Pumpkin Pie Gingerbread Cake is a perfect mash up of two delicious fall desserts. Homemade pumpkin pie filling is baked right on top of gingerbread batter! The creamy pumpkin custard is the perfect partner to the molasses and spices in the gingerbread. A dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream brings it all together.
Welcome to another recipe in the “piecaken” category. Piecaken? Why, that’s pie and cake wrapped up in one dessert. Before we get to piecaken, let’s start with Pumpple Cake.
The Pumpple Cake
The first time I ever had any such creation was at The Flying Monkey at Reading Terminal Market. There we discovered a “Pumpple Cake.” What’s a Pumpple Cake?
Okay, so they bake a whole pumpkin pie in a chocolate cake and a whole apple pie in a yellow cake and then layer it all up with buttercream and sprinkles. If you keep track of things like this, you may even have seen it on the news, like, um, 10 years ago….(where does the time go???)
Of course we had to buy a few giant slices! We shared them at a family Thanksgiving gathering. The verdict? Not so amazing. Good, but not great.
I was disappointed. First, the ratio of frosting to cake was insane and far too much for my taste.
Second, the cake was kind of dry and the crust of the pies didn’t help the issue. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great. We still had fun trying it out, though. I mean, who wouldn’t?
The whole idea of pie and cake still resonates with me. I recently posted an Apple Pie Bundt Cake. No pie crust there, though and no buttercream. Just homemade apple pie filling tucked inside a buttery pound cake. Yum!
I was still thinking about that cake when I started working on this one. I thought, what would happen if I baked pumpkin pie on top of gingerbread?
The testing process part 1
I had to find out. So, I developed a gingerbread recipe that was made with olive oil and whole wheat pastry flour. I eased up on the molasses because I didn’t want too strong of a gingerbread.
I spread the batter into the pan and then spooned the pumpkin pie filling on top of it. Into the oven it went. I expected the pumpkin pie to sink to the bottom and the cake to rise to the top.
What happened? Well the pumpkin filling sank, but it sank right into the middle and left a lovely cake layer on top and bottom. Beautiful! It sort of looked like a pumpkin pie, gingerbread sandwich!
The cake was suuu-per moist and of course the pumpkin pie filling was delish. I used my Pumpkin Pie recipe!
But here’s the thing…first we tried it warm, which you’re really not supposed to do with pumpkin pie that’s just out of the oven. And, hey it was good!
However, it was better on the second day…and then better on the 3rd and then even better on the 4th.
Yes, it took until day 4 for me to really, really like it. The gingerbread needed time to have the spices meld…the pumpkin pie needed to meld with the gingerbread. I don’t know. It was good, just not quite what I wanted it to be.
(My daughter also mentioned that the very moist texture of the cake and creamy custard of the pie were too similar.)
I added a glaze. That was delicious and really worked well with the cake.
But who’s got 4 days to wait? It’s not like we were making fruitcake that needed to age in some alcohol soaked cloth! And I didn’t like the idea of pumpkin pie hanging out for days on end, even if I would be storing it in the fridge.
The testing process part 2
The issue was the gingerbread. It just wasn’t “gingerbready” enough for me. I decided to go back to basics and forget the whole wheat pastry flour and the olive oil. (Don’t get me wrong…they were good…just not what I needed for this recipe.)
I increased the molasses, used all purpose flour and splurged with butter instead of the oil. The batter was much thinner than the first. Hmmm, wonder what that would do?
Then I layered the two batters together again and crossed my fingers.
Well, the whole thing baked up completely differently! The pie filling didn’t sink. Instead, I ended up with what looked like pumpkin pie in a frame. (Along with one rebel bubble up of gingerbread somewhere in the middle.)
Completely disappointed, I called my sister. We talked about science and what might have gone wrong with the sinking. I sent her a pic and she thought it looked great! And, I guess it did…
But…I was married to that original layered idea. I had already developed a glaze to go on top! I couldn’t use that glaze on top of pumpkin pie! It was supposed to go on top of the gingerbread!!! You know, the gingerbread that was now hiding beneath the pumpkin pie.
No way. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to layer like the first one. I hadn’t even tried it and decided it was a fail.
I know you understand the frustration. My Pumpkin Ricotta Bundt Cake is also a cake where the filling sinks. And yes, I know some of you have issues with the filling sinking all the way into the cake.
We can all have a long discussion about science and batter density and weight some day….and the variables of using different canned pumpkin brands and the variance in measuring flour, if you don’t use a scale….
Anyway, I looked at the cake. I let it cool and then sent it to the fridge. I’d give it overnight to fully set.
The next day, I thought, I’d at least cut it into squares and see what it looked like. It wasn’t what I had planned it to look like, I was more excited about the layered effect of cake on top and bottom, but I remained open minded.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t totally open minded. I actually had decided it wasn’t going to work for me at all. The taste would be the deciding factor. I mean, I knew the taste wouldn’t be bad, but would it be post worthy?
Spoiler Alert! We have a winner!
I cut a small piece and took a bite. The pumpkin pie was predictably good. I didn’t change anything there. But the gingerbread? Oh my gosh! So good! It had all the gingerbready flavor I was trying to achieve!
And with the pumpkin pie on top of it? Yeah, this was a winner! Everyone loved this version. My daughter said, this is great! And it tastes good right away! (lol! referring to the 4 days we went through for the first version)
When we actually sat down to have it as dessert, I made some fresh whipped cream for topping. I knew it wasn’t the glaze I had wanted, but version one of this cake was quickly evaporating from my memory.
Let me tell you, the fresh whipped cream on top of this Pumpkin Pie Gingerbread Cake sealed the deal. I was in love! In fact, this might be one of the best ways of eating pumpkin pie ever! Definitely a match made in heaven :)
Tips for making Pumpkin Pie Gingerbread Cake:
- Get a couple of small bowls and measure your spices for both the pie and cake at the same time. They share most of the spices, so while you have the ginger out, might as well get both measurements done. It will save time. Just remember which bowl has which recipe’s spices.
- Spray whatever you measure the molasses in with cooking spray before you add the molasses. The cooking spray will allow the molasses to slide right out. (This method also works with honey.)
- I used Grandma’s Molasses for this recipe. Not all molasses is created equal. If you want a stronger flavor, you could go with a darker molasses, but skip any black strap for this recipe.
- Save dishes! You’ll make the cake batter first. Once you pour/scrape the cake batter into the cake pan, you can use that same bowl (unwashed) to mix up the pie filling. There’s nothing in the bits of cake batter left that will affect your pie in any negative way. No need to wash an extra bowl.
- Use a ladle to gently layer the pie filling over the cake batter. Why? We don’t want to pour the whole bowl of filling on top of the cake batter and have the pressure of all of that pouring disturb the cake by making craters and holes.
- I like to add espresso powder or coffee to my gingerbread recipes. You’ll find a hint of it in my Gingerbread Pancakes and Soft Gingerbread Cookies. You can either use espresso powder or you can replace some of the hot water with some strong brewed hot coffee. See notes in recipe for that.
- Measure your flour correctly! If you weigh the flour, it’s 10 and 5/8 ounces. Or, it’s 2 1/2 cups measured with the spoon and sweep method. (Fluff the flour, spoon it into the measuring cup and level with the back of a knife.)
- Don’t overbake the cake. Over baking will dry out the cake. And yes, the pumpkin pie and whipped cream will certainly help to balance out a dry cake, but it will simply be better if it’s not overdone.
- Make the cake the day before. It will give the spices time to meld. Store it in the fridge and serve it cold or give individual servings a few seconds in the microwave to heat them up and serve warm.
Good spices matter
You should definitely use the spices that you like best. But I will say that the better your spices, the better your flavor.
- For my gingerbread cookies, gingerbread pancakes and any other recipes where I use ginger, my favorite is Penzey’s China Powdered #1.
- For cinnamon, I use Vietnamese from King Arthur. Penzey’s also carries good cinnamon. I love the flavor! I will confess that I used McCormick’s ground cinnamon for this recipe because of all of the trials. I didn’t want to use up my Vietnamese. If cinnamon is the primary flavor in a recipe, I’ll go with the good stuff. It’s stronger and I don’t need to use as much. For every day use, McCormick’s is always in my pantry.
- I’ll admit I haven’t invested in ground cloves beyond the standard McCormick. We don’t have a Penzey’s nearby anymore and I enjoyed being able to do the fragrance test before purchasing.
- For my beloved nutmeg, I always, always use fresh ground. The one I use most often is Whole Food’s organic brand. I never mind grating it. The fragrance is worth it every time.
After the second version was baked and didn’t layer like the first, I thought we were really going to be ruined for wanting pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving if I had to bake a third or fourth version. We did share both versions with close friends to try to avert this, but we still had enough left to have multiple servings.
I can share that even version one was a hit with all who sampled it. And we’re talking about a wide range of ages and tastes. But version two? So much better!
The truth is, we were all kind of sad when version two was gone. I seriously thought about making another because it was just so darn good!
Of course, if I did make another, I’d probably continue to tweak the gingerbread recipe. Maybe I’d try just one of these options….add another egg or 1/4 cup of applesauce or maybe increase the molasses to a full cup. If I do try it and it’s in any way better than the current recipe, I’ll be sure to come back and report.
Until then, if you love pumpkin pie and you love gingerbread, I think this is going to be one delicious mash up for you.
You get pie and cake in every bite and there’s no pie crust to worry about. Winner, winner Thanksgiving dinner!