I’m not sure at which point pumpkins ceased being an ingredient or a vehicle for spooky halloween carving and instead became an aesthetic, an interior must-have, but the tide has certainly turned. Look for pumpkins on instagram, and you’re more likely to find one perching to one side of an elegant fireplace, or a clutch of pale munchkin pumpkins in the place of coffee table books, than a gurning face slowly rotting on the doorstep.
Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly, but the pumpkin has definitely found a new, more grown-up role in recent years, and one that doesn’t require scooping out the flesh first. Luckily, for the bakers among us, not only does it still hold culinary appeal, pumpkin is now available tinned in British supermarkets, so you can enjoy every pumpkin dish under the sun, without having to massacre your mantlepiece centrepiece. Phew!
Pumpkin should taste like bright sunshine on a cold day, earthy and sweet, but it’s easy for that distinctive flavour to become lost. If you’re not careful, pumpkin has the tendency to be a little underwhelming. It has such promise: plump and vibrant, even brighter on the inside than out. But to really shine, it needs a helping hand. It seems counter-intuitive than a big, ballsy flavour would illuminate rather than dominate the mellow, golden pumpkin flavour, but when it comes to pumpkins, it’s true. Smoky bacon and sage turns a bland soup into something wonderful; sharp cheddar elevate a pumpkin-based scone; and a generous addition of autumnal spices folded through a thick custard make for a showstopper pumpkin pie.
Here, I pair it with the baker’s hero ingredient: browned butter. When you continue to cook melted butter, the milk solids in the butter caramelise, turning the butter dark brown, and transforming the aroma and flavour into something complicated: nutty, biscuity, simultaneously sweet and savoury. The combo of browned butter and pumpkin is a wonderful one, and the two muscovado sugars give the cake a toffee-sweetness that is perfect for Autumn.
Makes: 1 8 inch cake (serves 8)
Takes: 15 minutes, plus cooling
Bakes: 1 hour
245ml vegetable oil
425g tinned pumpkin
150g light brown sugar
150g dark brown sugar
250g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon fine salt
- First, brown the butter. Place the butter in a deep pan and place over a medium heat. The butter will melt, then bubble, and then foam up, until it is flecked with brown. As soon as it smells nutty, remove from the heat, transfer to a heat-proof container (making sure to scrape out the dark brown sediment – that’s the best bit), and leave to cool until it is solid.
- Line an 8 inch cake tin with baking paper, and preheat the oven to 180°C. Cream the cooled brown butter and sugars together until they are fluffy and noticeably lighter in colour. Combine the eggs, oil, and pumpkin puree together in a jug, and add these to the creamed butter and sugar, stirring until combined.
- Combine the flour, spices and salt, and then fold these through the wet mixture. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for an hour. At 45 minutes you will probably need to cover the top of the cake with tin foil to stop it browning too much. The cake is ready when puffed, deep bronze, and a cocktail stick stuck into the middle of the cake comes out clean, without any raw mixture on it. Leave to cool in the cake tin for fifteen minutes before removing from the tin and allowing to cool completely.