What’s a more fun treat than a cupcake? I make layer cakes much more often than cupcakes, but sometimes a cute little cupcake with a pretty swirl of frosting is just what I’m in the mood for. They’re quick and easy to frost and decorate, and the ratio of cake to frosting is pretty great, too. Today’s Pumpkin Cupcakes are so soft and moist, flavored with brown butter and cozy fall spices, topped with sweet cream cheese buttercream, and garnished with a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg.
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This recipe for pumpkin cupcakes begins with brown butter. Brown butter is a fantastic ingredient, and adds a wonderful, rich and nutty flavor to baked goods. It’s easy to make, just taking a couple minutes longer than it does to melt butter on the stove.
I love baking with pumpkin. It adds moisture and flavor, and pairs so beautifully with warm fall spices. Use plain canned pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie filling.
A combination of granulated sugar and dark brown sugar adds sweetness, moisture, and a subtle hint of molasses.
The eggs add structure to the batter, as well as richness.
I love to use buttermilk in my cake recipes. It adds a subtle tang and a rich, creamy texture, adding to the tenderness of the cake crumb. Its acidity also helps the cupcakes rise.
Flavor. Most cakes are better with a bit of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.
All-purpose flour is best for this recipe.
Leavens the batter, reacting with the acidity in the buttermilk, helping the cupcakes rise.
Salt & Spices.
A little salt enhances all the flavors and balances the sugar. For spices, I like to use a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. You can certainly substitute pumpkin pie spice if you have it on hand.
Make the Brown Butter.
You’ll need to make the brown butter first, and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Start by melting butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, you’ll continue to cook it, just swirling the pan occasionally. As the butter cooks, the milk solids will begin to brown on the bottom of the pan, and the scent will be rich and nutty. Pour the browned bits into a bowl, and scrape up all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan to use in your pumpkin cupcake batter.
Whisk Together the Wet and Dry Ingredients.
Once your brown butter is ready, whisk in the rest of your liquid ingredients until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the dry to the wet, and whisk briefly, just to combine.
Fill the Paper Liners and Bake.
You should have two standard-sized muffin pans prepared with 24 paper liners. When portioning cupcake batter, I prefer to use a cupcake scoop / ice cream scoop that has a release lever. I make sure that it’s perfectly level, so that each cupcake will be exactly the same size. With cupcakes, you need to be sure you’re not filling the cups with too much batter. If the cups are too full, you’ll end up with edges that spill over into muffin tops, and no one likes a cupcake with a muffin top.
Bake the cupcakes on the center oven rack until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
Make the Cream Cheese Buttercream.
Cream cheese frosting is one of the best things about pumpkin cake, carrot cake, and red velvet cake, am I right? Since cream cheese frosting tends to be soft, I use a combination of cream cheese and butter for my cream cheese buttercream. Adding the butter makes a more stable frosting that can easily be spread or piped onto the cupcakes without losing its shape.
For the pretty swirl of buttercream on my pumpkin cupcakes, you’ll need to fit a piping bag with Wilton tip 1M to pipe on the buttercream. For a simple but delicious decoration, I sprinkled them lightly with freshly grated nutmeg and a shower of toasted sugar.
Be sure to read all of my BAKING FAQs where I discuss ingredients, substitutions and common questions with cake making, so that you can be successful in your own baking! I also suggest reading my comprehensive post on making Perfect American Buttercream.
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Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Buttercream
- Muffin Pan
- Stand Mixer
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- ½ cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup whole buttermilk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 6 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 6 oz (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 ½ – 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp meringue powder
- ⅛ tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2 tbsp milk or cream, only if needed
- Preheat the oven to 350, and line two standard muffin pans with 24 paper liners.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the water has evaporated, and the butter is forming nutty, fragrant golden brown solids at the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and let the butter cool for 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Whisk in the browned butter.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk for about 30 seconds until smooth.
- Use a level cupcake scoop / ice cream scoop to portion the batter into the pans, being careful not to overfill them. You should have enough batter for 24 cupcakes, and may have enough batter for 1-2 extra cupcakes. It's better to bake 2 more cupcakes, or just throw out the extra batter, than to overfill the cups. (Overfilling cupcakes will lead to edges that spill over and create muffin tops, which aren't desirable on cupcakes.)
- Set the pans on a wire cooling rack, and cool for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan, and set on the cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for one minute.
- With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder, salt and vanilla. Increase speed to medium, and whip for 3-4 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy. Only add the milk or cream if needed for desired consistency, but you don't want to add much liquid to cream cheese buttercream, or it will become too soft to hold its shape when piped onto cupcakes.
- Fit a piping bag with tip 1M, and fill with the buttercream. Pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes, and sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg.