The Real Pumpkin

Pumpkin Spice: words that conjure up an idealized world of glowing fall leaves, holiday treats and cozy evenings by the fireplace. But there is a lot of Halloween trickery afoot in the grocery aisles and your favorite coffee shop at this time of year. 

Chances are that the confections, lattes and smoothies on offer have never seen a real pumpkin. Instead, we are flooded with an abundance of products loaded with sugar and natural and unnatural flavors and syrups. 

This is quite sad, when the markets and farmstands are piled high with healthy and delicious squashes of all shape and sizes, packed with nutrition and natural sweetness. They are not just for Halloween. With tough skins and dense flesh, they will stay fresh for several months when stored in a cool place. I stash a variety on my porch until the first hard frost arrives and they double as both decoration and food. 

These pumpkin spice cupcakes, baked with fresh pumpkin puree and real spices, and topped with a luscious cream cheese frosting, are a favorite of my friends and family and the perfect treat for your Thanksgiving table. I hope I have inspired you to cook with fresh pumpkin and to embrace the real over the fake this holiday season.

Preparing the Pumpkin

For best results, I use Kuri pumpkin and pressure cook it in my instant pot. Place the halved pumpkin on the rack (no need to remove seeds or skin), add one cup of water and cook on high for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes before doing a quick steam release. Allow pumpkin to cool slightly before scooping out the seeds and removing the flesh from the skin. Then it is ready to use. Refrigerate until ready to make the pumpkin base or any other sweet or savory recipes. The average kuri pumpkin yields 2 ½ to 3 cups of flesh. You can also cook the pumpkin in a microwave for 15 minutes in a covered microwave-safe bowl. I have not tried this method, but there are clear instructions you can access on the internet.

Pumpkin Base


1½ cups cooked or canned pumpkin
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
Pinch of fine sea salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract


Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until mixture is smooth and lump free. 


The Cupcakes

The dark muscovado sugar adds moist richness to the batter, but you can use regular dark brown sugar instead. You can substitute canned for fresh pumpkin, with good results, although fresh is superior.  The unfrosted cupcakes make great breakfast muffins, served with cup of tea or coffee, and their flavor and texture improves after a couple of days. 

Frost your cupcakes just before serving. The cakes should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to six days and the frosting will need to be refrigerated.


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½  tsp. grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground allspice
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
½ cup dark brown muscovado sugar
1¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 quantity pumpkin base


Line two twelve-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Melt the muscovado sugar and butter in a heavy saucepan, stirring to combine. Set aside to cool slightly. Beat the eggs, sugar, and melted butter/muscavado mixture together with an electric mixer, before adding the pumpkin base and mixing well. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients until combined. 

Fill the cake liners halfway with batter and place in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes. Cupcakes are done when tops spring back when lightly touched. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Ice with the cream cheese frosting. The cupcakes can be stored for up to five days at room temperature. Frost them just before eating, as the cakes will dry out in the refrigerator.


Cream Cheese Frosting


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. plain full fat cream cheese at room temperature
1½ cups Confectioners ‘sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Cream the butter and cream cheese together, add the vanilla extract, and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar until light and creamy. Pipe onto the cupcakes using a star nozzle, or spread over the tops with an offset spatula or flat knife. 

Cover and refrigerate any unused frosting and store for up to four days.

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