It's the month of the pumpkin, as we perfect our pumpkin pies, and line up fat-bellied orange gourds on our front stoops, welcoming guests with this most cheery of vegetables. If you're looking for one more way to get your pumpkin fix, may I suggest these pumpkin crumb cakes? They're delicate and moist, with a thick vein of spiced pumpkin filling running through the middle, and if you squint just a little bit you might even be able to pass them off as a breakfast food.
This recipe originates with my mother, who always made this recipe with a cake mix. I think it's a relatively common and popular recipe (a little while ago, in fact, Erin, a reader, asked if there was a way to adapt this same recipe to get rid of the cake mix).
So a few years ago I cut away the box mix; there is no need for it, and this is just as quick and much better tasting without it. It's a sandwich of tender butter cake, dark spiced pumpkin, and a lively streusel on top.
This is also a flexible recipe; you can make it in one big pan, or as individual cakelets like I did here. The list of ingredients here looks long, but it's really quite simple. You make up one dry mix of flour and sugar that gets used for the cake base and the streusel topping, and then mix that with butter and spices for each. If you have your pumpkin all ready this should come together quickly.
But one last note on this: I have to confess that as much as I love pumpkin (and these are a good excuse to eat more of it) I'm cheating on my favorite fall squash with sweet potatoes. Sweet potato puree is even more delicious in these little cakes. It's extra-thick, and the flavor is darker and sweeter. I've been baking these up recently with a gooey filling of spiced sweet potato, and nutty topping of crushed hazelnuts. Terrifically good.
So, if your guests are not enthused about pumpkin pie, give them a break and a cakelet instead.
Pumpkin (or Sweet Potato) Crumb Cakes
makes one 13x9-inch cake or 18 individual cakelets
Dry Mix 1 cup sugar 2 1/2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 3 teaspoons baking powder
Cake Dough 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 dry mix
Pumpkin Filling 3 large eggs One 15-ounce can pumpkin or sweet potato puree (1 3/4 cups) 1 cup dark brown sugar 2/3 cup milk 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon cloves 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Crumb Topping 1/2 cup flour 1/2 dry mixture 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cloves 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft 2 tablespoons water 2/3 cup crushed pecans or roasted hazelnuts (optional)
Heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish by greasing lightly with butter or baking spray. (Alternate option: You can also make 18 individual crumb cakelets. To do this, line 18 muffin pan wells with paper liners, or set out 4-ounce paper soufflé cups on a baking sheet and spray lightly with baking spray.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder for the dry mix.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) beat the butter until whipped and creamy and then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Beat in about half (1 3/4 cup) of the dry mix of flour and sugar. The cake dough will be thick, yet sticky. Scrape the bowl out thoroughly and pat the dough out in the prepared pan. (If making individual cakelets, divide the dough into 18 balls and press each ball into one muffin well so that it covers the bottom.)
Put the eggs, pumpkin or sweet potato puree, milk, brown sugar and spices for the pumpkin filling in the scraped-out bowl of the stand mixer. Whip until combined; it will be very liquid. Pour this evenly over the cake dough in the pan or muffin tin.
Add the additional 1/2 cup flour to the remaining dry mixture, and whisk in the spices. Drop the soft butter into the bowl in chunks or spoonfuls and use your fingers to rub it through until soft, even crumbs form. Add 2 tablespoons of water and mix with fingers until loose and crumbly.
Sprinkle the crumb topping over the cake or cakelets. If desired, sprinkle also with crushed pecans or hazelnuts.
If baking a 9x13-inch pan, bake for about 45 minutes or until the filling is just set inside. If baking cakelets, they will only need to bake for about 30 minutes.
Let cool for at least half an hour before slicing. This keeps very well for several days, although I like to refrigerate it to make sure it stays firm for slicing.
Note: • One more pan option: If you only have one muffin pan, you can make 12 cakelets, then bake the rest of the cake in a standard-sized loaf pan. I suggest lining the pan with parchment hanging over the sides, however, so you can lift the cake out after it cools.