In case you're wondering, the cake was a big hit. As I thought, the cake proper was awesome. Light, moist, fluffy, everything you want. But even the whipped topping went over well. The secret? I added a bit of almond extract. Just a hint of nutty aftertaste to go along with the pumpkin spices I'd already added so it wasn't just a pale shadow of the cake's flavor – since it's, basically, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices mixed into your average birthday cake mix. I'm still convinced there's something better out there but it worked as that counterpoint, that harmonic note of taste to work in harmony with the other ingredients.
Anyway, here's the recipe:
- 1 box (18.25 ounces) yellow cake mix
- 1 box (4 servings) vanilla cook and serve pudding (Not the instant kind)
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
- 1 cup (8 ounces) lemon-lime pop (Such as 7-Up)
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 3 ounces creamcheese, softened
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whipping cream, whipped
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 2 8-inch cake pans
- 2 large bowls
- Cake: 30 minutes, plus time to cool
- Topping: 15 minutes
- Frosting: 5 minutes
Turn the oven to 350°F. Pre-heat.
Grease two 8-inch cake pans.
Set the creamcheese out to soften, if you haven't already.
While the oven is warming up, get a large bowl and combine the cake mix, half the pudding (About 1/4 of a cup, put the rest aside for the topping.), a cup of pumpkin (This should leave you with just under a cup, about 7/8ths of one, left over. Put the rest with the pudding for later.), the soda pop, egg whites, and roughly half the spices (I don't really measure these things so it's more of a “taste and feel” kind of amount), and all the salt and pepper. Yes, salt and pepper. Just because you're making something sweet doesn't mean it doesn't need to taste good. You be adding some salt to any cake while, here, the pepper works to round out the spicy taste of the pumpkin enhancing spices. Add the dry ingredients first, followed by the wet, and stir well. You can pretty much follow the instructions on the back of your cake mix but the mixture should be well-beaten without any large clumps of materials floating around but not over blended – typically should take about 30~60 passes with the whisk.
Pour the mixture evenly into the two cake pans. Put them in the oven to bake for 20~25 minutes. They'll be done when the centers don't shake like jello when you move them and a toothpick inserted into them pulls out cleanly – if there's some liquid sticking to it, you need to cook for another 3~5 minutes and try again.
Set the cake pans out to cool. This should take a few hours. Don't put them in the freezer or anything to hurry the process, they need the time to settle.
You can make the topping while the cakes are cooking or while they're cooling or even the day before if you want. Doesn't really matter as long as you can stick it in the fridge so it doesn't spoil.
To make the topping get a large bowl and put the softened creamcheese in it. If you have an electric blender, this is the time to use it, because you want to cream the creamcheese. Which sounds weird but means you want to beat it until it starts to get lighter and fluffier because of all the air you've mixed in. You can do this by hand but it's much, much easier with motorized help because of how sticky the cheese is.
When that's done put it aside and whip the cream. You can use your electric mixer here as well but I like to do it by hand. It takes a little elbow grease but I think you can control the consistency much better that way. There's a wide degree of just how far you can whip cream, after all, from when it first starts forming soft peaks to when it becomes butter. Here, you want to shoot for the butter side of the spectrum and whip until the cream is nice and thick. Add the sugar about halfway through (Don't dump the whole thing in, add a bit and taste until you're satisfied with the sweetness.).
Next, combine the creamed cheese and the whipped cream in the same bowl and blend them together. Then, add the rest of the pudding mix (about 1/4 of a cup) – this will help your topping to set up which is a good thing unless you want it running down the side of your cake. Then, add the rest of the pudding (About 7/8th of a cup), and spice to taste. Note that you don't want to add pepper here although you can add some salt if you want to see the difference – I generally find there's enough in the cream cheese already, though. Next, add the almond extract. Again to taste (Which means “don't add it all right away because it's strong stuff, add a little bit and make sure you like how it's tasting.).
Set the topping in the fridge to cool, if you're not ready for the next step.
When the cakes are cool to the touch, remove them from the pans. They are going to be moist and sticky so put them on something flat, preferably a piece of wax paper or similar instead of just thumping them out on a cake rack. Not that I've made that mistake myself and had to spend the better part of an hour scrubbing congealed bits of cake out of my cake rack's grill or anything.
Take a serrated knife and cut each cake into two, horizontally so you wind up with four evenly sized cake layers.
Put one of your layers on your serving dish. Take one quarter of the topping and spread it on top. Then cover it with another layer and repeat, alternating cake and topping until you run out. Note that you shouldn't frost the sides of the cake because you're not actually using frosting, the whipped topping you've made just won't be thick enough and will fall off the sides, eventually – besides, you want the topping to seep into the cake and that won't happen as much with the crusty sides. But, once you're done covering the top layer you can use any leftovers to fill in any gaps or blemishes on the sides.
Cover it up and put it in the fridge. It's much better once it's cooled and the flavors have set up.