“Autumn Daydream Layer Cake”: graham cracker cake + pumpkin cheesecake + maple cream-cheese frosting & maple-coated pecans

“Would you like a sensible grown-up cake, a fancy cookbook cake,
or the outrageously extravagant best-of-everything cake I dreamed up just now?”*
“Dream cake! I want dream cake.”

This cake is layer upon layer of Fall — a bit of pumpkin pie, a bit of pecan pie,
two cakefuls of graham cracker, a hint of cinnabon about the frosting…
It’s the kind of cake you bake for a very special occasion,
for someone who really deserves a really splendid cake.
Pumpkin cheesecake graham cracker cake
Warning: All the components need to be at room temperature or cooler before
you can assemble this monster, so you may need to set aside a few nights
(or a whole day) for prior preparation.

Graham cracker: based on Kitchen Nostalgia.
Graham cracker cake: based on Cookie Monster Cooking.
Pumpkin cheesecake: based on Vintage Kitchen Notes.
Maple cream-cheese frosting: based on A Spicy Perspective.
Maple-coated pecans: from Joanne Eats Well With Others.

Gather:
For the graham crackers
2.5 cups + 2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
100g butter (room temp., cubed)
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

For the graham cracker cake (makes two thick, 9-inch cakes)
4.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs (^^)
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 eggs, separated
2 cups white sugar
220 g butter (room temp., cubed)
1 tsp vanilla
1 + 1/4 cups whole milk

For the pumpkin cheesecake
400 g cream cheese (light is fine) (room temp.)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin purée**
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup thickened cream

For the maple cream-cheese frosting
300 g cream cheese (room temp.)
220 g butter (room temp.)
2 tbsp maple syrup
3.5–4.5 cups icing mixture

For the maple-coated pecans
1/2 cup whole pecan halves**
1/4 cup maple syrup

Then:

  1. For the graham crackers
    Preheat the oven to 176° C.
  2. Into the bowl of a stand mixer, sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add the brown sugar and butter, and mix on low speed for a minute or two until it’s kind of streusely in texture.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and golden syrup until the syrup has fully dissolved, then add this to the flour/butter mixture and mix again until it forms a rough dough.
    Graham cracker dough
  5. Since you’re just going to smash the crackers up to make the cake later, there’s no need to cut them into any particular shape or even roll out the dough. Just use your hands to press out the dough onto a lined baking tray, so it’s about 0.75 cm thick. Try not to let it be too thin at the edges — crispy edges are almost impossible to crumble up later.
  6. Stab the pressed-out dough a couple of times with a fork (so steam can escape from under the solid blanket of biscuit) and bake until the surface is dry and lightly golden — only about 10 minutes.
  7. Let the giant cookie cool until it’s no longer steaming and is okay to touch — but not completely cooled or it will turn to something resembling a slab of solid sandstone.
  8. Then break it up into large pieces and whiz it in a food processor — or if you’re a luddite like me, crumble it with your now-calloused fingertips — until you have quite fine crumbs (some slightly bigger granules are okay).
  9. Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container or zippy bag until you’re ready to bake the cakes…
  10. For the graham cracker cakes
    Preheat the oven to 176° C. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch springform tins, and line the bottoms with paper.
  11. Important step: Set aside about 1/2 a cup of the graham cracker crumbs and store them in an airtight container — for decorating the frosted cake.
  12. In a large bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt, and set aside.
  13. Separate the eggs, keeping all the whites and yolks.
  14. In a medium bowl, roughly whisk the yolks (just with a fork is fine). Set aside.
  15. Using your stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or another large bowl, with hand beaters) beat the egg whites on a high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside (carefully transferring to a separate large bowl if necessary, if you need to immediately reuse the stand-mixer bowl).
  16. Again using the stand mixer (but with the paddle attachment), cream the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, then gradually add in the yolks, then the vanilla, and continue mixing until fully combined.
  17. Turn down the mixer to a slow speed, and add about 1/3 cup of the graham crumb mixture, followed by a glug of the milk. Continue alternating until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  18. Switch to a rubber spatula, and gradually — ever so carefully — fold the egg whites into the wet cake batter. (It will look a bit ‘split’ to start with, but just keep folding gently and it will all come together.)
  19. Divide the batter between the two prepared tins and bake for 40+ minutes, or until a bamboo skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Important note: You may find the top of the cakes brown well before the batter is set (I did). If this happens, just cover the tins with aluminium foil and continue to bake until the middle is set. You may also want to turn down the temperature by about 5–10° C to slow down the baking process. The middle might seem very wet right up until the end of the baking phase.
  20. When they’re ready, remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool in the tin for about 10–15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling.
    Graham cracker cake
    (The texture is really something. Sticky but springy. Airy but moist. Sturdy but light.)
  21. Store both cakes — separated with baking paper or cling wrap — in an airtight container at room temperature until you’re ready to assemble the whole cake.
  22. For the pumpkin cheesecake
    Preheat the oven to 150° C. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform tin (make sure it matches – or is – what you used for the graham cracker cakes) and line the bottom with paper.
  23. Mix the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl + beaters).
  24. Add the pumpkin, eggs, yolk and vanilla, and mix until just combined.
  25. Add the spices and cream, and again — mix until combined.
  26. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin, and pop it in the oven.
  27. Important step: Place a baking dish half full of water on the bottom shelf of the oven — this creates steam in the oven, which keeps the cheesecake moist and minimises cracks on the top.
  28. Bake for 1 hour, or until the top is just golden and appears to be dry and set (it might still wobble a bit when you move it). You can cover the tin with aluminium foil part of the way through baking if you think it’s browning too quickly.
    Pumpkin cheesecake
  29. Cool to room temperature before transferring to a plate, then wrap it in cling wrap and store it in the fridge (preferably overnight) until you’re ready to assemble the entire cake.
  30. For the frosting
    Place all the ingredients except the icing mixture in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with hand beaters) and mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
  31. On the lowest speed, gradually start adding the icing mixture until it’s fully incorporated. If necessary, add more icing mixture (or maple syrup) until you get the right consistency — a very thick, sticky paste — remembering that you’ll be chilling this before you use it, and it thickens a bit more when cooled.
  32. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until about 45 minutes before you’re ready to assemble the cake.
  33. For the maple-coated pecans
    Put the pecans and maple syrup in a small saucepan, and stir constantly over a low flame/heat until the syrup has reduced by about half.
  34. Transfer the pecans to a baking sheet lined with baking paper, making sure they’re spread out and not touching each other. The maple syrup will dry and crystallise almost immediately.
    Maple-coated pecans
  35. Store in an airtight container once they’ve cooled completely.
  36. To assemble — FINALLY
    Take everything out of the fridge about 45 minutes before *cake time*.
  37. 20 minutes later, layer the cakes: graham cracker cake + pumpkin cheesecake + graham cracker cake.
  38. Create the crumb layer — a thin-ish layer of frosting over the whole cake, but thick enough to completely hide the cake within. Put the cake back in the fridge for about 10 minutes, but leave the remaining frosting at room temperature.
  39. Once the crumb layer has set, add the main layer of frosting.
  40. Arrange the pecans around the edge (start with the 12/3/6/9 o’clock positions, then fill in the quarters to make sure they fit nicely).
  41. Sprinkle the leftover graham cracker crumbs in the middle of the pecan ring.
    Assembled graham cracker pumpkin cheesecake
  42. Serve at room temperature. Slice. Savour. Celebrate.
    Sliced cake

Notes:
*The recipe began life as:
IMG_1916

**If you’re like me, this means grabbing a good-sized chunk of pumpkin, then peeling, steaming, stick-blending and draining it.
***I am aware that doesn’t make sense, but it’s important that they look pretty, since they’ll be the crowning glory (literally) of the finished cake.

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