pans—not a good idea! So you see, even if I started the year with a mistake, it was still a good start. Mistakes are the way we learn, yes? Be brave…it can be such a delicious adventure. Like a Winter’s End Cake!
Be sure you read the notes after the recipe; they will give you tips and options for creating your own Winter’s End Cakes and using up what you have on hand. Now, let’s preheat that oven….
- One-half cup pecans
- One-half cup raw almond meal
- One-half cup raw unsweetened coconut flakes
- One cup whole wheat pastry flour
- One-half cup whole wheat flour
- One teaspoon baking soda
- One-quarter teaspoon baking powder
- One teaspoon sea salt
- One teaspoon ground ginger
- One-half teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- One-half teaspoon cinnamon
- One-half teaspoon cardamon
- One-half teaspoon allspice
- One-quarter teaspoon ground clove
- One-third cup buttermilk
- One cup pumpkin puree (Any variety pumpkin or Hubbard squash will work well.)
- One-half teaspoon vanilla
- One tablespoon unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- Two tablespoons orange zest
- Two tablespoons fresh orange juice
- Six tablespoons unsalted butter
- One-third cup dark brown sugar
- One-half cup light brown sugar
- One-half cup evaporated cane juice (white sugar)
- Two large eggs
- One-half cup chopped fresh Medjool dates
- Have all ingredients at room temperature. Have ready a six-count tart/jumbo muffin pan, greased and floured. I lined the bottom of each tart mold with greased and floured parchment paper for assured easy release.
- To prepare the first of the dry ingredients, place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper the pecans, almond meal and coconut flakes. Spread out to make sure there is only a single layer. Place the baking sheet in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Allow the oven to come to temperature and when the signal buzzes, turn the oven off. I let the ingredients remain in the oven for a few minutes, but I checked frequently. This mixture can easily burn, so be mindful. You want golden color, not dark brown.
- Once the pecans, almond meal and coconut are golden and fragrant, remove from the oven. When they cool a bit, place them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have almost dry flour. This mixture should be dry not moist. Set aside.
- Turn the oven back on to 375 degrees for baking your Winter’s End Cakes. Whisk together the following in a large bowl: whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and all the spices. Add the pecan mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
- Combine the sugars and set aside. Combine the liquids: pumpkin, buttermilk, vanilla, molasses, orange juice and zest; set aside.
- In the bowl of a standard mixer, beat the butter until pale and shiny. Gradually add the sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Finally, with the mixer turned a bit lower, gradually add the liquid ingredients and beat until all is well combined.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredient mixture and fold in the wet ingredients only until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the chopped dates.
- Fill the tart molds halfway to three-quarters of the way full. You should be able to fill all six molds. Don’t overfill, or the centers may not bake through. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning the pan once during baking. Mine took the full 30 minutes, and my toothpick test still came out a bit sticky. This will be a moist dense cake, so probably don’t go past 30 minutes.
- Cool cakes in the pan for 10 minutes; then, remove and finish cooling completely on baking racks.
These are generous, rich cakes, and one can easily serve two for a dessert, especially if you pair with ice cream, English cream or fresh fruit. If you are serving this as a decadent breakfast, one cake per hungry diner with coffee or tea would be grand.
Pumpkin Cake Pointers
How to substitute: The whole point of this cake is to use up the bits of stuff that were purchased specifically for holiday baking. For most of us, special ingredients, extra sweeteners, fancy spices, etc. hang around for a while—god forbid they get thrown away! So if you have different sugars or flours among your leftovers, feel free to substitute. While I really like the combination here, as long as the measurements end up the same, you should be ok. And go with your favorite spices, not mine. Leave out what you don’t like and add more of what you adore. That said, I do not recommend substituting flour for the almond meal mixture because…..
The almond meal, coconut and pecan mixture: This is something I discovered as I planned gluten-free treats for my daughter. It is, hands down, the BEST homemade nut mixture/GF flour substitute I have ever created. And I’ve started using it everywhere. Top a crisp, make a cheesecake crust, sprinkle on cereal or oatmeal. The texture of this pre-browned mixture is superb. I recommend it to anyone—whether you must be gluten-free or not. It adds beautiful complexity to baked goods. My guess is you can substitute it for one-third of the flour total in any quick bread or cake recipe. Be brave!
The pans: I used a four-inch mini cake/tart pan with six molds for these cakes. It is probably going to work if you turn these into 12 large muffins or two nine-inch layer cakes. The trick will be the oven time. The muffins will most likely take a bit less time (20-25 minutes) and the layer cakes a bit more (probably 35 minutes and maybe better at 350 degrees). Again….be brave. Remember that mistakes are how we learn.
No dates? That’s fine. Leave them out or love what you have—like apricots, raisins, cranberries, dried blueberries. All are yummy.
Toppings? Well, this is such a dense and rich cake—really pretty sweet too—that I don’t think I would be tempted to frost it, except with an almost savory cream cheese-based frosting. Whipped cream maybe or a dollop of English cream with fruit. If I did layer cake, I think I would consider cream cheese frosting only between layers and on top—something artsy-fartsy.
We pride ourselves at Green Gal for using what we have, making do, creating something out of seemingly nothing. You too? If you are looking for more ways to love what you have as we approach the season of lent, within the Wolf and Hunger moons, you may want to revisit my homemade vegetable stock from scraps, or my essay on food waste in America or my love of market seconds or the wonderful idea of buying nothing in order to feel fulfilled. And a note about the buying nothing post: Heartlands Conservancy hosts a Jingle Bell Hike every autumn, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. So next October, be sure you sign up, if you are in the area; Don and I had a blast this year, even if we didn’t make it to find all the bells. It all works like magic, like decadent abundance in having not more than enough.