Ok, so. I realize the recipes on this blog aren’t always the healthiest (although I do try to keep it balanced!), or the most gourmet (I only try sometimes), but they aren’t usually embarrassing. I try to cook using “real,” unprocessed foods, buy higher quality and/or organic ingredients, etc. This recipe is a glaring exception to all of that, though, but it’s so good – and so easy – that I’m not even going to apologize for it. As evidenced from the photo montage above, there’s nothing “real” or healthy about this cake (even my vanilla is the super cheap, store-brand version – please don’t judge). However, it turns out boxed yellow cake mix and cool whip, while chemical-laden, are secretly delicious. So if you’re looking for a simple, crowd-pleasing dessert to bring to Thanksgiving this year, you should definitely try this recipe – just be prepared to cringe a little inside when you tell people how you made it (because trust me, they will ask).
This cake came into my family many Thanksgivings ago by way of a now-ex-but-at-the-time-future-in-law (the details of which I won’t go into), but although these days the ex herself is persona non grata at family holidays, people still whisper about her cake. My aunt Laurie is hosting Thanksgiving for our large-and-ever-growing family this year, and a few weeks ago she sent out a sign-up sheet asking people to volunteer to bring certain items. Under the standard “Pumpkin Pie,” “Apple Pie,” and “Berry Pie” categories she included “Other Dessert” – and then confessed to me “I’m secretly hoping that whoever signs up for ‘other’ makes – you know – the cake.” So you see, it’s our guilty secret for more than one reason. Should you bring it to your family’s Thanksgiving this year, though, you can call it whatever you like.
The bottom layer – which will become the top layer – is basically just a super easy pumpkin pie filling. Just mix a giant can of pumpkin pie filling with a five ounce can of evaporated milk, and then the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. NOTE 1: canned pumpkin pie filling is different than plain canned pumpkin – that may seem obvious, but it’s actually easy to get confused, especially when the store is out of one or the other like they all inevitably will be soon. NOTE 2: sometimes it’s hard to find a five ounce can of evaporated milk (I couldn’t this time), but they do exist. If you can’t find one, just get a regular sized can and use a liquid measuring cup (it works out to just over half a cup).
Make sure to line your cake pan really well with wax paper or parchment. I find it works best to spray a little PAM directly into the pan so that the parchment sticks. Once the pan is lined, spray the paper generously – you want the cake to pop right out.
Sprinkle your dry cake mix over the pumpkin, straight from the bag…..
And then a cup of melted butter – see, I told you it was called a guilty pleasure.
Finally, sprinkle the pecans on top of the butter. It looks a little scary, but the cake mix-butter-pecan layer will become a delicious crust once baked.
See, crust! (Kind of).
Once the cake is completely cool, flip it carefully onto the platter you’re going to serve it on (or in my case, a parchment-covered cutting board) and frost.
To make frosting, make sure to let your cream cheese sit out for a bit to soften, then beat it with powdered sugar and vanilla and fold in the cool whip. If you’re going to serve this anywhere other than your own home, I would recommend waiting to frost the cake until you get to your cake-serving destination (you can pack it back up in the cool whip tub).
Enjoy! And don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Guilty Secret Pumpkin Cake
For the pumpkin layer:
1 large (30 ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
5 ounces evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the crust layer:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
For the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is ok)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces cool whip
To make cake:
Line a 9″ x 13″ cake pan with parchment paper and coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with dry cake mix and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until golden brown.
After baking, cool completely in pan on wire rack. When cool, invert pan onto a large serving platter, carefully remove parchment, and set aside.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in cool whip. Once the mixture is well-combined, frost cake. Cake can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.