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Butterscotch-Pecan Cake

This statuesque cake hides a sweet secret underneath its pecan sheath: brown-butter frosting and butterscotch-soaked layers spiked with rum, both of which make familiar flavors seem sophisticated.

  • Servings: 14
Butterscotch-Pecan Cake

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2008


For the Cakes

  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray, for pans
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons rum, preferably golden or dark
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature

For the Frosting

  • 12 ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks), 1 stick left whole, 2 sticks cut into small pieces, softened
  • 2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 20 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

For the Butterscotch Sauce

  • 2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups pecan halves, toasted and chopped, plus more halves for garnish


  1. Make the cakes: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line with parchment, and coat parchment. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

  2. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then add vanilla and rum. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with buttermilk. Raise speed to medium-high, and beat for 2 minutes. Divide batter among pans.

  3. Bake cakes until golden brown and testers inserted in centers come out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks, and let cool slightly. Invert cakes onto racks. Let cool.

  4. Make the frosting: Melt 1 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until dark golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, cream, and salt, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to a mixer bowl, and let cool.

  5. With machine running, add remaining butter, a few pieces at a time, and beat on low until incorporated. Raise speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar on medium-high until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add brown-butter mixture to cream cheese, and beat until smooth. Cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours (or overnight, beating on low speed before using).

  6. Make the butterscotch sauce: Mix sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in cream. Return to heat, and cook for 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.

  7. To assemble the cake: Trim tops of 2 cake layers and top and bottom of third (this will be the middle) to create flat exposed surfaces. Brush 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butterscotch sauce on cut sides. Let cool. Spread 1 cup frosting on 1 layer, then place middle layer on top, sauce side down. Spread 1 cup frosting on middle layer, then place third layer on top, sauce side down. Spread 1 cup frosting on top and sides. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

  8. Using an offset spatula, spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake. Press chopped pecans on sides, and garnish top with halves. Transfer cake to a serving plate or cake stand. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours (or up to 2 days, covered).

Reviews (18)

  • Feli Bussola 14 Nov, 2013

    Best cake ever!!!My sister doesn't like cakes but i made it for her birthday and everyone (specially her) loved it and requested that I made it again the next day...I also loved eating the pecans with the sauce alone!OMG so addictive!!!!!Dont know how many times I've said I swear its the last one! :)

  • Noohee 12 Sep, 2013

    I don't know if anyone else suggesting using rum extract in place of the rum. You only need 1 1/2 teaspoons, shouldn't make too much of a difference.

  • Noohee 12 Sep, 2013

    I have made this cake twice now and both times it was hands down the best cake ever tasted. Yes it is time consuming but the outcome is beautiful and absolutely decadent. I suggest making this over two days. That way there is no stress. I made this for a dessert auction and it was requested again. This is a keeper!!!! Thanks for the great recipe.

  • Marwa 25 Aug, 2013

    I would like to know what can I substitute Rum with, I cant use alcohol at all, so any suggesting for non alcohol ingredient?
    Thank you.

  • Lori2009 23 Aug, 2013

    This is a labor intensive cake, but well worth it. The presentation is absolutely gorgeous. It's easier if you make the buttercream the day before, refrigerate and then set out while the cake is cooling. Be sure you use COARSE salt, not table salt.

  • SandieAllgood 27 Dec, 2011

    This is the BEST cake ever. Served on Christmas Day and even the people that don't normally eat dessert, ate it and loved it. I am not a salt person and DID NOT find it to be salty. Would not change a thing. VERY TIME CONSUMING but WORTH IT. I made cake one day, butterscotch sauce next day and put on cake over night, the frosted and assembled. Beautiful presentation and awesome tasting. Will definitely make it again. Might even make cupcakes out of recipe.

  • pinkghost 28 Nov, 2011

    I followed the recipe exactly EXCEPT I left out the rum (I don't drink alcohol). I don't know why people are complaining about the salt, I thought it was fine. This was the first cake I ever made. It turned out dry, but the flavor was AMAZING. Whoever made this recipe is brilliant because all the flavors (frosting, cake, sauce) married together were like an orgasm for your mouth. This recipe takes a long time, and I recommend making the frosting first (since it takes 2 hours to set).

  • MsMarie05 22 Nov, 2011

    This was a big hit! Everyone loved it, I made it for a Thanksgiving potluck at my firm and it disappeared almost as soon as i set it down. The downside is that it was very time comsuming. I prepared it on a work night and I did not go to bed until 230am. However, it was totally worth it and I plan to make it again for my family for Thanksgiving Dinner.

  • kamikami 12 Oct, 2011


  • Lovemesomemartha 8 Sep, 2011

    Amazing cake. The first time I made this cake it was for an office picnic. I didn't have rum, and didn't have time to make the butterscotch, only using frosting between layers. We didn't miss either one! How good is this cake? Ladies who NEVER eat cake, ate two slices and raved. I loved it enough to make it a second time, and that time with the butterscotch. It was too much. For us, it doesn't need it. This is my new favorite go-to recipe.

  • CrownPrincess 21 Aug, 2011

    This cake took a very long time to make. I was up until 2am trying to finish this cake and I had to work the next day. The cake fell apart when I took it out of the pans. The actual cake was very salty. I shouldn't have put so much coarse salt in it. I don't know why the recipe calls for so much. Overall its a good cake if you're into brown sugar ad butter. The cake was really just that so if youre okay with that then you'll like this recipe. I probably will not make this again

  • ctaylor231 11 Dec, 2010

    This is a perfect cake if you have a good amount of time set aside. Perfect for the holiday season, this cake encompasses everything that you remember as a kid about Christmas and Thanksgiving. Ideally you'll want to make the cakes and the frosting the night before so that you can start to assemble the cake bright and early the next morning. With the perfect amount of balance with sweet

  • AllAroundBaker 25 Jul, 2010


  • PFP 17 Feb, 2010

    Oops, only part of my comment got posted. What I wanted to know is if Miss Hudson and mrs_in_mass used coarse salt as the recipe specified -- such as Kosher salt -- or if you used table salt. It would make a big difference.

  • PFP 17 Feb, 2010

    Mrs_in_mass and Miss Hudson both commented on the amount of salt in the recipe

  • Olenmetra 7 Jan, 2010

    I made this cake last night and boy-o-boy it took a LOOONG time. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT!! I WILL MAKE THIS AGAIN!! FYI- I decided at 10:59pm that I wanted to make it, so I had to use Rum extract (whch works just as fine), because I couldn't get real rum at that time of night anywhere. Results were GREAT! I will make it again. Just a little less sugar...little too sweet for me but TASTES GREAT!

  • mrs_in_mass 5 Oct, 2009

    Made the cake yesterday (it took all day to make the cake and also juggle my 16-month-old) to serve today for a big retirement dinner party. The cake itself was a big hit - beautiful to present and tasty. But personally, the salt flavoring that came through was WAY too overpowering. Next time I make this (which will be for Thanksgiving) I am considering eliminating the salt alltogether, and MissHudson I will try increasing the rum as well. Great call.

  • MissHudson 2 Feb, 2009

    This is a great cake if you reduce the salt to 1 1/4 tsp and increase the rum to 1 1/2 tsp

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