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Last Updated on September 21, 2020 by Chenée Lewis
This brown butter pecan cake was inspired by my brother Tony’s birthday today! A few of us are having a small, low-key outdoor celebration, but I still wanted him to have a birthday cake! And since his favorite ice cream is butter pecan, I thought he’d enjoy a butter pecan cake! And of course I love baking with brown butter, so there’s brown butter in both the cake AND the icing, adding so much amazing flavor!
Brown butter and toasted pecans go so well together. Add in the rich vanilla flavor in the cake layers and the cream cheese frosting and you’ve got a truly mouthwatering butter pecan cake! Plus, this is a small-batch cake made with 6-inch cake layers, so you won’t have too many leftovers! It’s ideal for a small autumn celebration.
This cake was also an opportunity for me to try out a semi-naked cake! It was pretty easy to do — I followed some tips from this youtube tutorial and I’d say it’s pretty good for my first time!
This cake is a scaled-down version of my strawberry and whipped cream layer cake, which also features brown butter cake layers! I wanted a smaller profile so I cut back on the batter ingredients:
- cake flour – you can purchase cake flour, or in a pinch, make your own cake flour substitute. I explain how to do make it down below!
- baking powder and baking soda – to give a little lift to this cake – the baking soda interacts with the sour cream and brown sugar to offset the weight of the butter and sugar in this cake.
- pecans – it’s important that they’re roasted or toasted to bring out flavor! You can buy roasted pecans and chop them, or toast them yourself, as I explain in the tips section down below!
- salted butter – this is the butter you’re going to brown and divide for both the cake layers and the frosting.
- white sugar and brown sugar – normally a vanilla cake like this would use white sugar, but the brown sugar adds a bit of moisture and a deeper sweetness. And it works so well with brown butter and pecans!
- eggs – they should be room temperature, so take them out about an hour before you’ll need them. Or you can place them in a bowl of slightly warm water for about 15 minutes!
- vanilla – adds yummy flavor to both the cake layers and the brown butter frosting!
- sour cream – In this recipe I’m going for a richer flavor and a moist texture, so I’m using sour cream instead of milk or buttermilk. It helps keep the cake moist while staying light and fluffy.
- powdered sugar – we’ll use this for the frosting! It’s important that it’s sifted before measuring, or if you’re like me you measure by weight using a food scale! It’s so much easier and more accurate!
- cream cheese – you’ll use one block of full-fat cream cheese, which should also be at room temperature.
For this recipe, you’ll need two or three 6-inch cake pans (or it could fit into one 8-inch cake pan). You’ll also need a light-colored sauté pan to brown your butter, an electric mixer to whip up your frosting, and an offset spatula to frost your cake. Here are a few of my favorite options:
Tips for the best butter pecan cake
6-inch pan: I love the look of a 6-inch layer cake! It’s a small batch cake, but still has that elegant layered look! But if you prefer, you can make this cake in one 8-inch cake pan as well! It should take a bit longer to cook — closer to 30-35 minutes — just begin to check it after 25 minutes.
Measure by weight: for the dry ingredients in this recipe, I highly recommend using a food scale to measure them by weight to ensure accurate measurements. Many bakers use the spoon-and-level method, the scoop-and-level, or the sift-scoop-and-level methods, but to me they’re all confusing, messy, and ultimately less accurate than measuring by weight. AND measuring with a food scale is easier and uses fewer measuring cups and spoons!
Toast your pecans: you MUST toast the pecans in this cake before you add them to the batter! You can do this step in advance, but I like to toast my pecans in the pan where I just browned my butter. That way my pecans can soak up some of that remaining buttery goodness! Simply toss your pecan halves in a pan (buttered or dry) and heat them over medium head for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often. They should begin to smell amazing and get nicely browned. Just be careful to watch them so that they don’t burn!
Once they’re toasted, let them cool and then chop them for your batter!
Equipment you may need
- baking spray
- 1 cup cake flour – 125g
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- 1 cup pecan halves – toasted and chopped (plus more for topping, if desired)
- 6 tbsp salted butter – see note
- ⅓ cup brown sugar – packed
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs – room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream – room temperature
- Heat both portions of butter (14 tbsp) in a large light-colored sauté pan over medium high heat, stirring often.
- Watch carefully as it begins to foam and the milk solids separate, and once the milk solids begin to turn a deep golden brown and the butter has a nutty aroma, remove from heat to a heat-safe container, scraping all the brown bits with it.
- Stir brown butter well and remove ½ cup of it for frosting. You should have one container with 6 tablespoons and one with ½ cup.
- Place both containers in the refrigerator to chill for one hour, then allow to come to room temperature.
Brown Butter Pecan Cake Layers
- Preheat oven to 350°F and position oven rack in middle of oven. Spray 6-inch cake pans with baking spray and line with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and baking soda until well combined.
- Fold in toasted chopped pecans and mix well. Set aside.
- Cream 6-tbsp. portion of brown butter with brown sugar and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Beat in eggs and vanilla and continue to mix for 2-3 minutes. Mix in sour cream.
- Fold in flour/pecan mixture gradually until just combined.
- Divide cake batter evenly into prepared cake pans (I use a food scale for this step) and bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick entered into the center of each layer comes out clean.
- Let layers cool in pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- Whip remaining ½ cup of brown butter with an electric mixer until lightened in color. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Mix in vanilla.
- Gradually sift in powdered sugar, mixing well.
- Beat another 2 minutes until frosting is light and fluffy. Spread onto cooled cake layers.
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