This pumpkin spice cake recipe with ginger cream cheese icing is hands down my favorite Thanksgiving dessert recipe. It’s made from scratch but it’s easy to do, and it’s soooo delicious! Much better than pumpkin pie if you ask me. But then I’m not much of a pumpkin lover, which is why it’s even more surprising that I love this cake.
This from scratch pumpkin spice cake with ginger cream cheese icing is my absolute favorite fall dessert recipe, EVER.
And I have to admit, I don’t even like pumpkin that much.
But this recipe is delicious!
It’s kind of like carrot cake (which I love), only with pumpkin. And adding ginger to the cream cheese icing makes it even better.
Now that I’ve made it (my version was inspired by the pumpkin layer cake recipe in the 2006 Christmas with Southern Living cookbook*), it has become my go-to Thanksgiving dessert recipe every year.
Actually, I’ve even been making it for Christmas dinner, too. Quite surprising for a gal who doesn’t like pumpkin 🙂
Even better? This pumpkin spice cake is moist, easy to make and relatively healthy. Especially if you leave off the frosting…not that I’ve ever actually done that 🙂
And who doesn’t love the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon wafting through their house?
As an added bonus, you can make it the day before. Which means it’s not taking up space in your oven while you’re trying to get everything else ready for Thanksgiving dinner.
Then all you have to do to serve it, is pull it out of the refrigerator and start cutting slices.
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Here’s your shopping list for the cake and icing:
- Dairy: 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, buttermilk, 2 eggs, 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese (we will only be using 1 1/2 of them, so you’ll have a little left over)
- Sugar: light brown sugar, powdered sugar
- Canned goods: 1 can of unsweetened pumpkin, at least 8 ounces
- Produce: fresh ginger (you can also use ground ginger or pre-minced ginger, but fresh tastes best)
- Baking supplies: flour, baking powder, baking soda
- Flavoring: vanilla extract
- Spices: cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves (or allspice), nutmeg
- Nuts: pecans or walnuts (optional)
- In the cake:
- substitute 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger or 2 teaspoons of pre-minced ginger for the grated fresh ginger.
- substitute 2 teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie spice for the cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves (or allspice) and nutmeg.
- To make the gluten-free pumpkin spice cake, substitute measure-for-measure gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour. I like King Arthur’s.
- In the icing, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger or 1 Tablespoon of pre-minced ginger for the grated fresh ginger
Before You Start
Before you start, set the butter and cream cheese out on the counter for an hour or two to soften. This will make mixing them much easier.
If you forget to do this and need to start right away, you can also put them in the microwave. Use Low power for about 30 seconds, depending on how strong your microwave is.
You don’t want it melted. You just want it to be soft so it’s easy to mix.
Heat your oven to 350℉.
To keep the cake from sticking to the pan, line the bottom of it with parchment paper.
Using a pencil to trace around the bottom of the pan onto the paper is the easiest way to get it the right size. Then place the parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pans.
If you don’t have parchment paper, you can grease it by spreading a thin layer of butter or shortening on the bottom of the pan.
How To Make The Pumpkin Spice Cake
Put together mixture #1
Beat 1 stick of softened butter with 1 1/2 cups brown sugar in your electric mixer on medium speed until it’s fluffy, about two to three minutes.
The butter and sugar mixture should be a light yellow color (but not white) when it is finished mixing. This helps to create a lighter cake texture.
Then add 2 eggs one at a time, and beat each on after you add it.
Next, beat in 1 cup of the canned, unsweetened pumpkin. Put this mixture to the side.
Create mixture #2
Take out another mixing bowl.
Add 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (not the fresh ginger), 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (or all spice), 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
Mix with a spoon until combined. Put this mixture to the side.
Make mixture #3
Then peel and grate a 1″ piece of fresh ginger. You should have about two teaspoons of grated fresh ginger.
In another small mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and the grated ginger together with a spoon.
Now we’re going to put them all together by alternating between adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the bowl that has the butter and the sugar.
Start by adding about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until it’s combined. You don’t want to beat too much, just until the flour is mixed in. Otherwise the cake will turn out tough.
Then add about half of the buttermilk mixture into the bowl with the butter and sugar. Beat on low speed until it’s combined. Again, you don’t want to mix it too much.
Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk mixture.
Finally mix in the last third of the flour mixture.
If you’re using pecans or walnuts, stir 1 cup of them into the cake batter with a spoon. Don’t use an electric mixer for this part. The more you mix the flour, the tougher the cake gets.
Bake the cake
Bake at 350℉ for 28 to 30 minutes for 2 9-inch cake pans, or 40 to 45 minutes for a 9-inch x 13-inch cake pan. A toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean when the cake is done.
Put the pans on wire racks to cool for about 10 minutes.
Then cut around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan.
Turn the cake pans upside down to remove the cake and place them on the wire racks to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, make the cream cheese icing.
How to make ginger cream cheese icing
Grate another piece of fresh ginger, about 1 1/2 inches long. You’ll need about 1 Tablespoon of grated ginger.
Then in your electric mixer, beat 1 1/2 packages of softened cream cheese, 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter and the ginger together.
While you’ve got the electric mixer running, gradually add 4 cups powdered sugar into the cream cheese.
When it’s all mixed in and smooth, add in the vanilla.
Frost the cake
Before you start frosting the cake, make sure it is completely cool or the cream cheese icing will melt.
If you are icing a layer cake, cooling the cream cheese icing is also a good idea. It will stiffen a bit which makes it stick to the side of the cake better. To do this, cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 20 or 30 minutes.
Then spread the icing over the cake with a knife or spatula.
Finally, cover the cake and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Simply replace the all-purpose flour with measure-for-measure gluten-free flour, such as King Arthur’s.
Yes, the cream cheese will start to melt if it sits at room temperature for too long.
Other Fall Dessert Recipes You Might Like
- Easy Homemade Pumpkin Pie Recipe
- Pumpkin Mousse Parfait
- Apple Crisp (An Easy Alternative for Apple Pie)
Pumpkin Spice Cake With Cream Cheese Icing
- Electric mixer and large mixing bowl
- 2 additional mixing bowls
- large spoon
- 2 9-inch round cake pans or 1 9-inch x 13-inch sheet cake pan
- parchment paper (optional)
- wire racks
Pumpkin Spice Cake Ingredients:
- ½ cup (or 1 stick) butter softened
- 1 ½ cups light brown sugar firmly packed
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup canned, unsweetened pumpkin
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger about 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
- 1 cup chopped pecans optional
Ginger Frosting Ingredients
- 1 ½ 8-ounce packages cream cheese softened
- ½ cup (or 1 stick) butter softened
- 1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger approximately 1 Tablespoon of grated ginger
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To Make the Pumpkin Spice Cake
- Heat oven to 350°F.
- Mix the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until it is fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
- Add the pumpkin and beat again. Set aside.
- In another mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves (or allspice), nutmeg and baking soda. Set aside.
- Peel and grate the fresh ginger.
- In a third mixing bowl, mix the buttermilk, vanilla extract and grated ginger together.
- Add part of the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter and sugar. Beat on low speed until combined.
- Add part of the buttermilk mixture to the butter and sugar. Beat on low speed until combined.
- Continue to alternate adding parts of the flour and buttermilk mixture to the butter bowl, beating in between until everything is combined. The first and last addition to the mixture should both be the flour mixture (so there will be one more flour addition than you have buttermilk additions).
- Add the pecans and mix in with a spoon just until combined.
- Line the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper or grease with butter or shortening.
- Bake at 350°F in 2 9-inch cake pans for 28 to 30 minutes or 1 9-inch x 13-inch cake pan for 40 to 45 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.
- Cool on wire racks in the pans for about 10 minutes.
- Then cut around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan.
- Remove the cake from the pans and let it cool completely on wire racks.
- Spread the cream cheese icing (below) over the top. Make sure the cake is completely cool before doing this or the frosting will melt.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 days in advance.
How To Make Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
- Grate the ginger.
- Beat the cream cheese, butter and ginger with an electric mixer.
- Continue beating while you gradually add the powdered sugar.
- Then mix in the vanilla.
- Beat the mixture until it is smooth.
- Cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes to set before frosting the cake.
- The butter and sugar mixture should be a light yellow color and fluffy when it is finished mixing. If it has turned white, you have beat it too much.
- Once you add the flour to the cake batter, don’t mix too much. The more you mix it, the tougher and denser the cake will be.
- The baking time for the cake can depend on the temperature of your oven and environmental conditions in your area. So use the toothpick test to make sure it’s done. A wooden toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake should come out clean.
- In the cake:
- substitute 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger or 2 teaspoons of pre-minced ginger for the grated fresh ginger
- substitute 2 teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie spice for the cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves (or allspice) and nutmeg
- to make the cake gluten free, substitute measure-for-measure gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour.
- in the icing, substitute 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger or 1 Tablespoon of pre-minced ginger for the grated fresh ginger
Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.
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This post was originally published on August 17, 2019 but was updated with new content on February 20, 2023.