Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cupcakes

It’s the third day of fall, and the third day we’ve tried to make these seasonal cupcakes! A friend sent us The Novice Chef’s recipe for pumpkin muffins with a cream cheese swirl and I had to try them.

The recipe starts with a can of pumpkin purée, which I opened and handed to Belle to scoop into the mixing bowl. If she were a little older and stronger, I’d show her how the can opener works to practice strength and precision – knowing where to stop is important for getting a can to open!

At her level of coordination, though, I held the can steady while she scraped the pumpkin out with the spoon. We modeled language through repetition (“scoop, scoop, scoop”) and worked on asking for help when Belle didn’t want to finish the task.

I typically show Belle the red line to measure to and ask her “more or stop” after each scoop. Today, I flipped the script a little and asked her to show me 1/2 cup for brown sugar. She confidently pointed to 1 cup, the usual amount when baking cookies. If I keep emphasizing the fractions and drop the ingredient (“where’s 1/2 c.?”), she will learn the lines by rote memorization, though developmentally she won’t understand that 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 cup, or that 1/2 c. in the usual measuring cup is equivalent to 1/2 c. in the cup we use as a scoop.

Asking for “more or stop/all done” works on her working memory: can she keep this piece of information in the forefront when the super exciting scooping process is happening?

Pumpkin makes for a bright orange batter, and I used it to talk about colors. “What color is in the bowl? What color are the egg yolks? If we add a lot of white flour, do you think the orange will get lighter or darker?” That last question was definitely above her level, but now that she can consistently and accurately label basic colors, we can start talking about mixing colors. “Orange plus white makes light orange!”

Skills worked on:

  • following directions
  • sequencing
  • asking for help
  • kitchen safety
  • fine motor (scooping and pouring)
  • colors
  • labeling (ingredients)
  • food prep!

Equipment needed:

  • mixer
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • toothpicks
  • spatula for scraping
  • 2 regular muffin tins
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • small bowls for cracking eggs, etc.

Recipe (40 min prep, 18-20 min bake, yield 24 cupcakes):

The recipe came with a note that they’re a bit sweet, so we’ve relabeled them as cupcakes and think of the swirl as baked on icing. We also found that there was plenty of batter and topping to make 24 cupcakes instead of 18, and that the amount of swirl topping was a little heavy in the original recipe. I’ve adjusted it a bit to reflect that below.

I am thrilled that I don’t have half a can of pumpkin left over though (if I halved the recipe and did, I’d probably make some pumpkin scones), and only one egg white left over, which I’ll add to the next batch of scrambled eggs, or use in some coconut macaroons.

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (pure pumpkin puree)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Cream cheese topping:
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place paper baking cups into muffin tins. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, beat together pumpkin, sugar and brown sugar.
  3. Beat in 2 eggs, 1/2 c. vegetable oil and 1 tbsp vanilla. Note: you may have to crack and separate the third egg at this time; set aside for cream cheese topping.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk 1 3/4 c. flour, 1 tbsp pumpkin spice (or 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg), 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt.
  5. Slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture, until there are no lumps. Fill muffin tins 2/3-3/4 full.
  6. In a medium bowl, beat 8 oz. cream cheese until smooth. Add in 1/4 c. sugar, 1 egg yolk and 2 tsp vanilla. Beat until well combined (may be lumpy).
  7. Top each cupcake with about 1 1/2 tsp of cream cheese mixture and use a toothpick to fold it into the batter. It will remain mostly white on top, but try to get some orange batter visible.
  8. Bake cupcakes for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool on a rack 15-20 min before storing. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Use wax paper to separate layers if stacking.