pumpkin cupcake comparison

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You know what’s totally unfair, considering that I’m in general more interested in food than Dave? He has a more sensitive palate than me. What the hell?

I made these cupcakes when he wasn’t around, and I had to do three separate “tastings” (eating all three in one sitting, unfrosted) over a couple of days before I could really narrow down my opinion. Dave came home, ate one of each, and described them almost exactly as I would have. Gah!

My primary goal for the pumpkin cupcakes was for them to be pumpkin cupcakes, not pumpkin muffins with frosting. I originally thought I’d make this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but then I found two other recipes, one from the newest issue of Bon Appetit which everyone is raving about, and one from Martha Stewart, and of course I’m incapable of making a decision, so: comparison time!

batter combo
left to right: david leite, martha stewart, bon appetit

Bon Appetit: This recipe got demerit points from the start for calling for self-rising flour and pumpkin pie spice, both of which I had to look up conversions for. (And I was surprised to find that there apparently is no straight substitution for self-rising flour.) Plus it called for the brown sugar to be mixed with the dry ingredients – clumps!  The mixing method is a simple wet ingredients-dry ingredients-combine process, which…sounds like a muffin. It was the only recipe that used oil instead of butter, and it included sour cream.

Martha Stewart: This was also mixed similar to muffins are, with the pumpkin added after the wet and dry ingredients are combined.

David Leite (via Smitten Kitchen): This recipe was the most promising from the beginning, because it’s actually mixed using the cake method, where butter and sugar are creamed, the eggs are mixed in, then the dry ingredients and liquid (buttermilk in this case) are alternately added.

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left to right: david leite, martha stewart, bon appetit

Bon Appetit: They were very dense; I could always identify these cupcakes just by the weight of them. The tangy flavor of the sour cream was definitely noticeable, which I thought masked the flavor of the pumpkin. This was both Dave and my least favorite.

Martha Stewart: These were good – light and moist, with a nice pumpkin flavor. The tops were sticky, but that doesn’t matter after they’re frosted. I was impressed with these until I tried the David Leite cupcakes, and then these seemed too muffiny.

David Leite: Perfect. So light, with just the right amount of resiliency. (It’s hard to describe this trait of cakes, but I like when they’re a little springy.) The pumpkin flavor was nicely balanced. They were just really good cupcakes, pumpkin flavored.

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left to right: david leite, martha stewart, bon appetit

For once, a comparison post where the results are clear! Even my dumb palate can tell the difference between these three cakes. David Leite’s recipe is certainly the way to go, unless you’re in a big hurry or hate to bake or something, in which case nobody is going to complain about Martha Stewart’s recipe.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Cupcakes
(adapted from David Leite via Smitten Kitchen)

18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1¼ cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Divide the batter equally between the cups. (They’ll be about ¾ full.) Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Cupcakes
(from Martha Stewart)

Makes 18

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Printer Friendly Recipe
Mini Pumpkin Cupcakes
(adapted from Bon Appétit October 2009)

24 mini-cupcakes

The original recipe called for self-rising flour and pumpkin pie spice, but in the absence of both of those, I had to make substitutions.

½ cup cake flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon baking powder
⅔ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon allspice
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 large egg
½ cup canned pure pumpkin
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup sour cream
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 mini muffin cups with 1¾ x 1-inch paper liners. Mix flour, golden brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice in large bowl. Whisk egg, canned pure pumpkin, vegetable oil, sour cream, and vanilla extract in medium bowl. Add mixture to dry ingredients; stir to fully combine. Spoon batter into paper liners (batter will almost fill liners). Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 16 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely on rack.

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  1. Thanks for posting this! I love pumpkin anything, and the winning cake looks delicious!

  2. I love your comparison posts! My pumpkin cupcake recipe is a little lame so I’m definitely going to try this one. I LOVE how they look with the green frosting and sprinkles!

  3. This is great! I love your comparison posts. 🙂 I also made the david leite cupcakes and we really enjoyed them too. LOVE the green frosting and sprinkles, it’s like a pumpkin with a green stem. 🙂

  4. Great post! I love pumpkin!

  5. Oh, I do so love your comparison posts 🙂 So this was why you were looking for a self-rising flour conversion! Do you think cream cheese frosting or buttercream for these though?

  6. bridget says:

    Caitlin – I used cream cheese frosting. I believe all of three of these recipes include a cream cheese frosting recipe at their original source, but I didn’t follow any of those, because I had some leftover frosting from something else.

  7. Wow, you seriously can even see the difference!

  8. This is great! I try to compare the ingredients for different recipes but this is much more helpful.

  9. Awesome use of the scientific method =)

    I honestly love pumpkin but I feel as if the flavor is being cheapened because it’s popping up everywhere in the year, not just for fall…

  10. Lisa T says:

    so glad you posted this! A great pumpkin cupcake would be a great rainy day recipe 🙂

    Now if only I could find canned pumpkin…

  11. I’m mightily impressed with your testing! (And I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say I’m thrilled that you liked my cupcakes the best.) I adore the pumpkin cake, which is the basis for the cupcakes. Keep up all the good work.

  12. What a great comparison! I really want to give these pumpkin cupcakes a try….perfect for Fall and Halloween:)

  13. You’ve done all the hard work for us. Now all that’s left to do is enjoy the ultimate cupcake.

  14. What a fun comparison post! Now I just need to find pumpkin!

  15. I’ve been wanting to make pumpkin cupcakes for fall. Now I know which recipe to try!

  16. I just made the Ellie Krieger version of pumpkin cupcakes before. They were moist and delicious. Yours are really nice with the frosting that you made.

  17. Hi there! Such a fan of your blog and I love pumpkin cake! I’m actually making your adapted version of white cake from your second comparison. Those babies are in the oven so I will give you feedback later when they come out. CHeck out my blog (just began!) Thanks for all the great recipes! Oh and by the way… what frosting did you use on the white cupcakes?

  18. bridget says:

    JoJo – I hope you enjoy the cake! The frosting I used was the Easy Vanilla Buttercream is this comparison post of vanilla frostings.

  19. Next, I want to see pumpkin cupcakes made with REAL pumpkin!
    I can’t believe you made 3 types of pumpkin cupcakes.
    Now, you have to have an early Halloween party! I loved this post!

  20. Mmm I so love pumpkin and these cupcakes look delicious. It is really frustrating me right now that Libby’s Pumpkin Puree has vanished off the face of the UK. I cannot find it anywhere in London or online in the UK right now. I only hope that someone starts stocking it nearer to Hallowe’en and then I’m going to stock up!

  21. OK, I am a food blog nerd and I LOVE LOVE LOVE comparisons of similar recipes..thanks for this post…

  22. I love your comparisons, pumpkin cupcakes before for right now. Maybe I will have to try all 3 of the recipes 🙂

  23. lots of yumminess, all in the name of research, of course! thanks for the comps, and i’ll keep that DL recipe in mind for a tasty fall treat!!

  24. christine louise says:

    i love, love, love the green frosting with the festive sprinkles. i would have never thought to have used green, but it works. (:

  25. bridget says:

    christine – I have to admit that I only used green because I had it leftover from something else. But I agree, it ended up working pretty well!

  26. Betsy says:

    I loved the comparison – and based on your recommendation made the David Leite recipe. This is the best cake I’ve had in a long time. I made large and mini cupcakes and frosted with some leftover chocolate cream cheese icing. After two days they were still moist! My office loved them.

  27. I knew the internet would not fail me. I was looking for a cupcake/muffin recipe with of course, pumpkin, to go with some leftovre cream cheese frosting I have sitting in my fridge. I love this post on the comparison. Thanks for the time you spent making these three recipes, I hope it was an enjoyable time for you! Off to make Mr. Leite’s recipe. 🙂

  28. caroline says:

    Did this recipe make 18 mini cupcakes, or 18 regular sized cupcakes? Thanks!

  29. bridget says:

    caroline – That’s regular-sized. About three times that many minis.

  30. Just popped a batch of the Smitten Kitchen cuppies out and oh my god… I knew it was possible to make pumpkin cupcakes that actually tasted like cupcakes… thank you so much for helping me reach a successful completion to my quest. Now, off to play with the recipe… I wonder what it would taste like with hazelnuts?

  31. What a great comparison post! I went with your recommendation and made David Leite’s recipe… wow! I think this is my new favorite fall dessert. 🙂

  32. I enjoyed reading the comparison and how you came to your decision. I have made Martha Stewart’s but now, I would like to try David Leite’s. Thanks.

  33. Thank you so much for posting this! I googled the difference between the Leite and Stewart cupcakes and didn’t actually expect to find a comparison and was really surprised to find one. Thanks again 🙂

  34. First, thanks for doing a comparison! I just baked off the Winner and can totally see/taste what you mean about it being more “cupcake-y” but I think I may prefer the Martha Stewart recipe. Yes, it’s more dense and muffin-y but it is also more pumpkin-y. And I think holds up better with the classic cream cheese frosting. SO, it’s a tie in my book. I will make the MS recipe when I feel I want a more “substantial” cupcake and this one when I want a lighter, more delicate pumpkin flavor.

  35. bridget says:

    Kim – Thanks for weighing in! It’s particularly interesting that you think MS’s recipe is more pumpkiny, because both recipes have the same ratio of flour:pumpkin (and spices). I wonder if it’s the extra sugar in MS’s recipe that brings out the pumpkin flavor more?

  36. Bridget- It might be the sugar OR maybe the eggs (4 vs2?) but even by the color (pics above), you can see that the MS ‘looks’ more pumpkin-y don’t you think?

  37. bridget says:

    Kim – Good point; when you mentioned the color, I think it became obvious to me – air! The creaming method in Leite’s recipe incorporates a lot of air that isn’t in the MS batter.

  38. Bridget- You are absolutely right ! And the MS recipe I found also uses browned butter w/ fresh sage which adds a freshness to the pumpkin batter. I believe it is a variation of this one (not sure which one is the Original).

  39. Thank you once again for being my “go to” sight! Love, love, love your blog!!

  40. Michiko says:

    Ah! The power of google! I was JUST searching for some pumpkin cupcake recipes to do my own trial, and look! Someone else has done the research for me! I even had two of the three recipes you used narrowed down to my “going to try” list. Bridget, you have just saved me time and ingredients! My new hero. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your results!

  41. Kathy says:

    I made the recommended David Leite cupcakes last year and topped them with cranberry Swiss meringue buttercream. They were so delicious that I wanted to keep eating and eating them. The cupcakes truly were pumpkin cake, not muffins. I added unsweetened cranberry puree (boiled cranberries in water until they had burst, then put them through a food mill) to vanilla SMB and created the most wonderful frosting. I am coming back to this recipe again this year.