The Wisdom of Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Cake

Fresh sage adds a flavor profile twist to this pumpkin bread.

Fresh sage adds a flavor profile twist to this pumpkin bread.


When it comes to sage, I immediately think of Thanksgiving stuffing or browned butter sauces for tender raviolis.

But cake?

Not at all.

Until I spied Martha Stewart’s recipe for “Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Cake.”

It’s not a new recipe. In fact, it appears in her 2013 book, “Martha Stewart’s Cakes” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy when it was first published.

The cookbook is stored in a prominent place on my bookshelf, because I find myself reaching for it again and again. The 150-plus recipes — for everything from Bundts to cheesecakes to cakes with fruit to layer cakes — are unfussy. They’re cakes you don’t have to think twice about attempting.

I had bookmarked this one long ago, but just never found time to try it. Until now.

It’s a simple pumpkin loaf cake that’s just so right at this time of year.

You can bake it in one large loaf pan or in several smaller ones. Just note the baking time will vary, depending upon the size.

What sets this pumpkin bread apart is a copious amount of fresh sage. A quarter cup of the downy-soft, silvery-gray-green leaves gets simmered in melted butter that you cook until it’s golden brown and nutty smelling.

How pretty is this?

Bits of sage in every bite.

That gets stirred into the batter, full of pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

The pumpkin bread bakes up incredibly moist with little flecks of celadon throughout from the sage.

With its warm, earthy, astringent flavor, the sage lends a slight savory quality to this pumpkin cake.

So much so that I could even see serving slices alongside the Thanksgiving turkey in much the same way that cornbread so often accompanies fried chicken.

Or enjoy it at breakfast or brunch, smeared with honey-butter, cream cheese or even thin slices of a mild, soft cheese such as mozzarella.

Take my sage advice to bake a loaf of this pumpkin-sage cake — pronto.


Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned-Butter Cakes

(Makes One large 9-by-5-inch loaf or Eight 4-by-2 1/2-inch loaves)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

1/4 cup fresh sage, cut into thin strips, plus whole leaves for garnish (optional)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter eight 4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans (or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan); dust with flour, tapping out excess. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sage strips; cook until butter turns golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl; let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and sage-butter mixture. Add flour mixture, whisk until incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans or pour into one large pan; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Place pans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto rack to cool completely. (Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature overnight or refrigerated up to 5 days.) Garnish with whole sage leaves before serving, if desired.

From “Martha Stewart’s Cakes” by the editors of Martha Stewart Living


Another Cake Recipe from Martha Stewart: Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

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  • I often see sage and browned butter in pasta but this is a nice and cozy snack for fall!

  • Mmm, classic combinations! I can see this too in place of cornbread at Thanksgiving!

  • I had and lost a pumpkin loaf cake recipe from a while back and this one looks similar to it but without the sage. What a great idea. I find that when I buy sage, I only use a small amount as it is so strong so I’m not sure what else to do with it.

  • What a great idea to put sage in the cake! I love that!!! Your photo also really sells that recipe. 🙂 I have every ingredient on hand except the sage. But that’s an easy fix! I’m also tempted to plant a little sage plant on my porch along with a few other herbs. I keep finding that fresh herbs are the only thing I’m missing from my otherwise amazingly well-stocked pantry. 😛 Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • i’m not totally sold on the goodness of sage, but i must admit that this is a stunning loaf–so moist!

  • Lorraine and Grace: Sage definitely has a distinctive taste. So you do have to like it to love this cake.

  • LOVE the use of sage in a sweet recipe – definitely not something one would immediately think to use for baking, but it totally works here. Thank you for another fabulous recipe!

  • Loved this. I baked it in a 9×5 pan and it took just over an hour. Thanks!!

  • Just put this on repeat for the third year. Was also included as mini-loaves as part of my holiday packages!

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