As a woman of science, I’ve always found it fascinating how powerful the connection between our senses and our memories is. How the smell of a cigar triggers old memories of my grandfather. How the sound of a once favorite song brings me back to certain time and place, forever dedicated to the friend whom it reminds me of in the first place. How just the sight of my hometown brings back sporadic memories and feelings from my childhood.
I guess it’s no surprise then that food, which enlivens all of the senses, can also carry strong memory associations. It’s the way that apples remind you of Fall and peppermint reminds you of the winter holidays. To my own senses, these pumpkin cupcakes remind me of my first Fall in NYC, around the time I started this blog. I was living in a shoe-box of an apartment, still having to think an extra second when getting on the subway to convince myself I wasn’t going the wrong direction, making friends in a city where I knew no one from my past, and picking up the pieces of a broken and failed relationship. These cupcakes and the little pumpkins on top became a foodie craft project of mine to focus on in the midst of all of the challenges of a new life and the adjustments to it.
Fast forward 2.5 years, I have a (somewhat) spacious apartment in Brooklyn where the hipster in me can run wild, and I know my way around the city, including which end of the train I need to be on for the most efficient commute possible. I have many friends in the city both new and old (it seems that I started a trend within my friends of moving to NYC – at least I like to think I did), and I’m stronger and very (maybe sometimes too) independent. These pumpkin noms have turned into an annual tradition, not only because they remind me of where I started in NYC, but also because they’re so darn tasty and adorable!
I found these cupcakes and decorations to be super easy to make (parents – these would be a great DIY project with your kids), and I also love the fact that the recipe is conveniently divisible (to spare your coworkers too many more sweets after the Thanksgiving holiday). As for the flavor, the spices bring a strong punch, which means the flavor of the frosting doesn’t hide the pumpkin goodness underneath it.
So, that said, forgive my nostalgia, start your own pumpkin craft project, and let your senses spark new memory associations over this Thanksgiving holiday! Who doesn’t love a little more pumpkin in their life?
PUMPKIN SPICE CUPCAKES w/ MAPLE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (Adapted from Sweetopia) Makes 10-12 cupcakes or ~36 mini cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp groung nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-3 Tbsp real maple sugar
1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners sugar
Sweetened coconut, toasted (optional)
Food coloring gel, orange
Bay leaf or thyme
Minimalist Décor: Making your own pumpkins can be more time than you’re willing to spend. Place a candy corn pumpkin on top and call it a day.
Shrink ‘Em: Mini cupcakes are just the cutest little things. Make ’em mini for a party or for portion control (even though we all know that never works). This recipe also halves easily.
Add a Layer: Add a layer of butter pecan or cinnamon spread/icing or jam in between the cake and the frosting.
*HINT: Use a trigger ice cream scoop, like this one, to fill your cupcake liners perfectly!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, into a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-3/4 full, but evenly across all. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Set pumpkin cupcakes aside to cool completely.
Cream the cream cheese and butter together either with a hand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add maple syrup. Slowly add the confectioners sugar and beat until smooth.
Once your cupcakes are cool, ice them with a butter knife or large piping bag and tip of your choice.
Sprinkle toasted coconut on top and any decorations you made.
For the pumpkins, add a small drop of gel food coloring to a about a 1/2 Tbsp. of fondant icing and mix until the coloring is even. Use your hands to roll the icing into a ball, and use a toothpick to make indents from top to bottom (like a beach ball).
Chop an almond lengthwise to make the stem and break up a bay leaf for the pumpkin leaf. Insert the stem and leaf into a small hole at the top of the pumpkin created by the toothpick.
For the leaves, mix the fondant with the food coloring gel as with the pumpkins. Press the colored icing into a chocolate or candy mold of your choice. Use a knife to cut off the excess and carefully take the icing out of the mold.