Chai Pumpkin Cake With Maple Browned Butter Frosting

Mary Beth Johnson is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is currently writing her first book in between school drop off and laundry piles.

She can be found every day on Instagram and at the local coffee shop. Post by Sweet MaryBeth:

Chai Pumpkin Cake With Maple Browned Butter Frosting

The Thanksgiving table is many things, but nothing spells grateful like a dessert table abundantly overflowing with sugar and spice. This Chai Pumpkin Cake with Maple Browned Butter Frosting will upstage the traditional pies, crumbles, and fudge with light and fluffy textures and all the flavorful spices. Besides, no one can argue that cake is the perfect nightcap to a menu of roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes.

cake on round plate and linen tablecloth with herbs

Plan the Thanksgiving menu ahead of time

If you’re in charge of hosting Thanksgiving this year, plan ahead. There are great resources out there (like THIS) that offer Thanksgiving Day prep timelines. As a chronic procrastinator, I love the idea of ironing your linens several days in advance, planning out which dishes will hold what, and prepping food as early as possible. Most of your desserts should be made before Thanksgiving day. Cakes and pies can hold their own (and often taste even better) on day two. This Chai Pumpkin Spice Cake with Browned Butter Frosting is no exception. If storage is an issue, you can bake the cake, let cool, and then wrap the cake up snugly with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator till you’re ready to frost.

chai pumpkin cake on round plate and linen tablecloth

Use a box cake mix to shorten your prep time

I’m going to let you in on a secret life hack: when baking a cake, use a cake mix as the base and then “dress” it up with additional flavors. This baking method will shorten prep time and also give you as little or as much creative control as you desire. In this particular recipe, I started with a vanilla cake mix. I added pumpkin puree, which increases the moistness of the cake. Then, I added tons of spices for the chai flavor, per Half Baked Harvest’s suggestion. Having baked for years, I can promise you that cake mixes are no downgrade. They are reliably moist and light in texture, details I find uncompromisable in cake baking.

maple browned butter frosting slathered on chai pumpkin cake

Build a dessert table around the Thanksgiving menu

Thanksgiving day is a gathering. There will most likely be a guest list with a variety of taste preferences and dietary stipulations. I think it’s important to be accommodating, while also remembering the table represents bounty and blessing. I, personally, like to have a mix of textures on the table so there’s a little something for everyone. There are plenty of diary-free, gluten-free dessert options, like these decadent baked pears with walnuts and honey or this flourless crumble. This Chai Pumpkin Cake with Maple Browned Butter Frosting doesn’t solve any dietary restrictions, but it is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser.

browned butter frosting slathered on chai pumpkin cake

Create a spin on classic recipes from the past

This chai cake was inspired by a favorite pumpkin cake my grandmother would bring to Thanksgiving every year. I like threading old and new traditions together in a recipe. I find bakers from the past kept things uncompromisingly simple, while modern cooks are more free with their expression of flavors. For example, my grandmother made a killer pumpkin loaf cake with a simple cream cheese spread. But with this recipe, I amped up the flavor with the spices and borrowed Half Baked Harvest’s amazing cream cheese maple browned butter frosting. 

slice of pumpkin cake with browned butter frosting on linen tablecloth

Chai Pumpkin Cake With Maple Browned Butter Frosting

If you take a quick glance through old newspaper recipe clippings you won’t find our grandmothers using browned butter. Yet, browned butter this and browned butter that are all the rage on baking blogs. I swear it is one of the things millennials have really gotten right. If you’ve never tried it before, here’s how you do it:

  1. Brown butter on low heat on stovetop
  2. Heat butter till it’s completely melted and the bubbles evaporate
  3. Let butter cool before mixing in with other ingredients
  4. Enjoy the distinctly nutty aroma and flavor browned butter adds to your recipe

slice of pumpkin cake with browned butter frosting on linen tablecloth

This frosting with browned butter makes the recipe. Drizzle the cake with some leftover maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon for extra pizzazz.

slice of pumpkin cake with browned butter frosting on linen tableclothWhether you make this cake for Thanksgiving day, or use the autumn inspired spices for an afternoon treat with a homemade cup of coffee, enjoy! 

slice of chai pumpkin cake with maple browned butter frosting 

Chai Pumpkin Cake With Maple Browned Butter Frosting

Holidays, Recipes

Chai Pumpkin Cake With Maple Browned Butter Frosting


  • 1 box vanilla cake mix (including ingredients listed on back of box)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
  • 3 sticks (1.5 cups) salted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Butter 2, 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour.
  3. Mix vanilla cake mix according to package directions. These instructions and ingredients will vary slightly depending on the brand you buy. My favorite is the Betty Crocker super moist vanilla.
  4. After mixing the cake mix with the wet ingredients on the back of the box, add spices and can of pureed pumpkin.
  5. Mix thoroughly till well combined.
  6. Pour the batter among the cake pans and bake according to the instructions on back of box, until the tops are just set. Remove and let cool five minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Cover and let the cakes cool completely before assembling.
  7. To make the frosting. Add 2 sticks butter to a skillet, set over medium heat. Allow the butter to brown lightly until it smells toasted, about 2-3 minutes. Stir often. Remove from the heat and transfer the butter to the mixing bowl, let cool until it's room temp.
  8. Add the remaining stick of room temperature butter and the cream cheese to the bowl. Then add the powdered sugar and maple syrup. Beat together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. If the frosting feels too loose, add powdered sugar to thicken.
  9. To assemble. Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread 1/2 of the frosting over the cake. Repeat with the remaining cake layer. Be careful not to overfill your layers or the cake will be hard to slice. Frost the outside of the cake, or leave undone for a rustic look. Chill 30 minutes. Serve, or store in the fridge for up to 1 day.


October 7, 2019


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