Things are about to get really basic up in here. I have taken all the flavors of the beloved pumpkin spice latte and mixed them into light, fluffy cupcakes with vanilla buttercream piled high on top. Pumpkin spice lattes in cupcake form? I might as well just put on the Uggs that have been relegated to the closet the last couple of years because I CAN’T EVEN. Pumpkin spice, espresso, lighter-than-air cupcakes, and dreamy vanilla buttercream? YAAAAAS. YAAAAAAAAAS. Pumpkin spice all the things!
But before we get to the cupcakes, I have a confession to make: I don’t really understand the pumpkin spice latte craze. I mean, I get that cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and coffee are good. That’s the entire basis for the chai latte, and I big-pink-puffy-heart love chai lattes. But something about the pumpkin spice latte turns me off. Maybe it’s my confusion over the pumpkinization of America. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte that actually tasted “right.” In my experience, it either tastes of artificially flavored syrup with a good dose of bitterness, or a very milky cup of coffee, neither of which are things that I get terribly excited about. I like my pumpkin real and my coffee black. But I also dig cupcakes. So here we are.
These cupcakes have a hefty dose of pure pumpkin purée (a whole cup!), more pumpkin pie spice than cinnamon (because pumpkin should taste like more than just cinnamon), and a noticeable hit of coffee flavor in the form of granulated espresso. Where many pumpkin baked goods are dense and heavy, these cupcakes are a bit on the softer, lighter side thanks to some serious baking chemistry. Yes, chemistry. Don’t panic. I am a C+ chemistry student at best, so if I can figure this out, anyone can.
To achieve a tender crumb, we need a few things: cornstarch, buttermilk, oil, and my favorite ingredient of late, whipped egg whites. Cornstarch is added to the dry ingredients. Cake flour is a mixture of all purpose flour and cornstarch, and it’s slightly lower amount of gluten makes for a velvety texture. If we used all cake flour here, our cupcakes would likely sag in the middle. They’d still be delicious, but we want them puffy. The solution is to add just a touch of cornstarch to the full volume of flour. Buttermilk also helps with tenderness, and activates our leaveners. Oil is used instead of butter. American-style butter is 15-20% water, whereas oil is water-free. Therefore, our cupcakes will stay moist for days, rather than drying out as the water in the butter and pumpkin evaporates.
Airiness, something that is so often lost in pumpkin baked goods, comes in the form of whipped egg whites, just like it does in my Pumpkin Pie. Egg whites are structural powerhouses in baking. Left in their natural state with the increased moisture from the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and oil, they would weigh these cupcakes down. But when we whip air into them and completely alter their physical form, we bypass dense, heavy cake completely. Light and fluffy cupcakes all the way. Once the cupcakes are baked, put them on a rack to cool and get to work on the frosting. This vanilla buttercream, you guys. It is SO good. Buttery, fluffy, not-too-sweet vanilla heaven. And it’s so easy, it’s ridiculous. Beat butter until it’s fluffy and light in color, add confectioner’s sugar and salt, then vanilla and heavy cream. The heavy cream whips within the mixture and makes the resulting frosting so fluffy, I could die! (Name that movie.) You could use half & half or whole milk here, but your frosting will not be nearly as rich and fantastic. Once all your mixing is done, stuff the buttercream into a bag with a piping tip and go nuts. If you’re not comfortable with a piping bag, or just don’t have one, spread the vanilla buttercream with an offset knife.
Make these cupcakes this weekend or over Thanksgiving, and get your basic on. Or, if being totally basic isn’t your thing, double the batter and make an amazing layer cake! No matter how you feel about Starbucks or Lululemon or selfies, these Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes won’t disappoint. Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes
adapted from Pumpkin Cupcakes on Sally’s Baking Addiction
makes 14 cupcakes or a one-layer 9″ round cake*
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/2 tablespoons espresso granules*
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pure pumpkin purée
1/2 cup neutral-flavored oil*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 cup unsalted butter, softened room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream*
Preheat oven to 350F. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, espresso granules, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together sugars, pumpkin purée, oil, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. Using a silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture in two installments.
Place two egg whites in a medium mixing bowl. With an electric mixer or a whisk, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the pumpkin batter, just until combined. Divide batter into prepared pans, filling each cup 2/3 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, beat softened butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. With the mixer starting on low, beat in confectioner’s sugar in two installments. Add salt. With the the mixer on high, beat in vanilla and heavy cream, stopping to scrape down the bowl. When the frosting is to the preferred consistency, it’s ready. Pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
Cupcakes will keep covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to three days.
1. If you want a layer cake, you may double this recipe and pour it into two greased 9″ round pans. Bake at 350F for 25-27 minutes.
2. I use Medaglia d’Oro.
3. I use canola oil, but vegetable oil will also work.
4. Half & half or whole milk may be used in place of the heavy cream.