Recipe Tasting: Pumpkin White Chocolate Cupcakes

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Fall flavors in all their glory.

Fall always makes me smile. It isn’t the ubiquitous PSL or the obscenely early holiday decor, but the crispness in the air, the rainy days sitting on the heating grate on my mother’s floor, looking out the window, and the overall snuggly, safe feeling that sweaters, scarves, and a mug of something warm bring. Fall is a little less about adventure and a little more about security, love, home.

But I also love the little kids that are somehow out in DROVES this time of year. Kids racing through, over, and around hay mazes of all shapes and sizes. Kids in costume on Halloween parade. Kids picking out pumpkins in pumpkin patches. Ah, yes. This is where I was going when I got swamped by fall nostalgia. Pumpkins.

Quite simply, pumpkins are delicious – that’s why we’re here at this blog post right now! Most people start and end with pumpkin pie. Some people go the extra mile and make pumpkin soup. Marcus Samuelsson makes an insanely good salsa that features pepitas. But most of the time, you look at a pumpkin and think, “that is way too much work.” But actually, it isn’t all that bad! So, I would like to introduce you to fresh pumpkin cupcakes – a new adventure that doesn’t take too much extra effort.

To start, you have to have the right type of pumpkin. All pumpkin varieties are edible, but different varieties have different qualities. If you’re headed to the grocery store, stick with “sugar pie,” “sugar baby,” or just “pie” pumpkins. This variety is bred for tasting great, particularly in baked goods. I wouldn’t go for one of those big Jack O’Lanterns or pretty decoratives – they are bred for their stability or good looks, respectively, over their taste. Their flesh is stringy, slightly bitter, and watery and requires a lot more sieving and, really, weren’t we just talking about reducing the workload of pumpkins? If you’re headed to a farmers’ market, I would just go ahead and ask your farmer – there are definitely more cool and delicious varieties than I can name.

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Stick a fork in me – I’m ready to be eaten!

Once you’ve picked your pumpkin, the rest is a pretty simple cake. I’ve indicated below that you should whisk, stir and fold everything by hand for this recipe. As it is already a pretty dense cake and the pumpkin adds a good amount of the total volume after you combine the first set of ingredients, beating it with a mixer will surely cause too much gluten formation. Gluten makes your final product chewy, which is good for pizza, but bad for cupcakes.

So, after finding the right pumpkin and treading lightly with regards to the whole gluten situation, you should be able to get through this recipe without much trouble. Then, you’ll be able to experience how delicious pumpkin can be. And you can wrap yourself in the cozy, warm, safe love of fall, too.

Fresh Pumpkin Cupcakes with White Chocolate Chunks
(Original recipe from CupcakeBlog.com)
Makes approximately 24 regular cupcakes

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups shredded fresh pumpkin
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Preparation
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut open a pumpkin, take out the seeds and inner flesh, then chop into manageable chunks.
3. Grate the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, with a box grater until you have four cups of grated pumpkin. You’ll use about half your pie pumpkin, so save the rest for some delicious, homemade pumpkin purée that you can make later.
4. Measure the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg into a medium sized bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Measure the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla into a large size bowl and whisk together.
6. Add about a fourth of the dry mixture to the wet and fold together. By hand. Seriously. (“Folding” means you cut straight down the middle, scrape the bottom of the bowl, lift the batter, and sprinkle the dry flour across the top. Spin the bowl a quarter turn, then start again. Here’s a good demo with a bonus lemon pancake recipe!)
7. Continue adding in fourths until all the dry is incorporated. The result with be a very thick batter and a tired arm.
8. Fold the pumpkin and chocolate chunks into the batter.
9. Scoop into cupcake papers about two-thirds full.
10. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. There are a lot of methods to tell if a cupcake is done. The most obvious way is a cake tester or toothpick. But what if you can’t find a toothpick? My favorite is by touch – if you press down lightly on top of the cupcake with your finger, it should spring back nicely. If your finger leaves an imprint, it needs a little more time.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Original from SmittenKitchen.com)

Ingredients
8oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation
1. Cream the butter and the cream cheese in a stand mixer for 2 minutes at medium speed (4ish). Yes, that sounds excessive. No, it isn’t.
2. Add in the confectioner’s sugar in two batches. Start the stand mixer slowly or it will cause the sugar to explode all over you!
3. Add in the vanilla and beat for a few more seconds.
NOTE: this frosting is a little sweet, but that is the trade that you make for increased stability. More sugar means better shape. Less sugar means softer and it could be melty at room temperature.
NOTE NO. 2: I pretty much consistently use 1.5 to 2 times the frosting this recipe makes. Everyone works differently, but I would at least make 1.5 times the frosting on your first try of this recipe.

Assembly
1. Fit a pastry bag with a big tip. I like to use the biggest circle tip I can find.
2. Fill the pastry bag with frosting and pipe fabulous designs onto your cupcake. I go with one big swirl.
3. EAT!

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