A pumpkin pie alternative for your Thanksgiving spread – this soft, moist, spiced, Bourbon Butter Pecan Cake with Brown Butter Maple Frosting is made with ground pecan in the cake batter, plus chopped pecans sprinkled throughout for a rich, buttery pecan flavor THROUGHOUT the cake.
The delicious brown butter maple frosting perfectly complements the butter pecan cake.
The one thing that excites me most about our usually minimal Thanksgiving spread is that one big dessert that I make each year, which is NOT pumpkin pie or pecan pie. 🙂 So if you’re also on the look out for a pumpkin/pecan pie alternative for your Thanksgiving, then you’ve come to the right place. This Spiced Bourbon Butter Pecan Cake with Brown Butter Maple Frosting is a stunningly Thanksgiving- and autumn-worthy, delicious centerpiece on your table, next to that big fat turkey!
This is a soft, tender, moist, cinnamon-spiced pecan cake that’s loaded with pecans and molassy cinnamon flavor, and soaked with a delicious bourbon syrup and sandwiched between an addictive brown butter maple frosting. If you want a dessert to steal the show at your Thanksgiving dinner, then this is it.
This cake is also quite simple to make. I had all the ingredients measured out and prepared, and then all I had to do was add them in – one at a time, while mixing them in. Easy peasy.
I wanted a cake that had great pecan flavor THROUGHOUT the cake. First I made the cake with just the addition of chopped pecans, and while it was nice, I wanted the pecan flavor to be more pronounced. So I decided to add not just chopped pecans for texture and flavor, but also ground pecans to really enhance that flavor in this pecan cake.
The pecans are toasted in the oven and then a portion of it is ground to make pecan “flour”. Then ground pecan is folded through the batter along with the flour so that you end up with delicious buttery pecan flavor throughout the cake layer, with additional pecan bits in there too. You can tell how much this cake is going to taste of pecans just by the number of times I’ve used the word pecan in this paragraph! 🙂
You can make the cake with pecan pieces, as they are cheaper, but also get some pecan halves to decorate the cake as well.
And if pecans are not feasible, you can use walnuts instead too. The brown sugar not only adds flavor, but keeps the cake moist too.
Can I make this butter pecan cake ahead of time?
Yes, you can make the spiced bourbon butter pecan cake layers ahead of time. Keep the parchment paper on the bottom and let the cake cool down completely. Then wrap each layer with plastic wrap (I like to double wrap), and then loosely again with foil, and freeze the cake layers for up to 2 months. Just make sure to let the cake layers de-frost in the fridge overnight, before you use them again.
The bourbon syrup is very simple to make as well, although you CAN leave it out if you like. The cake is still deliciously moist without the syrup, but the addition of the bourbon makes this butter pecan cake even more moist. The syrup isn’t overwhelming at all in terms of flavor, and it provides a lovely balance of bourbon and pecan flavors to make this cake even more spectacular.
The brown butter maple frosting comes together really quickly too. You can make the frosting with plain unsalted butter if you like something quick and easy. BUT to really kick it up a notch, I would highly recommend caramelizing the butter to make brown butter the day before, and then let the brown butter solidify to make the frosting.
You guys know how much I love brown butter and how that simple change really transforms the flavor profile with its nutty, toasty flavors. Most importantly, the brown butter maple frosting perfectly complements the flavors of this spiced butter pecan cake. For more brown butter inspired desserts, check out this easy brown butter baked bananas foster, or these brown butter madeleines, or this super versatile and delicious brown butter butterscotch chocolate fudge sauce!
This butter pecan cake is going to be a show stopper at your Thanksgiving! It’s all the flavors of a pecan pie in a cake, and it tastes just as heavenly as it looks. The cake is full of pecan, brown butter and cinnamon flavor, with a hint of bourbon. The brown butter maple frosting is perfectly nutty and creamy.
Bourbon Butter Pecan Cake with Brown Butter Maple Frosting
Butter Pecan Cake
- 226 g chopped pecans about 2 cups, divided
- 340 g unsalted butter 1½ cups / 3 sticks, melted
- 226 g brown sugar 1 cup, tightly packed
- 170 g white sugar ¾ + 2 tbsp
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 120 mL milk ½ cup
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla
- 283 g AP flour 10 oz / 2 ¼ cups, measured by spoon and level method
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 120 mL water ½ cup
- 100 g sugar ½ cup
- 60 mL bourbon ¼ cup
Brown Butter Maple Frosting
- 340 g unsalted butter 1½ cups / 3 sticks. This is to make brown butter
- 226 g unsalted butter 1 cup / 2 sticks
- 455 g confectioner’s sugar 1 lb / 4 cups, spooned and leveled
- 120 mL maple syrup ½ cup
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
Butter Pecan Cake
- Day one - preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
- Spread the chopped pecans in a sheet pan. Roast the nuts for 10 - 15 minutes, until the pecans are lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and let it cool down.226 g chopped pecans
- Divide the nuts into 3 oz (85 g) and 5 oz (141 g) portions. Place the 3 oz of the pecans in a food processor and process until they are finely ground. Set aside. (see the post for the consistency of the pecans)
- Butter and line two 8 inch round pans with parchment paper.
- Place the butter, both types of sugar and salt in a bowl. Whisk well to combine.340 g unsalted butter, 226 g brown sugar, 170 g white sugar, ¼ tsp sea salt
- Add the eggs, milk, vanilla and the ground pecans. Whisk together until you have a smooth mix.226 g chopped pecans, 120 mL milk, 1 ½ tsp vanilla, 4 large eggs
- In a separate bowl, sieve the AP flour, cinnamon and baking powder together. Add the flour mix, and the chopped pecans into the wet ingredients and fold in the flour gently until well combined. Make sure not to over-mix to prevent a rubbery cake.1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 283 g AP flour, 3 tsp baking powder, 226 g chopped pecans
- Divide the batter between the two pans. You can either do this by weight, OR you can use an ice cream or cookie scoop to evenly divide the batter.
- Bake the cakes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake surface is springy to the touch - about 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool down slightly. Turn the cakes out onto a cake rack to cool down completely. Once cooled, wrap each cake layer with plastic wrap. Chill the cake in the fridge overnight. Chilling the cake will make it easier to slice it as well.
- Day one or two - place the sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir frequently. Bring the sugar syrup to a boil.120 mL water, 100 g sugar
- Remove from the heat and add the bourbon. Let the syrup cool down completely. You can pour the syrup into a squeeze bottle if you have one, or you can just use a spoon to spread the syrup on the cake.60 mL bourbon
Brown Butter Maple Frosting
- Day one - Make the brown butter. Place the 340 g of butter in a saucepan. Heat the butter until it’s melted. Keep cooking the butter while stirring frequently until the butter stops foaming, and the milk solids turn dark golden brown in color. See my how to make brown butter post for more details.340 g unsalted butter
- Remove from the heat immediately and pour the butter and milk solids into a bowl. Let the butter cool down completely to room temperature (you can leave this at room temp. overnight, or chill it in the fridge).
- Day two - if you chilled the brown butter in the fridge, keep it outside to soften to room temperature.
- Place the brown butter, unsalted butter and the salt in the mixing bowl of your mixer and whisk until creamy and fluffy.340 g unsalted butter, 226 g unsalted butter, 1 tsp sea salt
- Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar in 3 additions, alternating with the maple syrup. Add the vanilla. Whisk until you have a light, soft and fluffy frosting. Do not overbeat. Make sure to scrape down the bowl to ensure the butter is incorporating properly.455 g confectioner’s sugar, 120 mL maple syrup, 2 tsp vanilla
- Slice each chilled cake layer in half, carefully, to create two layers (total 4 layers).
- Coat each layer generously with the bourbon syrup.
- Place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting (a generous ½ cup), and top with another cake layer. Repeat with the frosting and the cake, until you place the final cake layer on top (place the final layer on top so that the flat, bottom side is facing up).
- Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of crumb coating. Chill the cake for about an hour (until the crumb coating is set).
- Spread frosting over the whole cake, and use a cake scraper to smoothen the surface. Place the rest of the frosting in a pastry bag with an open star tip. Pipe swirls on the top of the cake and top each swirl with pecan halves (see pictures in the post). Chill the cake in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
Tips & Tricks
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