Pumpkin Crumble Cake (Oregon, 2006, adapted)


For a home cook I feel like I know my way around a kitchen.  But everyone’s got their blind spots, and mine is baking.  I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it, and despite a background in chemistry I’m especially bad at yeast breads.  I can’t even make a decent pizza crust (although it’s on my to-do list).  So when I’m flipping through my vintage cookbooks I usually skip the breads and cakes sections altogether.  I’ve probably ignored a thousand amazing recipes, but aside from a foolproof quickbread and a better-than-expected toffee cake I’ve never had the guts to try them.

But this weekend I had a little bit of extra time.  My butcher had some amazing New York strips for a fair price so I skipped the elaborate Sunday dinner prep in favor of steak and baked potatoes with a side of roasted carrots.   A decadent meal, to be sure, but the only prep work is peeling carrots and the only advance planning is remembering to put the potatoes in the oven an hour before you want to eat.  So I cracked open a cookbook from my own congregation and started poking around.   Which is where I found Pumpkin Crumble Cake.  The author is a woman who, at the time the recipe was written, was a busy young mother and who still lives nearby.  We’ve never had occasion to eat together, but they strike me as people of decent taste so I figured if this recipe is good enough for Heather, it’s good enough for me.

Pumpkin Crumble Cake is more of a bar cookie than a cake.  It doesn’t quite have the cohesiveness to eat like a cookie, so you’ll still want a knife and fork, but it’s got a distinctive lemon bar vibe to it.  The crust and crumble topping are made from yellow cake mix and butter, with a layer of pumpkin pie filling in between.  The bottom crust browns up nicely and the sugar-heavy crumble crystallizes and gives the cookie a satisfying crunch.  I made one key modification to Heather’s recipe:  replacing the Cool Whip topping with freshly whipped cream with a smidge of pumpkin.  I like Cool Whip just fine, but had a sense that it would take the sweetness over the top.  My instincts were right:  the cake is plenty sweet on its own and didn’t need any help.

The only trick to getting this cake right is the bottom crust, which is made from cake mix, melted butter, and egg.  It’s interminably sticky and difficult to spread or press into the bottom of the casserole dish.  With a little bit of trial and error I found that spraying my hands with Pam – frequently – was the best way to get the crust in place.  Floured fingers didn’t work nearly as well.   The rest of the cake is quite straightforward, with an old school “busy housewife” vibe.   Anyone who’s made pumpkin pie from a can will have no problem with layer two, and the crumble is just cake mix, cold butter and sugar mashed with a pastry blender.  It doesn’t quite get the streusel vibe I was expecting – the whole think sort of melts into a single, uniform layer, but with a creme brulée crunch to it.  Let it cool and top with the whipping cream.

After the obligatory post-steak and potatoes nap we got together for a slice of “cake” and some late night conversation.   And Pumpkin Crumble Cake was a hit.  Everyone agreed it tasted like a sweet pumpkin pie and agreed with my choice of a not-so-sweet whipped topping.  The kids went back for seconds and I got just enough of a sugar high to tide me over until bedtime.  I’m not sure if this rises to top tier “craveable” status in my household, but this is a great way to use up extra pumpkin in the pantry.   I can also see this working well for a potluck or holiday dinner party.   Enjoy!

Pumpkin Crumble Cake (Oregon, 2006, adapted)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 50 min
  • Ready in: 1 h 5 min
  • For: 12 servings
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Ingredients

For the crust:

For the filling:

For the crumble:

For the whipped topping:

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

For the crust:

  1. Mix ingredients with a fork. Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 baking dish. Use cooking spray to lubricate hands or utensils to keep the crust from sticking.

For the filling:

  1. Whisk ingredients together and pour over the crust.

For the crumble:

  1. Mix reserved cake mix, cinnamon and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Crumble together with the butter using a fork or pastry blender to form a coarse crumb. Sprinkle over the filling.
  2. Bake in a 350° F oven 45-50 minutes until edges brown and a toothpick in the center comes back clean. Cool completely.

For the whipped topping:

  1. In a cold bowl whisk ingredients together until topping thickens and forms soft peaks when the whisk is removed. A hand blender with a whisk attachment will make this much, much easier.
  2. Slice the cooled cake into 12 pieces and serve with a dollop of whipped topping.

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