Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I recently attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

I’ve started to write this story countless times. Sometimes you get so tangled up in words that they suddenly seem more like a net than a lubricant, more like a shroud than a lamp.

It’s when the ideas are most important that the words get the stickiest. Personally, I find that I have to scrap those sticky words entirely — sometimes repeatedly — to set myself free and finally get the tale told. So. Here’s another try…


It was the first word the man next to me on the bus (the correct bus, thankfully) had uttered, and I didn’t understand what he meant. I looked at him quizzically. He repeated himself, pronouncing the word slightly wrong: “Proposition?”

I noticed he was pointing to something and looked down at the book in his lap. His finger was settled on — what else? — the word “proposition.” I finally put the pieces together. “Oh! Yes, that’s ‘proposition,'” I answered, pronouncing the word correctly. He thanked me and went back to his book with a satisfied nod.

I forget how the conversation started up again, but eventually we were chatting. He introduced himself as Vincent. I told him I was a food blogger and teacher from Charlotte. He revealed that he had family in Winston-Salem but had lived in California for years. Finally, the pleasant conversation ambled back to his book. “What are you reading?” I asked. It seemed like a totally innocent question.

Rather than answering aloud, he turned his book over so I could see the cover. It was 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, an Alcoholics Anonymous book.Β  I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth wondering if I’d embarrassed him, but he seemed unfazed by the interaction.Β  I was touched — both that he was diligently reading this book on the bus and that he was willing to share it with me.

But I was also a little self-conscious. How should I respond to the information he’d just shared with his simple gesture? Wouldn’t anything I had to say sound patronizing? After all, while he seemed to have had plenty of hard knocks, I was giving off the air of an easy life. I was wearing a blue Parisian scarf and a camel trench coat, holding a huge camera case, and I’d just flown across the country for a vacation of sorts.

He couldn’t know that the scarf was a gift, the coat a hand-me-down, and the plane ticket a contest prize. Nor did it really matter. I just looked floofy. Floofy in that wealthy lapdog sort of way. And compared to the sort of obstacles he was facing, my life was pretty floofy.

Floofy or not, I decided there was nothing to do except respond sincerely. Quietly, I said, “That’s awesome, Vincent. I really admire that you’re doing that.” He flashed a big smile and I inwardly sighed with relief.

Up until now our chat had been lighthearted, but we’d just turned a corner into SeriousLand (a little known suburb of San Francisco, apparently). Before long we were talking about his recovery (he was on his way to see his sponsor at that moment), his life in San Francisco, and about Jesus. You know, the usual.

I was nervous about missing my stop, but Vincent was getting off at the corner of Lombard too. “The view of the bay is beautiful here,” he said as we alighted from the bus. “You should try to walk around if you get a chance.” He took a moment to direct me toward my next bus stop before shaking my hand and rounding the corner toward his sponsor.

I met a lot of people over the course of my San Francisco trip — even some pretty fancy bloggers! — and I enjoyed them all for different reasons. I did some schmoozing, some eating, some shopping (Dear H&M, please come to Charlotte. Thanks.) But as I sit here in Charlotte with little Byrd snarfling into her supper bowl beside me, Vincent is the one who comes to mind. In a weekend full of people with their game faces on — me included — Vincent was the one who was sacrificially genuine. With a stranger, at that.

I gave him a Willow Bird Baking card. I hope he gets a chance to happen by sometime, and I hope he recognizes himself through the pseudonym I’ve given him. Vincent, if you ever read this: Thank you for a conversation I’ll have tucked in my heart for the rest of my days. Godspeed.

. . .

In honor of a special guy, here’s a special pound cake.


Okay, it kind of is, actually. It’s Southern Living’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake and it’s been a staple in many family recipe boxes for decades. But first off, GRANDMAMA DON’T PLAY. She knows exactly what she’s doing in the kitchen, thankyouverymuch.

Second off, this pound cake has a new twist; namely, pumpkin-cinnamon-pecan-streusel-awesomeness swirled throughout the cake. Add the maple brown sugar glaze and some toasted nuts on top and you have the perfect autumn dessert. It’s a handsome one, at that, so consider this recipe for your holiday table.

Have you one of these unexpected, significant conversations?

Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Southern Living
Yield: 12 servings

This dessert was made for autumn! A ribbon of pumpkin custard and cinnamon pecan streusel winds through this luxurious, rich cream cheese pound cake. It’s topped with maple brown sugar glaze, toasted pecans, and a dusting of cinnamon. The finished product is pretty as can be — and so delicious!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:*
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
*This makes a little more filling than you need, but I used most of it and baked the small amount I had leftover in a greased ramekin for 15-20 minutes — instant pumpkin custard!)

Pecan Streusel Ingredients:
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup cinnamon chips (optional — you can find these seasonally at some grocery stores or online from King Arthur’s Flour)

Maple Brown Sugar Glaze Ingredients:
2 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
pinch salt
1 1/2 – 2 cup powdered sugar (I ended up using just 1 1/2)
cinnamon for sprinkling

Toast pecans: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans out on a baking sheet, and bake for 4-6 minutes or until fragrant, stirring and flipping nuts once in the middle. Spread the nuts out on a plate to cool. Leave the oven on for the cake.

Make the creamy pumpkin pie filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice and mix until combined. Set in fridge while you make your cake.

Make the streusel: Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl and using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until you have crumbly streusel. Mix in the cinnamon chips (if you’re using them) and 1/2 cup of the cooled toasted pecans (if they haven’t completely cooled, stick ’em in the fridge for a bit first — you don’t want to mix warm nuts into this and melt your butter, since it should stay cold). Save the rest of your nuts for decorating the finished cake. Set the streusel aside.

Make the pound cake: Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until it’s creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating only until yellow disappears after each one. Stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl and add to creamed mixture gradually, beating on low speed after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour/dollop 1/3 of the batter into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan and use a spatula to smooth it right up against the sides of the pan and level it.

Dump your streusel into your pumpkin pie mixture and fold it together a few times to loosely mix — you’re not trying to combine them completely. Dollop big spoonfuls of this pumpkin mixture on the batter in your tube pan and swirl with a wooden skewer or table knife. Top this layer with another third of the batter and add another pumpkin layer (swirling again). Top with the final third of the batter. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof measuring cup with water and place in oven with cake (this keeps it moist!).

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 55 minutes (the original recipe said 1 hour and 10 minutes, but this was way too short for me. Nevertheless, you should start checking early and often just in case. This is a good practice, also, because you may have to cover the top with foil if it’s getting too brown). To test for doneness, insert a wooden skewer in a few different areas of the cake and pull it out. You want it to come out with just a few moist crumbs (no liquid batter, but not completely clean either).

Let the cake cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan. Remove the cake from the pan by topping the pan with a plate and carefully inverting it. Then invert the cake again onto another plate so that it’s right-side up. Let cool completely (at least 1 hour).

Make the Maple Brown Sugar Glaze: Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, whisk in the brown sugar, syrup, and salt, whisking until the brown sugar melts. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar, starting with 1 cup and adding more to thicken per your preference (taste as you go to ensure you don’t oversweeten). Drizzle the glaze over the top of your cooled cake. Sprinkle the cake with toasted pecans immediately (the glaze sets quickly) and dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and microwave for about 20 seconds to serve.

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Filed under cakes

70 responses to “Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

  1. Lordy, that is a beautiful story and a beautiful cake! I am loving reading these anecdotes about your experiences in our fair city by the bay. =)

  2. What a lovely post! Seems like Vincent was genuine, indeed. I pray he has Godspeed, too! How wonderful you had a chance to speak with him about Jesus. The cake looks divine! The camera does a nice job, too! The part about Byrd “snarfing”… I don’t believe a word of it… she hates that food! πŸ™‚

  3. Kelly

    It’s like you know that cream cheese goes on sale at Publix on Thursday. The plan was to stock up for another of your cheesecakes but now I’m not so sure.

  4. Loved your story! Sometimes conversations with strangers are the best and most meaningful! I’ll have a slice of this please. And I totally agree, I’ve been wanting H&M to come to Charlotte forever!!!

  5. Awesome poundcake and fantastic story! I chose to walk rather than to take public transit but I guess I missed out:-) It was good seeing you at Foodbuzz!

  6. What an amazing story! I’ve known many recovering addicts (from many different substances) in my life. They should never be embarrassed of their recovery. Most often, we are the ones embarrassed because we don’t know what to say. Good for you for being supportive to this stranger.

    This cake is stunning! I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin so I will definitely have to give this a try. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • “They should never be embarrassed of their recovery. Most often, we are the ones embarrassed because we don’t know what to say.”

      That is so true, Manna, and that was just how it was!! If anything, he had so much to be PROUD of!!

      Thanks πŸ™‚

  7. Thanks for sharing this sweet story. Interesting how we impact strangers lives like that. Love the cake. It looks so beautiful, rich and delicious!

  8. This was what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  9. Julie,

    This is so getting made for Thanksgiving. I am excited! San Francisco is near the top of my “to visit” list and I think your posts have moved it up a few slots! I’m living in Baltimore, so if you ever see something on the H&M website and just have to have it–I can ship it to you!

    Thanks for this post!

  10. Love the story and love this cake. I’m not a fan of nuts in my cake…do you think this would be good without them? Maybe add more cinnamon chips?

  11. What a great story. It’s funny how you are the most touched by someone that you might least expect. This cake looks incredible and I love your additions.

  12. Thanks for sharing!! Can’t wait to try this!

  13. Gorgeous cake! This would be perfect for a busy holiday morning. Thanks for sharing!

  14. First of all, you are such a great writer. Second, your photos are looking gorgeous!! Love the look of this cake:-)

  15. What a great story and a delicious pound cake. It looks so good!

  16. Thank you so much for the story. It brought a tear to my eye, very sweet. It’s funny, the cake caught my eye of course, but the story made it all the better. I am definitely trying this cake out for Thanksgiving. I’m new at all this blogging and don’t know the etiquette, if I want to post the recipe and pictures of my cake and link to your site to credit, is that done? Do I ask first? How does this all work? I mostly want a place to keep recipes that work out well for me and to share with friends across the country but I don’t want to plaigarize either!

    • Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!! I hope it’s the PERFECT Thanksgiving cake for you. You can even make it a day or two in advance — so that’s always nice for holidays!

      Thanks for asking about the recipe! Here’s a run-down: the wording of recipes is copyrighted, but if you’d like to post a recipe you’ve made on your blog, you can just post it in your own words, giving credit to the creator (a link is great!) Posting your photos of the cake is just fine — great in fact! It shows others what it came out like for you. You don’t have to ask to do these things.

      If you wanted to reprint a recipe verbatim or post someone else’s photo, though, that’s when you’d ask — many people will let you do so in certain situations with a link back to their site.

      So, in short, go for it! Let me know if you have other questions I can help you with!

  17. In my now ten years of riding public transportation in NYC, I’ve met a lot of crazies…and a few good ones who really end up emblazoning themselves on my memory. Vincent sounds like one of those people for you! It’s so great when we meet someone like that, isn’t it?

    I am positively in LOVE with this cake. that swirls is going to invade my dreams.

  18. Could this be any more fabulous?! Wow.

  19. Van Pham

    This looks so good!

    Agree on the comment about H&M coming to Charlotte but it is also nice it will be opening in Winston-Salem soon. Gives me another excuse to go see 1 friend and visit one of my favorite bakeries in the world. But Charlotte would be so much nicer since I am there more often then Winston.

    • I didn’t realize one was coming to Winston-Salem! Must visit! Also, where are these bakeries you speak of?? Sounds like it’s time for a road trip… πŸ˜‰

      Thanks πŸ™‚

      • Van Pham

        The one in Winston-Salem is opening tomorrow I believe. It is going to be located at Hanes Mall and 2 stories high.

        My favorite bakery of all time is Dewey’s bakery in Winston-Salem. It is a Moravian bakery but there is a pink lemonade cake that is out of this world. They also just opened a location in the Hanes Mall as an outlet. You should definitely check it out. But if you go to one of the actual storefront location like the one on Stratford Rd, they will even let you sample their cake squares if the ladies are in a particularly generous mood.

        I haven’t really found any other awesome bakery beside Amelie’s but I am pretty sure you have heard of Amelie’s by now.

  20. You’re such a sweetheart Julie. Yes, I had a similar conversdation with a woman on the way to Foodbuzz last year. Funny how that happens.

    This cake is BEE-YOU-TEE-FULL! Gorgeous, really!

  21. I just love your writing and your stories! I think on public transportation I tend to give off a “don’t talk to me vibe” with my ipod on, and my nose buried in a book, but I should probably rethink that. I bet I’d meet some interesting people πŸ™‚

    • I would say that you have to be in the right mood, but actually, I’d say 90% of the time I’m in a “don’t talk to me” mood when I’m out and about (especially when concentrating on figuring out maps and new modes of transportation). And it’s when I’m probably the most tuned out that sometimes these great conversations start. I feel like there’s usually that moment where I have a choice whether or not to fully engage, and it’s been so rewarding to choose to do so. I’m going to challenge myself to do it more often!

      Thanks so much, Maggie πŸ™‚

  22. I cant decide which I like better the recipe or the touching story. Thankfully I don’t have to choose one or the other.

  23. Can’t wait to try this cake. It’s absolutely beautiful!!
    Thanks for sharing your travel story, too. It’s those random encounters that make travel worthwhile.

    BTW, there’s an H&M opening in Hanes Mall, in Winston-Salem….

  24. Sherry

    Loved the story…it should touch us all and remind us to reach out to others in whatever way we can.

    I adore the cake and am about to make it πŸ™‚ I have a friend with a birthday tomorrow and was searching for something new to make him and this is it.

    Have a Blessed Thanksgiving.

  25. Brigette

    I loved the story! You have great eloquence in your writing. Very touching.

    This recipe is making my mouth water! Would this work as a loaf? I was thinking it would be perfect to give as little gifts for the holidays.

    • Thank you, Brigette! I’ve tried it in a loaf pan (cut in half) and it doesn’t come out very pretty. Because of how the batter bakes, the top usually ends up pretty lumpy/wonky. I usually only bake it as a loaf when I’m going to crumble it up and use it for cake balls for this reason.

  26. What a sweet tribute, Julie. I’m glad you mentioned him. I love interactions like this; they seem so ordinary, but they’ve got so much meaning… You’re such an awesome person πŸ™‚

    Also, totally gorgeous photos. You’ve picked up using the DSLR SO quickly (not that I’m surprised or that this is the first I’ve noticed)! My favs are the first and the third photos. Drool!

  27. you have such a way with words! this story would have touched me regardless but i love the way you shared it–thank you! and thank you for this recipe, which WILL be made by me!! YUM!

  28. Gorgeous photos. Great story. Wonderful as always! πŸ™‚

  29. I love this cake and I love this story. The kindness, sincerity and openness of strangers like this seems rare these days. I think we all need reminded sometimes that it still exists πŸ™‚

  30. Great post. : )
    I love the recipe and the photos but what I liked most was the Vincent share. I love meeting people by grace and having them touch your life. That’s a special gift and I’m sure he’ll find you again sometime in this life (or the next!).

  31. A beautiful story. AND, a beautiful cake! I already had my Thanksgiving desserts planned and the ingredients bought, but now I’ve changed my mind and I will be making this cake.
    When I meet people and have spontaneous conversations that impact me, I often think they are angels in disguise; someone delivering a message to my heart at a much needed time. I’ve never forgotten any of those special encounters. Thanks for sharing yours so eloquently with us.

    • Aw, that makes me so happy, Cookie! Feel free to make it a couple days in advance and cover it — it keeps well in the fridge!

      Actually, it’s funny you mention angels, because Vincent’s real name WAS that of an “angel” of sorts — it definitely made me think. I feel like it was certainly an ordained meeting πŸ™‚ Now I just need to keep turning it over and see where God wants me to take it. Thanks πŸ™‚

  32. Do you think I could use a bundt pan instead of a tube pan?


    • Hey Mollie, It’s a bit too much batter for a bundt pan, unfortunately, and I fear it will overflow or won’t bake very well. Your best bet might be to buy or borrow one. I actually don’t own a tube pan either (although I need to, for variations on this very pound cake!) and emailed all my coworkers until I found one πŸ˜‰ Hope you can find one somewhere!

  33. What a great story! Julie, your words always draw me in and I feel like I am sitting right there chatting up Vincent myself. Awesome photos and awesome pound cake! If for some odd reason you don’t feel you can ever finish desserts like these, I’m just a few exits away. πŸ˜‰

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