An Early Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Pure Maple Sugar Buttercream Frosting

Vegan Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake and Maple Sugar Buttercreme Icing Frosting

My idea of a pumpkin patch – filled with pumpkin cupcakes!!

Why I am Thankful

While I am thankful that we did not endure as much of hurricane Sandy’s wrath in my neighborhood as expected, my thoughts and prayers go out to the hundreds of others here in the U.S. and the Caribbean who, sadly, were not as fortunate.  In this season of thanks and of giving, I hope that all of you can reach down into your hearts and pockets and give in support of the victims of this devastating hurricane or otherwise show support.

One way I want to show support is through Creative Culinary’s food blogging “Support for Sandy” event to help the victims of hurricane Sandy.  On Thursday, November 8, food bloggers will come together and show (virtual) support by posting a “comfort dish” (a warm and homey dish that one would take to a friend in need) on their blogs. I will also post a “Support foSandy” badge in my post that will link directly to the American Red Cross for others to give. So please stop back Thursday for my allergen free. savory, comforting dish and to show support for hurricane Sandy victims.    

Chana Masala with Mushrooms

2012 FAAN Walk – Team Nom Yum & Free

Since this is a blog dedicated to food allergy awareness, I hope you also will consider supporting the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network – a non-for-profit organization dedicated to helping those with food allergies. To date, we have raised almost $600 in support of FAAN, please help Team Nom Yum & Free reach our goal of $1500 before the end of November. My daughter and the other 6 million children in the U.S. with potentially life threatening food allergies thank you for your support!


Perhaps joining my almost-4-year-old and his classmates on their field trip to the pumpkin patch got me in that “Great Pumpkin” Charlie Brown-like spirit. Before our trip, I had been dreading that my son would get wild ideas about carving Jack-o-lanterns, which would not mesh well with my disdain for cleaning slimy, stringy seeds and guts out of pumpkins.

I don’t know if it was the atmosphere of harvest from the pumpkin patch, corn maze, and hay ride or if it was, more likely, seeing the pride on my son’s face when he (the smallest in his class) chose and carried away the largest pumpkin in the field, but I told myself that – for my son – I literally would delve (my hands at least) into my fear of pumpkin insides and help him carve his find if he asked – thankfully, he didn’t! :)

Instead of carving a pumpkin, we made some fun treats with canned pumpkin, which I surprisingly can’t seem to stop using now. From sweet baked goods to savory thick soups, I am starting to appreciate some of the autumn-hype for pumpkins. First, my son and I made some tasty allergen free pumpkin donuts courtesy of a recipe from Allergy Free Test Kitchen. Next, I baked today’s irresistible Pumpkin Cupcakes with melt-in-your-mouth Pure Maple Sugar Buttercream Frosting – also free of the top 8 most common food allergens (i.e., no gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish or shellfish). Without the frosting, these also make delicious refined sugar free pumpkin muffins! (Also can use refined sugar free powdered sugar in icing.) Finally, I used my remaining pumpkin puree in a quick and easy, allergen free cozy pumpkin and potato soup, which I’ll share Thursday, Nov. 8.

FREE Ingredients

(Makes about 48-52 mini cupcakes or 12-14 regular cupcakes)

Pumpkin Cupcakes (or Muffins)

  •   1 ½ cups gluten free flour mix (like Bob’s Red Mill)
  •  ¾ tsp. xanthan gum
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  •   ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  •  ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  •  ½ tsp. ground sea salt (or other salt)
  • 2 tbsp. ground flax seeds
  •  ½ cup water
  •   cup canola oil
  • 3 tbsp. natural (no sugar added) applesauce
  • 1 cup evaporated cane juice (like Wholesome Sweetners)
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  •   ¾ cup pumpkin puree, canned
  •  ½ cup dried or roasted pumpkin seeds (I used Go Raw Organic dried seeds)

Maple Sugar Buttercream Frosting (optional)

Vegan Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake with Maple Buttercreme Icing

With added pumpkin seeds for decoration

  • ½ cup dairy free, soy free shortening
  •  pinch of ground sea salt (or other salt)
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup (not just maple flavored syrup)
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar**
  •  (optional) some pumpkin seeds for decoration (I used Go Raw Organic dried seeds)

** I just found refined sugar free powdered sugar at my local grocery store!!! I plan to try it in this icing next time and will report back how it works.

Method (or Mistakes)

Pumpkin Cupcakes (or Muffins)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 12 regular muffin cups or 48 mini muffin cups with paper cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In a small saucepan stir together flax seeds and water. Then heat on high heat until boiling. Once boiling, lower heat to medium-high and continue cooking for 2 minutes, until mixture resembles egg whites.

Vegan Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake with Maple Buttercreme IcingUsing a hand or electric mixer, beat together oil, applesauce, and evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy. Add flax mixture, ½ at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, then beat well. Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the pumpkin puree (beginning and ending with the flour). Beat on low speed after each addition just until combined, and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Finally, stir in pumpkin seeds. (Ironically, the aroma of the pumpkin puree combined with the texture of the batter with the pumpkin seeds reminded me a lot of pumpkin insides, but at least this time I didn’t have to stick my hands in.)

Vegan Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake with Maple Buttercreme Icing

Serve without frosting as pumpkin muffins

Using a mini cookie scoop (or medium-sized for regular cupcakes), scoop batter into muffin cups, filling about ½ to ⅔ of the way full. Place on middle rack in oven and bake for about 16-18 minutes (18-20 minutes for regular sized cupcakes), until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let cupcakes cool in pans on wire cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then remove from pan and let finish cooling on rack. Serve as muffins or frost after cupcakes are completely cool.

Maple Sugar Buttercream Frosting (optional)

Vegan Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake with Maple Buttercreme IcingYou might be able to tell from the photos that I made the frosting two different textures. For the mini pumpkin cupcakes, I made a harder more candied like maple sugar buttercream frosting, and for the larger cupcakes, I created a softer almost glaze-like maple icing.  (Although at first this was an accidental mistake of not taking down good notes the first time I made the frosting – a key tip mentioned by one of the food allergy mom bloggers spotlighted last week  – I explain in the “NOM YUM” section why it was better that I had two frosting consistencies.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer or electric mixer to beat together the shortening and salt until combined. Then set aside.

Pour syrup into a medium saucepan (syrup will bubble a lot, so do not use a smaller pot) and heat on medium-high heat. Insert a candy thermometer into syrup. Stirring occasionally, heat syrup until it reaches either 230° F (for a softer almost glaze-like icing) or 240° F (for a more candied frosting). Then remove from heat and let cool for about 3 minutes (do not stir).

While beating with hand or electric mixer, slowly pour maple syrup in a stream into the shortening mixture.  Continue to beat on medium speed until mixture starts to thicken some (about 2 minutes).

Vegan Allergy Friendly Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cake Cupcake with Maple IcingAdd powdered sugar, ½ at a time, beating and scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Then beat on high for 1 minute – mixture should lighten in color.

Use a spatula to spread or a pastry, piping, or plastic bag (with its corner cut off) to pipe frosting on completely cooled cupcakes.  Let cupcakes sit until frosting hardens some (or place in fridge to quicken process). For added decoration, you can push a few pumpkin seeds in the top of your icing.


As I mentioned last week, my husband was the reason for the two cupcake sizes. Having “secretly” enjoyed several mini cupcakes (which he did not know were for my office post-Halloween Happy Hour), when I asked my not-so-fond-of-sweets sweetheart to save the rest, (after displaying annoyance with my “tease”) he asked me to make him some “regular sized” pumpkin cupcakes and muffins (without frosting).  He shared that one reason he enjoyed these cupcakes so much were because they were “not too sweet.” (Perhaps that is the real reason I prefer sweet potato pie over pumpkin – sweet potato definitely has a naturally sweeter flavor than pumpkin, which in contrast has more earthy tones.)

Vegan Allergy Friendly Gluten Free Dairy Free Soy Free Pumpkin Cupcake Cake with Maple IcingBut for those who like sweet, the maple sugar buttercream frosting definitely adds it!  I was impressed by how much I was able to make it taste like my favorite Vermont maple sugar candy.  A couple of my coworkers shared with me that of these cupcakes, they especially loved the frosting –perhaps they have a sweet tooth like me? I admit not wanting to waste my extra frosting, so I piped a bit of into several mini muffin cups in a muffin pan and let it harden in the fridge. Result – soft maple candy! (Of course, due to the shortening, at room temperature too long my “candy” a lot softer than real maple sugar candy.) My husband commented that the “candy” tasted too “maple-ly,” to which I “gently explained” (i.e., sarcastically joked) is the point of maple sugar.

The pairing of the mini pumpkin cupcakes with a more candied-like maple sugar buttercream frosting and a more glaze-like maple icing for the larger ones worked nicely. It allowed me to use less icing to cover the larger cupcakes so as not to overpower their pumpkin flavor. And I realize that a thinner frosting on the mini cupcakes could have gotten a bit messy and not looked as artistically appealing – especially after sitting around at a happy hour. At the end of the day, I think I may have liked the larger cupcakes better, largely because I could taste more of their pumpkin flavor due to their size and larger cake-to-frosting ratio.

I definitely plan to make these cupcakes again, especially for a Thanksgiving dessert. The earthy pumpkin flavor of the cupcake combined with the rich “maple-ly” flavor of the frosting bring out the essence of autumn and its fun harvest activities – searching for the biggest pumpkin in a pumpkin patch and tapping sap from maple trees in a forest (which I recall having enjoyed taking field trips as a child to see even more than trips to the pumpkin patch). Next year I will have to take my kids on a syrup tap excursion – who knows, perhaps it might inspire some more yummy maple recipes!

Remember to come back this Thursday for a quick and easy, top 8 allergen free, savory, comforting dish using basic ingredients that you likely already have in your fridge.   

Featured on Gluten Free Monday; Allergy free Wednesday via Real Food, Allergy Free and The Willing Cook; Gluten Free Friday via; Allergy Friendly (Day After Thanksgiving) Friday

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