A FEW YEARS BACK, I couldn’t escape the “pan-banging cookies.” Like other viral recipes — baked feta pasta, “doughnut cereal,” spiced chickpea stew — they seemed part of a vast internet potluck where everyone was suddenly bringing the same dish.

At some point (maybe the “Good Morning America” feature?), I realized there was a human being behind the thin, ridged, crunchy-gooey cookies, and that she was already on my radar. Sarah Kieffer’s “The Vanilla Bean Baking Book” from 2016 (Avery, $28) had a definitive place on my “keeper” cookbook shelf; I’d just been so stuck on her other hits, I hadn’t yet gotten to the cookies. While they are indeed good, in my kitchen, Kieffer is famous at a different level — to my family and guests — as the person behind “that pumpkin cake,” not “those cookies,” the former being a Pumpkin Poundcake With Chocolate that’s our go-to dessert between October and December.



It started, honestly, as a way to use up the extra pantry cans of pumpkin purée that my mom and I accidentally stockpiled in pre-Thanksgiving shopping trips. Before long, we were buying cans just to make the cake for fall dinners or coffee klatches. By the following year, it graduated to a place on the Thanksgiving table, right by its cousin the pumpkin pie.

Kieffer is well beyond a one-hit, or even two-hit, wonder. After the pan-banging fame, she went on to write an entire book centered on cookies. Most recently, the pumpkin cake is getting fresh competition from her new “Baking for the Holidays” book (Chronicle Books, $24.95), which features delights like Nutella Star Bread and Triple Chocolate Peppermint Bark.

With her as an example, along with other beyond-viral professionals, like Allison Roman (she of the chickpea stew and a different famous cookie: salted chocolate chunk shortbreads), I’m trying to temper my cynicism about super-popular online recipes. It’s tempting to automatically discount the newest hot thing (or, in the case of whipped coffee, the newest iced thing) when it looks designed for a TikTok checklist of fun, quirky and visually arresting. Sometimes they taste great, too — and if there’s a human behind them instead of an algorithm, sometimes their other recipes do, too.

Pumpkin Poundcake With Chocolate
Makes 8 to 12 servings

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½ cups packed brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
1 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin purée
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the eggs on medium until pale yellow and doubled in volume, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the granulated and brown sugars, and mix on medium until well combined. Add the oil, pumpkin and vanilla extract, and mix on medium again until completely combined. Add the flour mixture, and mix on medium until smooth. Stir in the chocolate with a spatula.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake 45 to 60 minutes, until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack to finish cooling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before slicing.
— from “The Vanilla Bean Baking Book” by Sarah Kieffer