When the leaves are falling and the air is crisp, these frosted cupcakes will warm the kitchen with the fragrance of fall. The comforting flavor of spiced pumpkin in a soft and tender cake is layered with a luscious cream cheese frosting sweetened with real maple syrup.
Be sure to use the darkest, most flavorful maple syrup you can find — look for Grade C, which is not an indication of quality but of darkness and intensity of flavor. School party? Top each cream cheese frosted cake with a little candy pumpkin.
For the cake:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup canned pumpkin purée*
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
- ½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
For the frosting:
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (preferably Grade C)
- 1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and finely chopped, for garnish
- 2 standard-sized cupcake tins
- Paper cupcake liners
- Electric stand mixer or hand mixer
For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 standard-sized cupcake tins with 18 paper liners.
Beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high until very light in color, 4-5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next. About halfway through, turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then resume adding the eggs. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the pumpkin and blend well.
With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and clove into a medium bowl and whisk to blend. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, beginning with 1/3 of the flour mixture and ½ of the buttermilk; repeat, then finish with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.
Fill each liner ¾ full with batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely on a cooling rack. Frost the cupcakes the day you wish to serve them.
For the frosting:
Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer or a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners’ sugar and mix thoroughly. Scrape down the bowl with a clean spatula and blend again briefly.
Using a small offset spatula, evenly distribute the frosting among the cupcakes, being sure the frosting covers the entire top. Garnish with the nuts. These should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Be sure to take them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.