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The Hunt for the Perfect Baked Pumpkin Treat

When the cooler weather arrives, like many of us, I love to get baking. Combine that with Halloween season and pumpkin spice mania, and you’ve got this little project here that I’ve been calling Pumpkin Spice Baked Goods Extravaganza. I chose four pumpkin/pumpkin spice recipes, new to me, and spent a considerable amount of my October baking (and eating) them. Now I’m here to tell you all about it! Read on to find out which recipes really shined in their pumpkin spice flavor, how easy they were to make, and what kind of Halloween/autumn get-together you should serve them at.


Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake with Maple Olive Oil Glaze

A glazed olive oil cake with pumpkin seeds on it

There’s a reason I started with this pumpkin olive oil cake recipe. Since checking her cookbook Snacking Cakes out of the library earlier this year, I have become somewhat of a Yossi Arefi devotee. None of her recipes have let me down yet. They’re delicious but easy. They’re all designed to be mixed in one bowl, with no hard to find ingredients, and notes on variations and substitutions. (This pumpkin olive oil cake recipe has suggestions to add chocolate chips as well as to use part rye flour. It also includes instructions for four different pans.)

What’s the flavor like?

This cake is not too sweet, which I love. It’s wholesome tasting enough that without the glaze I’d eat it for breakfast and wouldn’t feel like I injected myself with sugar first thing in the morning. It is heavy on the pumpkin spices, and you can especially taste the cardamom, which is a nice change from the usual cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The cake is very moist, with the double hit of juicy pumpkin and olive oil, but there isn’t a strong olive oil taste. The glaze is quite sweet in contrast — it’s basically icing sugar with maple syrup and olive oil — so that really elevates this one from an everyday loaf to a special occasion cake, depending on your mood. The olive oil in the glaze is quite distinct. If you’re not a big fan of olive oil, or if you’re still recovering from a pregnancy-induced aversion to olives and olive oil like me, I’d recommend skipping the olive oil in the glaze.

How easy is it to make?

Easy peasy! One bowl to mix all the ingredients, no electric mixer necessary, and one pan in the oven for about an hour. All you need to do with the glaze is pour it over the cooled cake! One thing is that the cake dough is very thick, not really pourable. Admittedly I didn’t try very hard because I didn’t care, but unlike a more liquidy cake batter, it was hard to get an even surface before I put it in the oven. So if you care about the smoothness of the top of the cake, you might spend some time with a spatula trying to even it out.

What type of Halloween party is it suited for?

As a pretty but casual looking cake, this one would be right at home at your afternoon Halloween outdoor picnic or at your witchy afternoon tea. Sans glaze, this cake would be a nice treat in your Halloween bagged lunch, or for breakfast, or with your mid-morning cup of tea or coffee.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

Do not add more maple syrup to the glaze than the recipe says or your glaze will be too runny like mine! Or maybe omit some or all of the olive oil and replace with maple syrup. I tasted the recipe as it was, and it wasn’t quite maple syrupy enough for me, but maybe that’s just my Canadianess. The toasted pumpkin seeds on top — which you can add with or without the glaze — really add a nice crunchy texture contrast and toasty flavor. Don’t skip them if you’re tempted to!


Pumpkin Spice Sugar Cookies with Glaze Icing

A bunch of Halloween shaped sugar cookies

Although this recipe is by Sally of Sally’s Baking Addiction fame, it doesn’t appear to be on her blog. (I’ve linked another site that shares the recipe). I found it in her print cookbook, Sally’s Cookie Addiction. It is basically a pumpkin spice twist on a standard sugar cookie recipe. If you have Halloween themed cookie cutters, this is their time to shine!

What’s the flavor like?

Obviously, these cookies don’t taste like pumpkin because they don’t have pumpkin in them. The recipe calls for “pumpkin pie spice mix” as well as extra cinnamon. (The commercially made pumpkin pie spice mix I used contains cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves which I think is standard). Tbh I’d prefer to separate the spices so they could be tweaked according to your preferences. But the pumpkin spicey taste in these is pretty good! Plus if they’re decorated like pumpkins, it adds a certain pumpkiny je ne sais quoi about them.

How easy is it to make?

If you’ve made sugar cookies before, you know the drill: You need an electric or standup mixer, a rolling pin (or old wine bottle lol), and parchment paper/silicone baking mats; the dough needs to be rolled out and chilled in the fridge for at least an hour; then you cut out your shapes, re-rolling the dough multiple times until you’ve used it up; at last, you can put them in the oven. Icing the cookies is a bit finicky, especially if you don’t own piping, and then you have to wait hours for it to set. The suggested “traditional royal icing” for these cookies — which I did not go for — calls for meringue powder, an ingredient I could not find in my local grocery store. In other words, these are not for the faint of heart or low on time.

What type of Halloween party is it suited for?

If you use Halloween cookie cutters and go all out on the icing, these are extremely seasonal and perfect for a Halloween night party. If you, like me, don’t have an intense love of decorating a lot of sugar cookies on your own, I suggest inviting your friends over for a Halloween cookie decorating party! You could even get everyone to bring a different decorating ingredient, sprinkles, food coloring, googly eyes, etc. It would be a fun activity for kids too.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

The instructions for baking the cookies say to keep them in until they start to slightly brown on the edge. Personally, I found waiting for that made mine a little crunchier than is my preference. I had better luck sticking to the suggested bake time of 11 minutes. The glaze I used was a bit sloppy to work with, and it didn’t fully dry until like 24 hours after. If you can find meringue powder, I’d suggest using the recommended traditional royal icing recipe with these. I think it’d be worth it!


Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

I was looking for a pumpkin drop cookie recipe, and this one looked like just the thing! As with most of the pumpkin cookie recipes I found, this one requires “blotting” the pumpkin puree to remove some liquid. This prevents the cookie from being too cake-like, keeping them dense and chewy. The pumpkin puree also acts as a binding agent, so these cookies are actually egg free! If you’re looking to veganize this recipe, all you’d have to do is replace the regular butter with vegan butter or a neutral oil. The recipe calls for melted butter specifically so I assume grapeseed oil or something similar would also work. (I didn’t try this though, FYI!)

What’s the flavor like?

If you love chewy and borderline undercooked cookies like I do, this is the recipe for you. I think it would be impossible to make these cookies crunchy! And the dense texture is accompanied by an intense pumpkin and pumpkin spice flavor. They taste like the best pumpkin pie but in cookie form! The recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice, but also gives individual measurements for different spices as an alternative. They are especially heavy on the cinnamon flavor. In terms of pumpkin/pumpkin spice flavor, these cookies were my favorite!

How easy is it to make?

These cookies are slightly more work than your standard chocolate chip cookies, but only just. The pumping blotting takes a bit of extra time, and the dough also needs to be chilled for at least 30 minutes before you bake them. Otherwise these are quite easy. And you can even make them if you’re out of eggs!

What type of Halloween party is it suited for?

These cookies very much have an “after school snack with a glass of milk” kind of vibe, so serve these at whatever the party equivalent of that is? They are also very potluck friendly (especially if you made them vegan) and could well survive being carted around in a Tupperware container while you made your way to a costume party.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

The recipe doesn’t specify how much to blot the pumpkin puree, so I erred on the side of a lot. You’d be surprised how much moisture is in pumpkin puree! For the called for six tablespoons of pumpkin, I soaked like four or five full-size paper towels. I just dabbed at the pumpkin with the towel. My cookies came out not cakey at all, so I’d call my blotting a success!


Pumpkin Spice Latte Cookies with Cream Cheese Icing

Pumpkin spice latte cookies

This is the recipe that started this whole project. Thanks to my partner Jorge for finding it! Basically, the gist here is PSL in cookie form!! Not only do these cookies have pumpkin and all the pumpkin spices in them, they also have coffee flavor and icing that is an approximation of the whipped cream atop your PSL. (Although I suppose you could literally just put whipped cream on these, which I’m sure would be delicious). These are definitely cake-like, but they do feel like cookies and not just glorified muffin tops.

What’s the flavor like?

These cookies have a nice pumpkin and coffee flavor, but I wish they were a little heavier on the warm spices. If I make them again, I’d adjust accordingly. It’s also a bit hard to tell because the cream cheese icing kind of takes over. I joked above about using whipped cream as a topping but whipped cream with pumpkin spices in it would highlight that flavor more, so I think I might actually try that!

Baking ingredients

How easy is it to make?

In contrast to the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies above, this recipe takes a different approach to reducing the liquid in the pumpkin puree: stovetop cooking. This is an extra 15 minute step, plus it creates more dishes! It does allow the flavors of the coffee (and to a lesser extent the vanilla and spices) to infuse the pumpkin, since you cook them together, so I think it’s worth it. You also have to chill the dough for an hour. The frosting is another extra step, but without it the cookies would be a bit underwhelming imho. In terms of time and ease, these PSL cookies are in between the pumpkin spice sugar cookies (hardest) and the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (easiest).

What type of Halloween party is it suited for?

You could really go full PSL mania and serve these cookies with homemade or Starbucks acquired PSLs (or regular coffee, obviously) at a Halloween or autumn themed brunch! Depending on you or your guests’ caffeine tolerance (or if you opt to use decaf instant coffee vs. instant espresso powder), these might not be the best choice for nighttime treats. Then again, they are really pretty, especially with a little dusting of cinnamon on top and would make a nice after dinner dessert.

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

I found the icing recipe too much for the amount of cookies, even with what I thought was a generous dollop. Now I have extra cream cheese frosting I don’t know what to do with! I’d recommend reducing the icing by ¼ or even a ⅓.

The recipe calls for either instant espresso powder or instant coffee, but says the espresso will create a stronger coffee flavor. I used decaf instant coffee, and I thought the coffee flavor was pretty strong already. I’d be wary of using the called for amount of espresso powder!

If you make these ahead of time for a party, they take up a lot of space to store in the fridge, because you can’t stack them because of the icing. It would probably be more efficient to bake them ahead but frost them just before serving.


Have you made any of these recipes or similar pumpkin spice baked goods? Do you have a favorite pumpkin spice cake/cookie/scone/etc recipe? Please share in the comments!


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Casey

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer, librarian, and new parent. She writes for Book Riot and Autostraddle about queer and/or bookish stuff. Ask her about cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer books, drinking tea, and her baby. Her website is Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter, Litsy, Storygraph Goodreads and Instagram.

Casey has written 101 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. That olive oil pumpkin cake looks really interesting!

    For a beyond easy pumpkin chocolate chip cookie (that stays cakey but still delicious), I just mix a can of pumpkin purée, a box of spice cake mix, and as many chocolate chips (usually dark) as I want, spoon it on a baking sheet and cook it for 15ish minutes at 350. (Time and temp may be off—I should probably write it down at some point)

    • Since getting a puppy, I have periodically found myself with partial cans of plain puréed pumpkin to use up (because it helps with both doggie digestive issues…trying not to be too TMI here). This means that I have also tried a variety of recipes involving pumpkin and, in most cases, pumpkin spice. My favorites so far are pumpkin baked oatmeal, which I have made two or three times, and a smoothie, which I made several times after I made the mistake of opening one of the larger cans instead of a regular one. My dog got tired of eating pumpkin with her food, but I didn’t get tired of that smoothie.

  2. My gf’s mom makes the BEST pumpkin muffins. They are so moist and delicious. Here’s her recipe:
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins or muffin papers with “Pam with flour” to prevent sticking.
    Makes approximately 3 dozen. This recipe can be halved easily. You will just have extra canned pumpkin left over.
    3 cups sugar
    3 ½ cups flour. (I use 2 c. King Arthur White-Wheat and 1 ½ c. regular flour but you can use what you have)
    2 t. baking soda
    1 t. each: Cinnamon
    ​Nutmeg
    ​Cloves
    1 ½ t. salt
    1 c. canola oil
    4 eggs
    2/3 c. water
    1 15-oz can of pumpkin, unflavored. (A 15 oz can is about the size of a can of soda; for half rule use 1 cup of pumpkin and freeze or do something else with the rest)

    Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
    Add the oil.
    Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat each one in.
    Add the water.
    Add the full can of pumpkin. Mix well and scrape bottom of bowl often to make sure it’s all mixed together.

    Fill muffin tins about half to three-quarters full. Bake for 22-24 minutes.

    All of these look very fun!

  3. I love the Snacking Cake book, one of my favourite impulse purchases (hello quarantine).

    This book was particularly great during a bout of insomnia. If you’re going to be up in the middle of the night, why not be productive without dirtying too many dishes. Plus, in the end there’s *cake* !

    Also, it’s true : there’s never enough maple syrup.

      • I have read in the comments of many other recipes that meringue powder is most easily found in craft stores, in the cake decorating section. I have not personally verified this, but it’s worth a try if anyone does want to try that method.

    • Yes! Also, in my fam we just frost sugar cookies with a super simple icing: powdered sugar with a tiny bit of milk (plant milk is fine too). Not as fancy but does the trick and is super easy, just takes a bit of experimenting to get the consistency right. Tbh we frost with spoons instead of piping usually.

  4. Just wanted to pop in and second the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies being DELIGHTFUL. So moist, so soft, so chewy. 10/10. And also a super good recipe for beginners – I’ve baked exactly 2 things in my life so far (the first being Quick Cinnamon Rolls, also from Sally’s Baking Addiction <3), and these are baking attempt #2.

    And for my raw cookie dough gays out there – take a chomp before baking. You will not be disappointed.

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