Wintertime is baking season and this easy Pumpkin Caramel Poke Cake combines a luscious caramel, pillowy whipped cream, and crunchy pecans with a simple pumpkin sheet cake. Simple to make and a breeze to take along to potlucks or delight guests at home.
I love the rich, sunny color of pumpkin, and keep canned pumpkin puree in my pantry all winter long. This classic butter cake calls for everyday ingredients and simple steps: Canned pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter, stirred together with flour, sugar, and my favorite spices: Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves.
I came across the recipe on the Go Bold with Butter website, a great resource for baking and cooking, year-round. It caught my attention during the autumn holiday season, but I’m way too fond of pumpkin to stop enjoying it just because certain signature holidays have come and gone!
The original recipe calls for cinnamon, but I added cardamom, cloves, and ginger, and next time I I may use nutmeg and allspice, or leave out the spices and let the pumpkin flavor rule.
This cake comes together quickly — I used a whisk rather than a mixer, for both the wet and dry ingredients and for combining them into a thick batter.
Into my well-buttered ovenproof glass 13 x 9 inch pan it went….
…and all was well until I noticed that I had left the salt sitting on the counter. What to do?
If it were raisins or nuts or vanilla extract, I would have left it out. But since salt is a key ingredient in baking, for flavor as well as leavening, I sighed, scraped the batter back into the bowl, stirred in the salt, and poured it back into the baking pan, wiping the extra batter off once I had re-filled the pan. This photo is the after picture, and while I know I lost a little in the process, the cake came out generously shaped and delicious.
Note to self: Keep things together, especially when some are in tiny bowls on full-of-things countertops!
Here’s my handsome cake, salted and spiced and sweetened just fine.
Then, since it’s a Poke Cake, I looked for good tools, and came up with these two from my batterie de cuisine! A wooden chopstick and the handle of a beloved wooden spoon. Be sure to poke all the way down to the bottom of the pan, so that the caramel sauce can bless this cake every which way!
The caramel sauce is a speedy-quick brown sugar-and-butter concoction…
And spreading it all over the cake is fun — perfect place for little helpers to lend a hand. Consider transferring the warm sauce to a pitcher for easier pouring, or have them spread it around and into the holes as you pour it on.
Remember to save a little of the caramel sauce to drizzle over the whipped cream on the finished cake. You’ll have plenty, and if you make this ahead and want to refrigerate the caramel-kissed cake for the next day, cover both the cake and the extra sauce, and then set them both out to warm up 30 minutes or more before finishing-it-up time. You can gently reheat the sauce if it seems to too thick; or stir in a spoonful of extra cream to bring its texture back to smooth and luscious.
It’s a beauty, isn’t it? You could use this whipped cream and caramel-sauce topping on any sheet cake — poke cake is just cake with space for extra goodness, and this flavoring finish would be fine on spice cake, chocolate cake, or vanilla cake.
I cut this into 12 pieces, but think I could stretch it even further, since it’s rich and since you may be presenting it at an occasion where there are multiple desserts to choose from and people want “just a taste”, really!
See how the caramel sauce flavors the sides as well as the top?
And for inspiration to see you through this baking-centric time of year,
here are some web resources!
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups pumpkin puree (canned; or cooked, mashed pumpkin or winter squash)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup butter, melted and cooled (2 sticks; 8 ounces)
- CARAMEL SAUCE
- 2 cups brown sugar, light or dark
- ½ cup butter (1 stick; 4 ounces)
- ½ cup whipping cream or heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- WHIPPED CREAM
- 1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream, very cold
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup chopped pecans
- For the cake, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves) in a medium bowl, and use a whisk or a fork to mix them well.
- In a large bowl, beat eggs well, and then stir in pumpkin and vanilla; mix well.
- Add the melted butter and stir to combine everything evenly and well.
- Add the flour-sugar mixture and stir quickly, just until the flour disappears and the batter is smooth.
- Scrape batter into the well-buttered pan, smoothing it out to the edges, and then bake at 350 degrees F until cake is puffed and nicely browned, 35 to 40 minutes; set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, make the caramel sauce, placing the brown sugar, butter, and cream in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring gently, as the butter melts and the brown sugar dissolves. When the mixture comes to a boil, adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook, stirring often, until smooth and thickened into a luscious sauce, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and salt, stir well, and remove from heat.
- While the caramel sauce cools, prepare the cake, poking holes all over the surface, about 1 inch apart, using the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick and poking all the way to the bottom..
- Setting aside ⅓ cup of caramel sauce to drizzle over the whipped cream, pour the remaining warm caramel sauce over the cake, spreading it out to fill the holes and glaze the entire cake.
- Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour; longer is fine.
- To finish the cake, pour the cold heavy cream or whipping cream into a bowl and beat at medium high speed until it holds soft peaks.
- With mixer running, add the sugar and the pure vanilla extract and beat at medium high speed until everything is well combined and the cream holding its shape beautifully and well.
- Spread whipped cream over the cake.
- Drizzle the reserved ⅓ cup of caramel sauce over the whipped cream and then sprinkle the cake with the chopped pecans.
- Serve at once; or cover carefully and chill until about 20 minutes before serving time.
- Cut into 12 squares and serve, keeping any remaining cake covered and refrigerated for 1 to 2 days.