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Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Butter Salted Caramel, Tahini Sage Buttercream, and Caramel Corn

This Pumpkin Layer Cake with Brown Butter Salted Caramel, Tahini Sage Buttercream, and Caramel Corn is the ultimate fall cake. 
Servings 15
Total Time 2 hrs 20 mins


Brown Butter Salted Caramel

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 sage leaves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon smoked sea salt or regular sea salt I used Maldon Smoked Sea Salt
  • Morton Kosher Salt, to taste

Caramel Corn

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt, or regular sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pumpkin Layer Cake

  • 3 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cups canola oil
  • 2/3 cup honey beer*, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute*, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups homemade pureed pumpkin* or 1 (15-ounce) can of canned pumpkin

Tahini Sage Buttercream

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, separated
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt (or regular sea salt), to taste

Pumpkin Layer Cake Assembly

  • 2 pumpkin cakes
  • Brown Butter Salted Caramel
  • 1 wooden or bamboo skewer
  • Tahini Sage Buttercream
  • 1 bunch of fresh sage
  • caramel corn


Brown Butter Salted Caramel (20 minutes)

  • Place the butter and sage in a small or medium skillet over medium heat. Let the butter melt and then turn the heat to medium-low. Stir frequently until the butter starts to foam, turn a dark gold color, and smells nutty. About 7 to 10 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let it come to room temperature. 
  • Melt sugar over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan, swirling the pan often until the sugar has all melted and it begins to turn an amber color. 
  • Add the butter, whisking vigorously until all the butter is incorporated. 
  • Take the pan off the heat and slowly pour the heavy cream in, whisking vigorously until incorporated. Quickly add the sea salt and whisk until it is incorporated. 
  • Let the caramel sit for 15 minutes before transferring it to an airtight container. Store in the fridge. The caramel can be done weeks ahead of time and makes plenty. 

Caramel Corn (30 minutes to 1 hour)

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Add the oil and corn into a large 4-quart pan and cover with the lid, leaving it slightly ajar. 
  • Heat on medium, lifting and shaking the pan occasionally. Once the popping slows, remove from the heat and pour the popcorn into a large bowl*. 
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and molasses. Once the sugar has melted, turn the heat up to high and boil for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Don’t let the caramel start to smoke. 
  • Add the vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. 
  • Quickly pour the caramel into a bowl of popcorn and stir until all the corn is covered.
  • Spread the popcorn out on the baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. The caramel corn can be made ahead of time but it's very addicting so make sure to hide it! It's not just for decoration, it's a side to the cake. Let it cool completely before storing in an airtight container or ziplock bag.

Pumpkin Layer Cake (45 minutes)

  • Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease two 9-inch cake pans with canola oil and then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Dust the sides with flour. 
  • Combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. 
  • Combine water and flaxseed in a small bowl and set aside. 
  • Combine sugar, canola oil, honey beer, egg substitute, and eggs in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. 
  • Add the flaxseed mixture and pumpkin and beat on low speed until just blended. 
  • Add the flour mixture and beat until combined. 
  • Pour equal amounts of the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the center of the cake bounces back when you lightly press your fingers to the center or a toothpick comes out clean. 
  • Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before flipping the cakes out and cooling them on wire racks. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting. Or if making ahead, let them cool before wrapping them up tight in plastic wrap and a ziplock bag for either the fridge or the freezer. Allow the cakes to unthaw in the fridge overnight if frozen and bring them to room temperature before frosting.

Tahini Sage Buttercream (15 minutes)

  • Place a 1/2 cup butter and sage leaves in a small or medium skillet over medium heat. Let the butter melt and then turn the heat to medium-low. Stir frequently until the butter starts to foam, turn a dark gold color, and smells nutty. About 7 to 10 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let it come to room temperature. 
  • Place the browned butter, crispy sage leaves, and tahini in a food processor and pulse until completely smooth. 
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the rest of the butter (1/2 cup) until creamy. 
  • Pour in the butter and tahini mix and beat until smooth. 
  • Add the powdered sugar gradually. 
  • Once all the powdered sugar is added, beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes until it’s fluffy. 

Pumpkin Layer Cake Assembly

  • Place one cake on a portable flat surface like a cardboard cake round, the bottom side of a plate, or anything else you have on hand. I used a round wooden surface.
  • Put that on top of a cake turntable or use your microwave plate and wheel to make a turntable (just take the wheel off, place it on the counter, and then put the microwave plate back on top of it). I didn't have to even out these cakes but do so if necessary. 
  • Scoop out and then spread the Brown Butter Salted Caramel sauce over the pumpkin cake. Get a good layer on. It will drip down the sides of the cake. Once you're satisfied with the amount of caramel, sprinkle some Maldon Smoked Sea Salt over the surface.
  • Evenly line up the other cake and place it on top. Because of the caramel sauce, the top cake layer tends to slide. Take a wooden skewer and cut it to the appropriate size so that it doesn't stick out beyond the cake. Push it down the middle of the cake to help keep the cake stable.
  • Place 1 cup of frosting on top of the cake and start spreading it out in an even layer, using a pastry scraper and the turntable to spread the frosting around.
  • Once the top is frosted, plaster blobs of frosting all over the cake and begin carefully spreading it around. It's okay if some caramel mixes and swirls into the frosting. When all the frosting is on the cake, smooth it out as best as possible by lightly holding a pastry scrapper at a slight angle to the cake and turning the cake around.
  • Place sage leaves along the bottom edge of the cake. Ring the top of the cake with caramel corn. Pile some caramel corn in the center and drizzle with more of the Brown Butter Caramel Sauce.
  • Store the cake covered at room temperature for up to 5 days.


*Honey Beer: I've used various different beverages for this ingredient (mead, pumpkin ale, mead style beers, etc.). Try to use beers that use honey in the fermentation process or have honey flavors. But really any beer will do in a pinch. Beer acts as a leavening agent in baking so it actually does do some work in the recipe.
*Egg Substitute (also known as Liquid Egg Substitute): egg substitutes are liquid egg products sold in cartons and contain about 99% egg whites + a little yolk + some other ingredients that help with texture or add nutritional value. I always use EggBeaters Original for this recipe. If you can't find liquid egg substitutes or if you would rather not use them, substitute the 1/2 cup egg substitute with 2 eggs.
(1 whole egg for every 1/4 cup of egg substitute)
*I always use pureed pumpkin. I know canned is supposed to taste the same but I don't think it does. That being said, it is perfectly fine to use it.
Caramel Corn Safety Warning: make sure the bowl you use to pour the popped corn in is very big. When trying to mix the popcorn and VERY hot caramel, you need room enough to mix and toss everything together. My biggest bowl was not big enough and I got burned. 
The cake is adapted from the "Pumpkin-Honey Beer Quick Bread" recipe, Kathy Kitchens Downie, Cooking Light, November 2008.
To Make Cupcakes:
Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Fill the liners 3/4 of the way full and bake at the same temperature for 20 to 25 minutes.
Let the cupcakes cool completely and then cut out some of the center with a small biscuit cutter (like in this recipe).
Fill with the brown butter salted caramel and then plug up the hole.
Top with the sage buttercream frosting and caramel corn.
Author: Megan Wells
Course: Desserts