Spicy Chocolate Pumpkin Cake Recipe

While my circle is generally up for anything culinarily speaking, as a group they have limited tolerance for messing around with the classics at Thanksgiving. Can I serve vegan kielbasa and sauerkraut, sweet potato maki or coconut curry laksa for Christmas? Sure, no fuss. But just see the dangerous flash in their eyes if I start messing around with Thanksgiving fare. I am too attached to life and limb to even suggest alternative proposals to mashed potatoes and copious piles of stuffing. When it comes to pumpkin pie though, my feet invariably drag.

I’ve put chai in pumpkin pie, layered it with praline pecans, swirled cocoa nib cream through it, used different kinds of pumpkin, various forms of crust, but one thing I’ve never done is love pumpkin pie. It’s not that I don’t appreciate pumpkin, I do. We harvested five beautiful little sugar pumpkins last week and have been enjoying them ever since in a variety of dishes and desserts. But the way I like it best will never be in pie. My preference lies with cake–really truly pumpkiny, densely fudgey, full of bitter fruit chocolate flavor and piled with perfectly seasonal spices. It’s so good, it’s worth enduring the wrath of my friends missing their traditional pumpkin pie. Besides, after one bite, I find the anger fades from a roar to a purr of chocolately pumpkin contentment.

I first made this cake last year for Thanksgiving and it already feels like a classic for our Thanksgiving table. If you can’t give up the pie, well, I’m sure it would go well alongside some straight-up pumpkin too. Anyway, Thanksgiving is nothing if not an opportunity to legitimize the serving and consumption of multiple desserts.

Spiced Chocolate Pumpkin Fudge Cake with Whipped Ganache

Makes one 8” cake.


3 oz chopped dark chocolate
¾ cup pumpkin purée, fresh or canned
½ cup water
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon toasted green anise, ground
⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Fresh ground spices yield the best, freshest , most potent flavor.


Preheat oven to 350. Prepare an 8” cake pan with parchment in the bottom and oiled sides. Over a saucepan of boiling water in a bowl or in a microwave, working in 30 second increments, melt chocolate.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, water, vinegar, sugar, vanilla, oil and sea salt.

In a large bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add in spices and whisk to combine.

Pour liquid into dry mixture while whisking until combined in a smooth batter. Pour in melted chocolate and whisk well to combine. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and continue cooling. Frost with whipped ganache.

Whipped Ganache

Feel free to leave out the margarine if you prefer. It will be a firmer and dryer ganache and will want a pinch of salt if omitted. If needed, soften with a little additional non-dairy milk and give gloss with agave.


8 oz. chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
½ cup non-hydrogenated Earth Balance buttery stick, room temperature
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla


Place chocolate in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

In a small saucepan or in the microwave, heat non-dairy milk until just boiling. Pour over the chocolate and let stand 1 minute, then begin to whisk slowly. Increase speed to medium, adding Earth Balance, agave and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes or until smooth and thick, but still glossy and light.

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