Friday, October 24, 2014

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Travelling can be so fun.

But super stressful, especially when things go wrong.

Last week, I travelled to Vancouver for a food blogger conference. It was the first time in almost fifteen years I'd been on an airplane without my husband or family. Thankfully, I had my foodie friend Robyn travelling with me, so I wasn't completely alone. For those of you that don't know, I am a very nervous flyer. I am self-medicated to the gills, aromatherapy stuffed up my nose, and nail marks are firmly indented into the fleshiest part of my hand that can be seen days after. 

I recently discovered that I am fine as long as the plane remains completely still while in flight. Once any level of turbulence hits, I lose all focus and swear I'm a goner. 

The morning of our travels went relatively smoothly. I awoke at five am and was out the door to pick Robyn up by six thirty to avoid the morning commuter traffic on the way to the airport. We arrived, parked the car, grabbed our belongings and made our way inside to the ticket counter. We punched the necessary information into the kiosk and our bag tags and tickets were spit out easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. It wasn't until we had them in our hands we realized we never chose our seats, nor did it give us the option to do so. When we narrowed our eyes in on the ticket, our seats were GTE. Gate. If you don't know what that means (and neither did we at the time) it means that because we didn't check in the night before, the ticket bookings closed and we would be given any seats that were available. 

Yeah. YEAH. That's not gonna work for me. 

Hang on to your toaster strudels, friends. It gets better. 

We came to discover our direct flight was overbooked by several seats. To add injury to insult, Robyn and I were at the bottom of that list because we paid the least amount for our tickets a few months prior. You have no idea how warm and fuzzy I felt knowing I'm a customer valued by price, not by loyalty to the airline. Jerks. To simplify this matter, if four people didn't surrender their seats, we would be downgraded to a flight that was redirected through Montreal and arrived in Vancouver at four in the afternoon. As a consolation prize, they were going to throw in a $400 cash incentive.

As folks walked up to the counter for clarification, Robyn and I sat there in the front row closest to the gate agents, biting nails, hopeful we would make the flight, but with no guarantees. A man took the offer first, followed by a sweet, young girl - and possibly after I coughed into my hand that she should, "Take it, but no pressure." 

I can be persuasive. And subtle. 

Two lads walked up, waiting for a friend who was about to miss the flight. The agent informed them that their friend wasn't going to make this flight no matter what, so if they wanted to fly together, they should give up their seats. As I sat there, bobbing my leg up and down, staring one of them in the eye, telepathically telling him to take the deal, TAKE THE DAMN DEAL as if I was on some corny game show, he did. HE DID. They couldn't believe we were going to pass up on $800 collectively. In the grand scheme of things, $800 to an unstable flyer doesn't amount to hill of beans. I psyched myself to get on and did my rituals; I did not want to go through it again - or worse, take it as an omen. I wanted to be on the flight I booked, sipping mediocre coffee, reading my celebrity stories. 

Once we secured our seats, I jumped up and gave all four of them a big squish, thankful we made it on by the skin of our teeth. 

We arrived in Vancouver safe and sound; sadly, our luggage did not. 

After a trying, but super-fun-in-between-once-we-actually-made-it-to-Vancouver sort of day, Robyn's bag arrived to the hotel after nine o'clock that evening, mine arrived at one o'clock in the morning. How they managed to separate them that far apart is beyond me, especially when we checked them in together, but thankfully, I finally had my clothes and my toothbrush and a really good cry. Everything worked out in the end. 

Kind of like this cake. It's a few unorthodox ingredients thrown together, but the outcome is truly fantastic. 

I wish I could say the same about the customer service with the airline. 

But I'll save that story for another time. 



2 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
4-6 cups powdered sugar
½ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8-inch cake tins by lightly coating with a non-stick cooking spray and lining bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. 

In a separate mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together pumpkin puree, eggs, both sugars, canola oil, and vanilla extract. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet and beat only until all ingredients are fully incorporated. 

Distribute cake batter evenly between the three cake pans, using an offset spatula to level out. 

Bake for 40 minutes until the cake pulls away from the sides or a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached. Allow cakes to cook on a wire rack for 15 minutes before turning out. 

To make frosting:

In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, all of the brown sugar, two cups of the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Beat for 5 minutes and slowly add in remaining powdered sugar Slowly add in powdered sugar and beat until ingredients come together. NOTE: You may not need to use all the powdered sugar. If buttercream gets too thick, add more milk; if it gets too thin, add more powdered sugar. 

Evenly apply frosting to the tops of two cakes and layer on top of each other. Continue to frost entire surface of cake.

Sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mixture or finely chopped pecans, if desired.


  1. I am a nervous flyer as well. First, I have to psyche myself MONTHS in advance, then I have to stay awake the day before, then day of I have to take meds 30 minutes before we board to ensure I'm asleep by the time we're in the air. Otherwise my husband wants to strangle me. Because I'm annoying as Hell at the slightest turbulence. Anyway, this cake!! I love the pumpkin and chocolate combo and that frosting must be killer!

  2. What an absolutely beautiful looking cake!

  3. Haha, oh dear! Flying without kids is supposed to be GREAT, not worse! Glad you still made it in one piece, and this cake looks fannnnntastic.

  4. Glad that you did make it to the FBC conference on the flight that you had originally scheduled. Your cake sounds and looks delicious and is simply elegant.

  5. This is exactly why you should always carry an extra pair of underwear in your pocket.

  6. I hope I was a supportive travel partner!!!! You did great!!! xo

  7. Yum! I wish cake travelled in once piece, I'd love a slice!

  8. You have 1 1/2 tsp baking pwdr and right under it you wrote 1/2 tsp baking pwdr?
    I do want to make this cake, but questioned this in the recipe. Thank you for letting us
    know if there is a correction.

  9. Oh girl, that sounds like too much of an adventure. Glad you got there safe and sound. Sorry I missed you in Vancouver ~ we should try and rendez vous in Montreal, though!

  10. Holy shit, Jenny! That's craziness! I wouldn't have known that you went through that nail biting ordeal when I met you at the conference - you were your usual bubbly, positive, hilarious self. Thank God for mind altering medication to get you through the flight. Seriously, it was a highlight of the conference that I got to meet you in person. I only wish I could've spent more time with you but I'm sure we'll see each other again. As for this cake, come to mama! By mama, I mean my mouth (in case that wasn't clear enough ;) It's gorgeous! And you can't go wrong with chocolate 'n pumpkin together.