For afternoon tea (one of my favorite forms of comfort food), the only cake that will do is one that can be served neatly in bite-size pieces and eaten without any utensils. That means a thin cake, sturdy enough to be picked up with one's fingers and moist enough to not require any gooey frosting. Petits fours might meet the requirements, but they are more icing than cake and so toothachingly sweet that I really don't like them. I want to like them because they're so pretty, but I just don't!
Instead, I prefer a plain-jane little square of cake not more than an inch thick with perhaps a dusting of powdered sugar or a tiny piped flower (but not both). To achieve the proper thickness, pan size is crucial; this recipe requires a 13x9x2-inch pan. If you just want a regular cake, you could use an 8x8x2-inch square pan and increase the baking time a bit.
The recipe calls for 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, so I simply had to make it in order to use up that precise amount of canned pumpkin left after making my pumpkin pie ice cream, which calls for 1 cup. I hate waste! Actually, I developed the recipe just so the leftover pumpkin wouldn't go to waste. What do you like to make with pumpkin?
It's at this time of year that we find articles about the autumn harvest feast shared by the Plymouth colonists (Pilgrims) and the Wampanoags in 1621. And I am reminded of my dear cousin Charlotte, an avid genealogist and member of the Mayflower Society, who learned a few years before she died that we had not one but several ancestors aboard the Mayflower!
Pumpkin Tea Cakes
(Makes 60 1.25-inch squares)
1 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (7.5 ounces/213 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces/198 grams) sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish or pan with vegetable cooking spray. In small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In cup, combine milk and vanilla. This will make a thin cake, perfect for cutting into tiny squares or diamonds for the tea table. (For a cake of the usual thickness, use an 8-inch square.)
2 In bowl of standing mixer, beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and beat on high speed until light, about 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in egg. Then add pumpkin puree and beat on low speed just until blended.
3 Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the liquid in 2 parts, beating on low speed or stirring until smooth.
4 Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes (a bit longer for the thicker cake).
5 Cool in pan on wire rack. When completely cool, cover until ready to serve. Just before serving, trim away edges and cut into squares or diamonds, or use a cookie cutter to cut out other shapes. Dust with powdered sugar.
Note: The pedestal in the photo is super tiny. If you don't have a collection of various sizes as I do, I would suggest you start with a more versatile 8- or 9-inch one, such as this 9-Inch White Pedestal.