Before you call the office to tell us we made a mistake, understand this: the recipe is correct as printed.
Pumpkin Spice Cake
Credit: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen; Food Styling: Torie Cox

When a professional test kitchen turns out countless dessert recipes that all earn the monikers of "amazing," "super-delicious," and "the best ever," you have to wonder about a particular recipe that is so unique that it has the word "magic" in its name. What makes it more special than all the others? And what actually makes it magic? Developed by Pam Lolley in the Southern Living Test Kitchen, the Pumpkin Spice Magic Cake quickly became an editors' favorite throughout the testing (and tasting!) process, not only because it is delightfully filled with our favorite warm, seasonal spices, but for its distinctive look - an interesting combination of flan and cake. You do know, however, that creating magic is never as easy as it seems; it requires some forethought and planning. Every single step in the instructions is crucial and must be followed to ensure success, whether for a magic trick or a semingly magic recipe. Read on and learn how you can create this magical dessert for your Thanksgiving dinner table this season.

Why the Water Bath is Important

Before you cream the butter or crack an egg, the recipe instructs you to prepare a water bath, your best insurance against curdled flans, custards, and cracked cheesecakes (desserts that are all heavy on egg proteins). You have to protect the flan layer from the high heat of the oven or it will overcook, tighten, or shrink, leading to cracked cheesecakes, or curdled custards and flans. A water bath simply insulates desserts from the direct heat of the oven. Not only will the flan possibly separate and curdle but, without the water bath, the outside of the entire Pumpkin Spice Magic Cake may overcook before the center is done.

Choose the Right Bundt Pan

This recipe calls for a 14-cup light-colored Bundt pan. Why does the color matter? Dark metal pans absorb and distribute heat faster than lighter-colored pans, meaning your cake will bake more quickly in a dark pan, but the outside will potentially burn due to over-exposure to oven heat. In other words, exposing the sides of a cake to high heat at the beginning of bake time will cause the outside to get done before the inside is even warm. If you ever have to cover a cake with aluminum foil while baking because the outside is already brown and crusty but the inside is still under baked and gummy, check the color or your cake pan.

To determine the cup capacity of your Bundt pan, simply fill the pan (all the way to the very top) with water, one measured cup at a time. Whether it takes 8, 10 or 14 cups of water, that is your cup capacity. (Now use that water to hydrate your house plants.) In the market for a new Bundt pan? I really enjoy using this light-colored Nordic Ware Anniversary Bundt Pan, not only for its pretty curves and crevices, but for its handles – an oh-so handy feature when lifting the magic cake from the hot water bath.

One more note about the Bundt pan: To ensure success when baking the magic cake, be sure and generouslycoat the pan with cooking spray, and even go so far as to use a pastry brush to paint all the crevices with spray. This not only helps the magic happen (more on that below) but, when you invert the pan, the cake slips beautifully and effortlessly onto the cake stand.

Now (drumroll, please), For the Magic

If you have read through the recipe, and then looked at the image, you may be puzzled. The instructions tell you to put the cake batter in the pan first, followed by the flan mixture, which would mean, once inverted, the cake mixture would be the top layer, right? Sooo…what's up? If you are a fan of the Chocoflan "Impossible" Cake then you already know what happens here. You could call it science, because baking really is a science, right? But because this cake is so beautiful and delicious, we prefer to call it magic. In the baking process, the heavier flan mixture (which is dense with eggs, cream cheese, and two types of milk) drops to the bottom, while the airier cake batter rises to the top. As stated above, the water bath keeps the entire dessert insulated from too much heat and the light-colored Bundt pan allows the cake to cook thoroughly and evenly (without burned sides and mushy middle). Everything works together to create magic.

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The real magic however, comes when family and friends gather round to taste this delightful dessert served warm, at room temperature, or even chilled. After the first few bites you won't hear a peep from your guests - just some looks of wide-eyed astonishment. Suddenly you will be peppered with questions of "what is this?" and "how does it happen?" and "how did you do that?" You can just smile sweetly, shrug your shoulders, and say, "I have no idea…it's just magic!"