Holiday Desserts | Putting a Flare on Pumpkin Spice Cake
November 10, 2015
Holiday Desserts | Putting a Flare on Pumpkin Spice Cake

The stretch between roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie—the weeks between now and Thanksgiving—is ripe with opportunities to work with pumpkin. So, we tapped Chef Varin for a gourd-ish twist on desserts for the holiday season. He gave us an alternative to the standard pumpkin pie recipe: an effortless pumpkin cake.

“As summer winds down and cool autumn breezes stir fallen leaves, many miss the sunshine and warmth left behind; I on the other hand welcome fall and the beauty it brings. This is when ovens start firing up across the region, the aroma of baking spices permeates the air, and leaves turn from yellow to orange to red. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables are harvested daily, and thoughts of preservation come to mind as winter beckons.

In the kitchen my mind turns to all of the pumpkin patches I’ve driven by on the way to the river, to the aroma of spices, and of course to caramel.

To me, the flavors of fall are encapsulated in this pumpkin cake recipe, with tonka bean mousse, poached butternut squash, smoked caramel, olive oil, and crème fraiche ice cream.”

Chef Varin’s pumpkin dessert is fundamentally a quick bread, foam, caramel and poached squash—but the combination, presentation, and a few technique tricks set this pumpkin cake apart from traditional holiday desserts. Best of all, this dessert recipe elevates pumpkin bread to a whole new level.

Heartwood Provisions Resturant Seattle | Chef Varin's Spiced Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Smoked Caramel

Pumpkin Cake

4 Eggs

1 1/3 cups Sugar

1 tsp Salt

15 ounces Pumpkin Puree

7/8 cup Olive Oil

1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons Flour

1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda

2 tsp Baking Powder

2 tsp Spice Mix (recipe below)

Procedure: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare pans with oil spray and parchment paper.Whip eggs with sugar and salt until smooth. Add pureed pumpkin and beat mixture until smooth. Add oil and beat until oil is emulsified with egg. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spice mix, and then sift. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and beat until just combined. Do not over mix. Pour batter into pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

pumpkin making

Spice Mix

1 tsp Dried Orange Peel

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Clove

1 tbsp Ground Ginger

1 tsp grains of paradise

2/3 tsp Nutmeg

2 tsp Black Pepper

2 tsp Star Anise

1 tsp Tonka* Bean

1 tsp Vanilla Bean

Procedure: Combine all spices in coffee grinder and grind until fine.

pumpkin cake 2 (final)

Tonka* Bean Espuma

2 sheets Gelatin (approx 6grams)

1 cup Cream

1 cup Whole Milk

1 oz Burnt Caramel—cooked to 392 degree F and chopped to finely

1/3 cup Sugar

1/4 tsp Mace

1 tsp Tonka* Bean, grated

Procedure: Bloom gelatin in ice water. Combine all ingredients except gelatin and bring to a boil. Allow to steep for 30 minutes. Bring back to a simmer and add gelatin. Stir and strain. Cool mixture covered in refrigerator, Once mixture is a solid mass, puree with an immersion blender. Place mixture in to siphon (whip cream charger), and charge with 1 capsule of nitrous oxide. *Buy tonka bean online at or at

Heartwood Provisions Seattle Restaurant | Tonka Beans

Spice Poached Butternut Squash

2 cup Water

1 cup Brown Sugar

1 piece Star Anise

1 Cinnamon Stick

2 Whole Cloves

2 Grates of Nutmeg

1/4 tsp Salt

1 cup Butternut Squash

Procedure: Cut butternut squash into half inch (.5”x.5”) cubes. Bring sugar, water, and spices to boil. Add squash cubes and reduce to a low simmer. Simmer 15-18 minutes or until squash is tender but holds its shape. Cool squash in syrup.

Smoked Caramel

1/2 lb Butter

2 1/8 cup Sugar

1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream

2 tsp Salt

Procedure: Cut butter into 1” cubes and freeze. Place butter in a pan and place that pan in a pan of ice, then smoke butter with desired wood (I like pecan or apple). Smoke for 15-20 minutes until butter has a nice smoked flavor. Some butter will melt but try to avoid butter soup! Heat cream until just below boiling, then reserve. Caramelize sugar using dry or wet method. When desired color is achieved, pour cream slowly into sugar. Stir carefully as caramel will foam and could spatter. Add salt to caramel and stir until combined. Cool caramel slightly then add butter to caramel and stir until emulsified.

Heartwood Provisions Restaurant Seattle | Smoked Caramel Icing

Assemble Cake and Serve with Cocktail Pairing

Slice cake and top with spiced squash, and espuma. Serve alongside ice cream that is topped with the smoked caramel and drizzled with good olive oil.

Demerara Syrup

2 cups Demerara Sugar

1 cup Water

Combine demerara sugar and water in a saucepan, heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Immediately remove from heat and let it cool before mixing.

Pumpkin Spiced Cake Cocktail Pairing

1/2 oz Armagnac

3/4 oz Fino Sherry

1/2 oz Becherovka

1/4 oz Demerara Syrup

Combine ingredients in wine or spirits glass. Stir. This beverage is meant to be enjoyed at room temperature.

*This cocktail recipe is portioned as a pairing cocktail, double the proportion if you would like a more traditional sized cocktail.

Heartwood Provisions Restaurant Seattle | Spice Pumpkin Cake Pairing