Pumpkin Honey Mousse Cake

Autumn Pumpkin Cake

Someone once told me that “you can tell a baker and a chef apart by whether they measure things or not”. I fit squarely into the second category, and until I started developing recipes for other people, my measuring cups sat idle in the back of my cupboard. It’s not that I have anything against precision. I just don’t like feeling constrained by rules.

Sadly, when it comes to baking you can’t go adding more leavening after the cake fails to rise, so you have one shot to get it right. That’s why I don’t bake much, and I’m perfectly pleased with leaving pastry in the hands of a practiced pâtissier. Besides, the whole “science of baking” thing runs contrary to my no recipe credo and I have a brand to uphold… right?

As it turns out, Project Food Blog has me reaching well outside my comfort zone once again, because Challenge #8 is all about baking. And not just any kind of baking… leave it to good ‘ole Foodbuzz to toss a baking challenge using “pumpkin” towards this recipe-shy blogger.

My first inclination was to do a pumpkin pie, since there is no need for the filling to miraculously rise, and pie crust is something that I can actually bake without evoking the Holy Spirit. The problem is, I really dislike pumpkin pie. I’ve tried everything from turning it into a cheesecake, to making it a custard and brûléeing the top, but it’s just not something I’m very fond of. Call me ethical, but publishing a dish I don’t love seemed wrong.

Kabocha Pumpkin

Part of my problem with pumpkin pie is with the pumpkin. After years of denial, I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that I just don’t like run-of-the-mill varieties of pumpkin very much. Kabocha (which literally means “pumpkin” in Japanese), on the the other hand, is a breed of pumpkin I can get behind. With jade green skin and firm orange flesh, Kabocha is like a love-child of a butternut squash and sweet potato. In Japan, it’s mainly used in savory dishes, but the sweet starchy flesh is perfectly suited to make an appearance in a dessert.

Because I didn’t see the point in reinventing the wheel, I borrowed a sponge cake recipe from the lovely Helene at Tartelette, who is my go-to blog for all things pastry. In between the tender genoise, I layered on a pumpkin mousse that I made with honey poached kabocha. To finish the cake, I drew a little inspiration from a scene outside: a swirly gust of wind picking up a pile of fallen leaves and carrying them down the block. My interpretation? A nest of crispy, honey coated sweet potato laced with black sesame seeds, arranged as though they might be whirling down the road.

Crispy satsuma imo and black sesame seeds

This cake is the embodiment of fall, using seasonal ingredients like kabocha and satsuma imo, which carry the nutty flavors of the season, juxtaposed by the crispy texture of “fallen leaves” in each bite. I know it sounds rather complicated, but it’s not as hard as you’d think. Check out the video below if you don’t believe me:-)


3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
3/4 C of sugar (150g)
pinch of salt
1/2 C cake flour (70g)
1/4 C cornstarch (30g)

(adapted from Tartelette)

Setup a double boiler with a pot large enough to hold your mixing bowl then bring the water to a simmer. Move your oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees F. Prep an 18″ x 13″ jelly roll pan by lining it with parchment paper, then buttering the parchment paper.

Put the eggs, yolks, sugar and salt in a metal mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Put the bowl on your double boiler and whisk, heating until the mixture reaches 100 degrees F (luke warm). Mount the bowl on a mixer and beat on high with the whisk attachment for 5 minutes. The volume will triple and pale yellow ribbons of egg will flow off the whisk when they’re ready.

Sift together the flour and cornstarch. When the egg mixture is ready, add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the eggs and gently fold together the flour and eggs. Repeat twice more, folding between each addition until you don’t see any more clumps of flour. Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet, and smooth off the top (a pastry knife or a clean plastic ruler works great for this). Bake for 7-8 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the genoise cool on a rack.

Sweet Potato Honey Cake Recipe

makes 6 individual cakes

1/2 sheet of genoise from the recipe above

for kabocha mousse
6 ounces kabocha pumpkin (green skinned Japanese pumpkin), peeled and cut into 2″ squares
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup mild honey
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon gelatin

for crispy honey potatoes
4 ounces satsumaimo, shredded into long strands on a mandolin
oil for frying
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds

18″ x 13″ jelly roll pan
potato ricer (or fine mesh sieve)
parchment paper
2 1/2″ ring mold

To make the mousse, put the kabocha, water, sugar and honey in a pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the pumpkin is fork tender. When it’s done, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the pumpkin to a bowl and let it cool.

Add 2 tablespoons of water to a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. When the kabocha has cooled, pass it through a potato ricer twice so there are no lumps (you could also use a food processor. Measure out 1 packed cup of kabocha puree into a bowl.

Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and add the honey when the cream holds soft peaks. Continue beating until the cream holds stiff peaks. Heat the gelatin in the microwave for 10-15 seconds until the gelatin is melted, then pour the gelatin into the pumpkin mixture along with a few spoonfuls of whipped cream and and quickly stir it all together. The gelatin will help the whipped cream hold its loft after you mix it with the pumpkin. Dump the rest of the whipped cream into the kabocha mixture and gently fold it together.

Cut 12 rounds from the cooled genoise using a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter or ring mold (a small can opened on both ends works in a pinch). Dip the mold in the liquid you used to cook the pumpkin to prevent the cake from sticking to the mold.

Cut six 4″ squares of parchment paper. Put the ring mold on a piece of parchment paper and drop a round of genoise to the bottom of the mold. cover with with a few heaping tablespoons of mousse, then smooth the top. Drop another round of genoise on top then top with another layer of mousse. Gently pull the ring mold off the cake and repeat with the other 5 cakes. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least one hour to set the mousse.

While you’re waiting for the mousse to set, heat a pot filled with 1″ of vegetable oil until it reaches 350 degrees F. Shred the sweet potato into a bowl of water and rinse several times to remove the excess starch. Drain the potato and put it in a salad spinner to remove as much moisture as you can (paper towels work too).

When the oil is up to temperature, carefully put a handful of shredded potato into the oil and fry until brown and crunchy. Remove with a wire mesh frying strainer and dab on a paper towel before putting into a metal bowl. Quickly drizzle with honey and toss to coat each strand of sweet potato with honey. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes, then sprinkle with the black seasme seeds.

To serve, plate each cake and top with a nest of fried honey potatoes.

  • Trissa

    Congratulations on making it to the next round – surely, this cake is another winner and you’ll go far with it. My vote’s with you Mark.

  • http://twitter.com/bakeanything Bake Anything

    Awesome effort! Love the idea of black sesame seeds and potatoes (:

  • http://globetrotterdiaries.com GlobetrotterDiaries

    This is beautiful and looks delicious!

  • http://limecake.net LimeCake

    oh my gosh, you don’t like pumpkin pie? that’s almost blasphemous! LOL. the video was really useful! And the background music had a nice, country-western touch. :)

  • http://twitter.com/sugarbardiva davina

    I love pumpkin pie and pumpkin itself! All varieties especially the kabocha. This looks delicious….hopefully this time I’ll make it for the voting

  • http://sundayhotpants.nocturne.net.nz Lisa

    OH YUM!!! That is all .. I’m speechless!

  • http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    Marc I am with you on the pumpkin pie – in fact I had never even really considered pumpkin in a dessert or baked good before this challenge because I really don’t like the flavour. I went on a quest to find something I liked using pumpkin and was fairly successful but I think were I to try this, I would be in heaven! YUM. And good luck.

  • http://pleasedonotfeedtheanimals.blogspot.com/ Please Do Not Feed The Animals

    Lovely imaginative cake. Love your decoration!

  • Norma823

    This is heavenly. Adding the decoration probably held it down or else this looks like it would just float away. I can’t wait to vote. Good luck!

  • Joan Nova

    ooh I don’t know if I could get past that topping. Love it! Definitely unique and inspired. Good luck.

  • Eva

    I really appreciate the video!

  • Bunkycooks

    Congrats on this challenge Marc! Your cake is beautifully presented. I could have sent you any number of pumpkins to try as I have been working through an entire stash of Heirloom pumpkins this year! 😉 I wish you luck advancing to the next round. You can be sure I will try your recipe since I am still on pumpkin overload!

  • Jackie

    You and I have the same aversion to baking: measuring! Scales are the bane of my life! 😉 Regardless, this is beautiful and you did amazingly, my friend! I always enjoy seeing what you create for these challenges – you never disappoint.

    Jax x

  • Anonymous

    so, we totally thought you might use kabocha, but wow you and jared really went in the same direction! awesome cake- and the video is pretty sweet too. :)

  • http://twitter.com/indiansimmer Indian Simmer

    LOVE it!! n what a cool video. You just inspired the camera shy myself to try making a video.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • Peter G

    Oh Marc! You may not post “recipes” per say but I am bookmarking this beauty! Love the whole idea and kabocha is just fab! The sweet potato topping with black sesame seeds is indeed a great topping…well done and good luck in this round!

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life

    Marc: gorgeous and creative! I found your description of the leaves flying in the wind and the subsequent translation in your dessert utterly poetic.

  • Emme @Food Samba

    I love that you used kabocha…which I love! You certainly made this look effortless. It looks amazing :)

  • http://www.6bittersweets.com Xiaolu

    That sweet potato topping is so cool! And everything else about this recipe sounds great, too. I must say, I like the safety of using recipes for baking, though I never can seem to resist tinkering with the elements just a tiny bit :).

  • Momgateway

    I’m a kabocha fan too…regular pumpkin can never compare to the flavor, texture and color of kabocha. This cake is beautiful and so original…I’m voting for you!

  • http://twitter.com/Snack_Girl_ Find Healthy Snacks

    Your photos are really incredible. I felt like crawling through the computer. Thanks for this great work.

  • http://messycook.blogspot.com Isabelle

    Oh yay! Another pumpkin-pie hater. :) So glad I’m not alone in that. This cake looks like a delightful alternative – delicious, pretty and relatively simple. Love it.
    BTW, I absolutely love the idea behind your shredded sweet potato topping. Amazing where we sometimes find inspiration, isn’t it?

  • http://dadiscooking.blogspot.com Marathon50dad

    Amazing baking for a non-baker! The pix are so good I can taste the cake! Love it. My vote is in…

  • Lisa

    Mark, love this entry. Your photos are fantastic. Best wishes.

  • Lemons and Anchovies

    This cake is also the embodiment of beauty and elegance. I think this qualifies you quite nicely as a baker, too. Well done.

  • http://twitter.com/sfBirdie sarah matthews

    I need this now.

  • http://theveggie.wordpress.com Veggietestkitchen

    I like the video. I just voted for you, and hope you make it to the next round!!! Love this cake. I want to eat it!

  • Chez Us

    Marc, I love it! Sounds wonderful using kabocha or pumpkin. We became fans of kabocha a couple years ago – love the dense rich flavor. Will have to try out this recipe!

    ps… love the can trick. Had to do that a couple years ago for a stacked dish, it was cheaper to toss out 10 cans of tomato paste instead of buying molding rings for baking

  • http://twitter.com/riceandwheat angi c

    Yay, I was hoping to see someone use kabocha instead of regular pumpkins! The cake looks exactly like something I would buy and subsequently eat a lot of – good thing you live on the other coast or I’d be in serious trouble. :)

  • Princess Gourmet

    I love Kabocha and usually prepare it as a tempura dish. I would have never thought to use it in a sweet dish. And you’re right, the Genoise doesn’t look too difficult and I love how you finished your dessert by giving it “movement” with the honey coated sweet potato strands. Simple and elegant. I love it! You got my vote.

  • Anonymous

    I love kabocha squash too (and I think I prefer it over normal pumpkin). Great video – I never thought about using a can but that’s such an insanely good, simple, and cheap idea.

  • Oui, Chef

    WOW…what a beautiful thing. Really love your crispy sweet potato strings….nice effect. – S

  • http://www.thetomatotart.com Sabrina the tomtato tart

    Are you kidding me, Marc? Drool! I love it. Kabocha is to die for and add a little genoise? Parfait, bien sur! I am sometimes iffy on regular pumpkins too and make butternut squash desserts or use heirloom varieties instead. As usual the photos are divine. I feel like mine have improved so much since your panel (thanks!!)
    Sabrina aka the tomato tart

  • Smadnick08

    Hi Marc, Love the video demonstartion. Very well done!! Of course voted for you and wishing you much luck!!

  • http://www.ilkeskitchen.com Ilke Mcaliley

    Hi! Love your pictures! Not too much of a pumpkin lover myself but this is something I can dive into! I think you are pushing the border between chef and baker and you will find yourself the latter soon :)

  • http://www.saltyseattle.com saltyseattle

    kabocha and satsuma imo are two of my favorite things. I love love love that you can eat kabocha skin too. your execution is classically brilliant, video touch is like that extra touch of duck fat on an unctuous confit. i’m so happy i found you, and i can’t see what you come up with next round. xo, linda

  • Anonymous

    you really outdid yourself with this entry in the challenge! wow…
    you have my vote my friend!! good luck in the challenge

  • http://astickyaffair.blogspot.com/ Sheena

    This dessert looks stunning, I love your photography! The pumpkin mousse sounds delightful!

  • mimi

    I voted for you :) What an amazing looking desert. Good luck!

  • http://iwantthepie.wordpress.com Lynn

    This sounds incredible. I think this is my favourite PFB pumpkin post. (shh, don’t tell the other participants)

  • [ReFresh]

    wow, this is absolutely beautiful!

  • http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    Gorgeous — and I love the topping idea!!

    My entry this time around is an original recipe I developed. It’s a croquemcake, or a combination croquembouche (mounted cream puff tower) and cake. I have affectionately and clumsily dubbed it a Browned Butter Pumpkin Croquemcake with White Chocolate Chai Mousse – the mousse is the surprise inside! Come see if you’d like :)

  • http://www.thelittlefoodie.com Mariko

    Kabocha mousse is a very good idea. I like the definitely Japanese theme here. I love pumpkin pie myself but kabocha is much tastier than any baked pumpkin.

  • Anonymous

    Very elegant, and I love that you went a completely different direction from a standard pumpkin spice. Also, amazing shot of the kabocha.

  • http://theindolentcook.blogspot.com/ the indolent cook

    That looks seriously sensational!

  • http://angellovescooking.blogspot.com/ Angellove’s Cooking

    That looks delicious!!

  • http://www.oilandbutter.com Rich

    Not a confident baker? Geez, you could have fooled me! That looks outstanding. And by outstanding, I mean, it’s something I looked at and said to myself ‘if I made that, I’d brag about it and have a general sense of superiority.’ But it seems you’ve remained level-headed. You’re a better man than I.

  • http://comowater-forchocolate.blogspot.com/ TiffKeyCook

    I’ve heard the same thing about baking. I consider myself improvisational … which is also probably why I love samba and miserably fail every time I take ballroom versions of any dance! I love the freedom of abstraction in cooking, and too stayed away from baking for a long time … BUT recently, I have found ways to be really creative in baking, tweaking this, substituting that. So far, so good! Maybe I’ve been lucky? Not sure, but you sure look like you have this baking thing down too! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing more!

  • http://bibberche.com Lana

    Great post! I love the presentation – the fried sweet potatoes and sesame seeds are really cute. Now I have no excuse to try kabocha:)
    Good luck!

  • http://prettypeasrecipes.blogspot.com/ Heather


  • http://c1tr4sinau.blogspot.com/ Indonesian in Turkey

    OMG ! nothing but beauty and scrumptious!

  • http://wildeinthekitchen.blogspot.com Vicki @ Wilde in the Kitchen

    Your cake looks beautiful. Way to go outside of your comfort zone for this challenge! Good luck this round!

  • http://smalltownoven.wordpress.com/ Sharlene

    This looks so beautiful. I love the garnish of sweet potato with sesame seeds on top!

  • Diana@Spain in Iowa

    What a beautiful presentation! You just amaze me through each of your posts! I made steaks using your method from the video last week and they turned out fab!!! Really glad to have found your blog!

  • http://twitter.com/gigabiting Gigabiting

    I’d love to bake by feel and taste, as I cook, but alas, all those chemical reactions do require measurements.

  • Margaret @ Savory Sweet Living

    You definitely made this cake look easy to make. I love kabocha too so I can just imagine how awesome this cake tasted, and the topping looks devine! Great job and good luck!

  • The Wife of a Dairyman

    Two words………Oh MY!

  • http://www.familyspice.com Laura @ Family Spice

    Really, it’s a work of art. Simply beautiful!

    I don’t measure when I cook, but you are right about baking. I’ve eyeballed some measurements and have gotten lucky. But, I’d never make it as a professional baker!

  • Hot Polka Dot’s Mom

    Airy Genoise, silky mousse, crispy crown, shape & form, orange on blue.
    Individual decadent desserts. Presentation perfect. Mmmmmmwa!

  • Hyosun Ro

    What a lovely cake!

  • http://darjeelingdreams.blogspot.com/ Indie.tea

    Ooo, that looks SO delicious…and the flavors sound divine.
    I don’t measure for dinner/lunch cooking, I sort of measure when I bake. But I love baking far more.

  • jenjenk

    totally with you on the whole Kabocha thing. I thought it was weird that I would like kabocha [which is a pumpkin] and hate the american pumpkin…thanks for validating me! :)

  • http://www.TeenieCakes.com Cristina

    I enjoyed learning something new about the Kabocha. Beautifully presented and professionally created mousse cake!

  • http://www.ofmusesandmeringues.blogspot.com Beth

    Loved your beautiful cake, and I just voted for you.

  • Eileen

    Drooling over here…. that looks fantastic!

  • http://www.completelydelicious.com Annalise

    So creative, and beautiful! You have my vote!

  • http://www.russianseason.net Alina

    Oh what a masterpiece! Thank you for connecting on Foodbuzz, I’m excited about your beautiful blog… Subscribing! ^_^

  • http://www.tastewiththeeyes.com/ Lori Lynn

    Hi Marc – it looks fabulous, and I love your video. Good luck my friend!

  • Kathleen

    You’ve definitely got my vote! Your photos continue to make me drool. Good luck tomorrow!

  • Stay-At-Home-Chef

    Great post! I’ve never heard of Kabocha before and am now obsessing over the idea of cooking with this particular variety. Good luck in the competition :)

  • http://ladymorgiana.wordpress.com/ Morgiana

    Fantastic post! This cake looks great!

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  • http://www.amishbabycrib.com amish baby cribs

    This dessert looks so great and nice! I like the combination of the pumpkin and the honey!

  • Mrs. in Hangzhou

    This is by far the easiest & BEST recipe Evverr !! I love it!! I just made a different version of this Cake, I called it “Durian Mousse Cake ” yup, its Durian…the spikey smelly durian..So if anyone is interested, instead of using Kabocha, I used 250grams of Durian puree made from fresh durian added with sugar syrup to make it sweater. Thanks Heaps!! My Husband is a HUGE fan of Durian, I hope he likes it **fingers crossed**

  • adlady

    drool drool drool… please marry me. seriously. hahaha.

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I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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