Want to see a magic trick? Then watch these pumpkin spice cupcakes disappear right before your eyes! When you serve these moist and flavorful cupcakes with their positively irresistible cream cheese frosting, people will come back for seconds (or even a lot more). You may need to make a batch to tuck away in the freezer just for you to enjoy — they’re THAT good! This is a cupcake recipe that may earn you some extra-special invites this holiday season.
The Most Wonderful Time of My Baking Year
I’m telling you, as soon as I feel a hint of fall in the air, my baking instincts start revving up. While I do love cooking year-round, I find warm-weather meals a little more challenging. It’s already hot and the idea of adding more heat by using an oven or range tends to put me off doing much more than “survival cooking” in my home. Outdoor grilling is where it’s at for me in the summer.
But when the outdoor temps drop, big things start happening inside my kitchen. Throw in the festivity and cheer of the holidays and things really switch into higher gear.
All Things Pumpkin
I was a late arrival to the Pumpkin Party. I didn’t like pumpkin pie as a child, so that made me rule out everything else that had pumpkin in it too. Years later I learned the pumpkin pies I experienced as a child were just badly made. I came to that realization when I had a piece of pumpkin pie made by someone who knew what they were doing. After that, I was sold and my exploration of pumpkin-flavored foods began.
I’ve made my own pumpkin pies, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin waffles, and pumpkin cheesecake. Recently I made pumpkin muffins (I’ve been meaning to make those again) and I tried my hand at pumpkin bars (while those were tasty, I really feel like I need a do-over to try to create exactly what I envisioned in my head).
Creative Desserts For Thanksgiving and Beyond
The pumpkin cheesecake I served for Thanksgiving one year came about at the height of a Cheesecake Phase I went though. After my cheesecake mania subsided, I went into a Made-From-Scratch Cake phase that has, technically, never ended for me. One of the early stand-out creations was a layered pumpkin spice cake I mentioned in my Apple Cider Cake recipe. Since then, that cake has been on my brain and won’t go away.
It’s early December, we just celebrated Thanksgiving, and the desserts at our gathering this year were traditional pumpkin pie and blueberry crumble. At first I thought I might have missed my window for pumpkin spice cake, but then I realized that a lot of people enjoy pumpkin baked goods all the way into the New Year. And this recipe was begging to be made.
Making Things a Little Easier On Myself
Part of what I love about recipe blogging is sharing what I’ve made with others. My husband has been a really good sport about it, for the most part (he was really happy when the apple recipes stopped), but the two of us can only consume so much of some of the recipes I’ve made because of the quantity and how quickly things spoil. I count on our neighbors having a sweet tooth and they always manage to come through!
I’m thinking ahead to the easiest way to share this cake and the solution is a simple one – make pumpkin spice cupcakes instead of the big layered cake version. Cupcakes are easy to plate up and carry and they look more festive than a slice of cake. Cupcakes are also a lot easier to frost than a big layered cake and I’m a big fan of less stress around the holidays.
Speaking of Frosting
When I first made this cake, I made a cream cheese frosting that is just amazing. However, I realize that not everyone is a fan of cream cheese frosting so a yummy homemade vanilla frosting or a rich buttercream frosting would also taste great on this cake. Go with your personal preference because you won’t go wrong with any of them.
I don’t get to use cream cheese frosting very often so when I have the opportunity, I seize it!
Nuts and the Holidays
I’ve always associated nuts with the holidays. Ever since I can remember, there were always decorative bowls of nuts still in their shells on the coffee tables in the home I grew up in and the homes of relatives we visited. And there was always that set of “nut tools” for getting the nuts out – a metal nutcracker and a pick. I didn’t learn to enjoy nuts until I was much older and my fascination with nuts was because I liked using that nutcracker to crack open the shells!
Today I LOVE nuts and because there is such strong nostalgia I have for nuts this time of year, I can’t help putting nuts into my holiday baked goods. I used to add them to the batter or dough, but lately I’ve been adding adding them to frostings or glazes so that the crunch is more pronounced. Walnuts are the nut I’ve selected for my pumpkin spice cupcakes, although pecans, almonds, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds!) would be other great choices.
Of course the nuts are completely optional since I’m aware that nut allergies are a serious health concern and appear to be on the rise. I’ll make at least half of the cupcakes without nuts so that people can choose which version they prefer.
Making It Even Easier
I learned a long time ago that cupcake liners are the way to go. Not only do I hate greasing and flouring cupcake tins, but there’s always the risk that the cake will stick to the surface no matter what. So I found that cupcake liners were the trick to cupcakes that pop right out of the tins every time.
As luck would have it, I didn’t have any liners and there was no time to run to the store to get them. So I had to “old school” it by greasing and flouring 24 tins. It was almost enough to steal my holiday joy…
And with that, it’s time to start baking!
Making Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
First of all, the cream cheese and butter both need to be at room temperature when you make the frosting, so set those out well in advance! This reminder is more for me than anyone else, because I somehow manage to forget how long it takes dairy to soften in the fall and winter.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and then add the pumpkin, oil, and vanilla. Mix well with an electric mixer on low speed.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients with the mixer on low speed. Once all the dry ingredients are added, mix on medium for 2-3 minutes.
Grease and flour your muffin tins or put liners in them.
Use a ¼ measuring cup to fill each tin about ¾ full.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Check your cupcakes at the 20 minute mark by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean or with just a few crumbs, the cupcakes are done – otherwise bake them a little longer.
(Yay! None of the cupcakes stuck in the tins, but I still would have liked to use liners for saving time.)
While your cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. If you’re lucky enough to have a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Otherwise, use your hand mixer with the regular beaters.
First, beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 3-4 minutes.
Add the butter, mix well, and then beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.
Add the vanilla and mix in well.
Add the powdered sugar in small batches and mix in on low speed.
Once all the sugar has been added, mix on high for 1-2 minutes. Then treat youself to a taste of the best cream cheese frosting ever (this makes a lot, so there’s plenty for sampling!).
Finely crush about 1 cup of walnuts. I still haven’t gotten around to buying a nut chopper, so I’m doing the ziplock bag and rolling pin workaround.
Because I didn’t use liners and because this recipe makes a very generous amount of frosting, I decided to be a little creative with frosting the cupcakes.
I cut through the cupcake, a little more than halfway up the body.
Then I put frosting on the top of the lower half.
I sprinkled walnuts on the frosting.
I then frosted the bottom of the upper half it and placed it, frosting side down, on the lower half to “glue” the cupcake back together.
I frosted the top and, to show that there are nuts in the middle, I sprinkled a small amount of walnuts on the top,
For the cupcakes without walnuts, I simply spread a healthy amount of frosting on the top of the lower half of the cupcake, “glued” the top half on, and slathered the top with more frosting.
My husband, a pumpkin pie fanatic, got home while I was frosting the pumpkin spice cupcakes. Seeing that I was still arranging them and taking photos, he hovered nearby until I finally told him “You can have one now.” He had two. After dinner, he had two more. He also delivered some to the neighbors, but I noticed he limited people to two cupcakes per person.
That means he’s planning on holding some back for a midnight snack — clearly, this recipe has a favorable review from him.
Storing and Freezing Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
Based on how things have been going less than 6 hours since I finished them, I’m not going to be worrying about storing these pumpkin spice cupcakes for very long at all.
Normally, cakes don’t get stored in the refrigerator because the refrigerated environment dries out cake. But this has cream cheese frosting and the recommendation is that any baked good with cream cheese frosting goes into the fridge. To protect against drying out, put your pumpkin spice cupcakes in airtight containers. Take them out of the fridge an hour or two before serving to let the frosting and the cupcakes come to room temperature.
These cupcakes can be stored in the freezer. After frosting, put them on baking sheets and put them into the freezer until the frosting hardens to the touch. Once that happens, wrap each cupcake individually in several layers of plastic wrap and store them in freezer bags. Your cupcakes will keep up to 4 months in the freezer.
To thaw them, put them in the fridge overnight. Then unwrap them and place them on a covered cake stand or on a plate on the counter for 2-3 hours before serving to let them reach room temperature.
My Pumpkin Spice Cupcake Review
UPDATE: During the night FIVE more pumpkin spice cupcakes disappeared and my husband admitted responsibility (it wasn’t as though I was going to accuse the dog since I know his work only too well). I’m beginning to think these cupcakes may need to be listed as a controlled substance or come with a warning label of some kind.
These pumpkin spice cupcakes are moist, delicate, cakey, and the cream cheese frosting is absolutely addicting. I’ve indulged in four of them, myself – two of each version for an accurate comparison. I love the crunch of the walnuts, but the nut-free one is to-die-for as well.
The pumpkin flavor of the cake is not overwhelming, but it definitely comes through as “pumpkin.” These cupcakes are more than appropriate to be served from October through the end of December. I have a feeling this won’t be the only batch I make during the holidays.
I hope you’re inspired to bake up pumpkin spice cupcakes to share this fall and winter (and I’d be surprised if you don’t make that extra batch to keep for your own enjoyment).
- For Cake:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 can (15 oz) of pumpkin puree
- For Frosting:
- 2 packages (8 ounces each) of cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- Put out your cream cheese and butter to soften well in advance of beginning this recipe.
- Grease and flour 24 muffin tins or put cupcake baking liners in each tin.
- In a small mixing bowl sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
- Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer on low speed to beat the eggs.
- Add the oil, sugars, and vanilla and mix well on low speed.
- In small batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, mixing on low speed to incorporate well.
- Once all the dry ingredients have been added, mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.
- Use a ⅓ measuring cup to fill all 24 tins equally (around ¾ full or a little more).
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Check with a toothpick at the 20 minute mark to test for doneness.
- Immediately remove the cupcakes from the tins and cool on a rack.
- While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the cream cheese on medium until smooth for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the butter and mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and mix well on low speed.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar in small amounts, mixing in on low speed.
- Once all the sugar is added, mix on high for 1-2 minutes.
- Optional: Finely crush 1 cup of walnuts that can either be folded into the frosting, or used to garnish the cupcakes.
- Frost cupcakes either in the way demonstrated in the recipe article or according to your preference. This recipe makes a large amount of frosting so you can afford to be very generous with it!
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