I love sharing my recipe testing process, and even have an entire section on my website dedicated to Latest Recipe Testing. My team and I have been busy in the kitchen, making sure there are plenty of dependable, trusted recipes for you to try this fall and holiday season!
Today I’m showing you some of the recent recipe tests in my kitchen, including some winners… and some fails. With the start of fall, I’ve had pumpkin and apple a-plenty, but that’s definitely not all!
Have you had a recipe that failed recently?
The Perfect Pumpkin Muffin
While there’s no shortage of pumpkin muffin and cupcake recipes on my site, I’ve been on a quest to perfect the essential pumpkin muffin recipe. Because sometimes you don’t want all the extra-ness of pumpkin cream cheese muffins and pumpkin crumb cake muffins. Sometimes you just want to quickly whip up a batch of simply pumpkin muffins.
Basic does NOT have to equal boring, and these deliciously soft, moist, and flavorful pumpkin muffins are evidence of that! (Though adding some chocolate chips is perfectly acceptable.) This is the pumpkin muffin recipe you’ll want to make again and again, because it’s reliable, easy, and satisfying.
To find the perfect pumpkin muffin recipe, we tested variations of recipes already on my site:
- Pumpkin Cupcakes: Too soft, light, & cakey to be a muffin. (Though it certainly can be!)
- Pumpkin Crumb Cake Muffins: So tasty. But a tad too sweet to be an “everyday” sort of muffin.
- Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes: Yummy, but not enough pumpkin flavor.
- Pumpkin Bread: A favorite! But like the pumpkin crumb cake muffins, a tad too sweet for an “everyday” breakfast.
The pumpkin crumb cake muffins (#2) and pumpkin bread (#4) recipes are so similar and that’s what I ended up using—I just reduced the sugar. Like most muffin recipes, the batter needs a liquid. You can use whole milk, buttermilk, or any dairy or nondairy milk you enjoy. I actually use orange juice in my pumpkin bread recipe, and you could certainly use it in these muffins too.
ALL THE MUFFINS! The best pumpkin muffins are at the top:
Creamier Salted Caramel Frosting
I’ve been working on this frosting for a long time and it’s better than ever now: see the new & improved salted caramel frosting, and then let me walk you through the recipe testing.
The recipe has actually lived on my site for several years and some readers were reporting difficulty and recipe fails. Back to testing…
Team member Beth and I made so many batches in one day that we wondered if we’d start seeing pop-up ads for dentists in our social media accounts, LOL. Frustratingly, the frosting batches kept yielding different results. One was too hard, another too grainy, etc.
- First, we tested using cold butter vs. room temperature butter.
- And then we tested using whole milk instead of cream.
- Then we changed the pan.
- And then it was dark or light brown sugar.
You know dueling pianos? Well, we had dueling salted caramel saucepans going at one point, trying to get this recipe to turn out well consistently.
But it wasn’t the butter, milk vs. cream, pan, light vs. dark brown sugar, etc. The problem was simply overcooking it! The recipe used to call for boiling the caramel sauce for 3 minutes, which is just too long for my new stove. For actual recipe success, you need a candy thermometer here. The caramel should boil only until it reaches a temperature of 230°F (110°C), and then should be removed from the heat. The time that takes varies from stove to stove and pan to pan.
Also, make sure that you fully combine the melted butter and brown sugar BEFORE adding the heavy cream and salt. If there’s a layer of oily butter on top of the cooking mixture, your batch of brown sugar caramel will turn out grainy:
And here’s the caramel if you cook it too long. This is actual real caramel that I over-cooked, cooled in the pan too long, then tried to transfer to a bowl. Can you imagine this as frosting? What a mess:
I won’t go into too much detail here, but have you seen this updated confetti cake? Only a couple slight changes to the old recipe—the cake is a bit lighter, more moist, and even easier to prep.
Coming Soon: Filled Chocolate Cupcakes
Spoiler alert: Later this week I’m publishing a new chocolate cupcake flavor/variation. It’s probably my new favorite cupcake recipe, and I’m so excited to share it with you!
I was hesitant to use this chocolate cupcakes recipe as the base for this upcoming variation. The chocolate flavor isn’t as strong as it could be, and some readers have reported having trouble with the cupcakes sinking in the middle. So I opted to test a couple new chocolate cupcake recipes:
- Test #1: We used this small chocolate cake recipe and doubled the batter ingredients. The flavor was a bit meh, especially in comparison to the next batch we tested.
- Test #2: We used fan-favorite chocolate cake and halved the ingredients. The flavor of these was WOW. But they were a bit sticky, which made them tricky to carve into for a filling. (Yes, the cupcakes will be filled!)
- Test #3: We replaced the buttermilk with sour cream, to see if that made the cupcakes a bit sturdier. It did, but the flavor was not as good as the buttermilk batch, and they weren’t as moist.
- Test #4+ (we lost count!): We continued to play around with buttermilk vs. sour cream, and the amount of oil and egg, but nothing could compare to Test Batch #2 when it came to pure chocolatey flavor. But we did discover that refrigerating the cupcakes for a little while before cutting into them helped a lot with the sticky-soft texture issue. Stay tuned later this week for the recipe!
I know these look burnt, but it was weird lighting and this was taken with a phone. Lots of batches and lots of taste testers enjoying frosting-less cupcakes:
Not Coming Soon: Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
I thought pumpkin sage dinner rolls would be a big hit, but they turned out to be a big miss. Pumpkin on its own doesn’t have a strong flavor, which is why we’re always adding pumpkin pie spice to it in our baking. Using pumpkin in a yeast dough works for pumpkin cinnamon rolls, but probably because of the sweet pumpkin spice filling.
But when pairing it with herby sage, taste testers and I couldn’t taste the pumpkin at all. All the pumpkin did was turn the dough yellow. (Though the sage flavor was excellent!) My husband wondered why the dinner rolls were so… mustardy yellow. “Can you taste the pumpkin?” I asked. And he replied, “Tastes like… yellow.”
Back to the drawing board! The team and I will keep testing, and hopefully come up with a better version. Stay tuned!
P.S. I hope to continue to publish more and more Recipe Testing posts, especially when I get deep into my cookbook manuscript next year. Yes, my 4th cookbook is underway! 😉