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 cheesecake 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:
The new instructions in the salted caramel frosting recipe mean success. It’s smooth, creamy, and fudge-like and tastes incredible piped on apple cupcakes or spread on banana cake.
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! 😉
Reader Comments & Reviews
I have been making pumpkin dinner rolls for Thanksgiving dinner for years! See if you can find “Pumpkin Pan Rolls” from Sunset Magazine’s Cook Book of Breads 1978. They are always a huge hit…it might give you some ideas.
Thank you so much for sharing!
I love your pumpkin muffin recipes! The next time you want to try a new one, think about developing a gingerbread pumpkin muffin. My mom makes one that is full of deep molasses and pumpkin spice flavors- darker than pumpkin bread, but lighter than a typical gingerbread. I’ve tried for years to get her recipe to no avail, and can’t seem to find anything similar online.
Thanks Caitlin! I love the sounds of a pumpkin gingerbread muffin. Thank you for the suggestion!
I’ve been using your recipes for years and both of my sons have become huge fans as well (and very good at baking thanks to your fantastic tutorials!) My husband also loves your recipes and has enjoyed making me delicious Birthday cakes over the past couple of years. Thank you for inspiring my guys to become home bakers!
I have a request for your team. Could you come up with a sweet potato biscuit recipe? I had something like this at a little diner in South Carolina and I cannot figure out how to make a biscuit with the addition of sweet potato and some spice. It was amazing! The biscuit wasn’t quite as flaky as a regular biscuit but it still had a lovely crunch to the top and wasn’t like a muffin inside – maybe more towards a scone/biscuit consistency with a buttery layered dough. I hope this will inspire your team to create a recipe!
Love you guys!! ❤️❤️
Hi Carole, thank you so much for the kind comment! It’s so nice to hear from you. Sweet potato biscuits sound absolutely delicious. I would have to try them sometime! Great suggestion! I would also like to try sweet potato yeast rolls sometime.
Yum! My chocolate lover has a birthday coming up and has already requested filled cupcakes, perfect timing! And maybe would sweet potato be an alternative to pumpkin? They would certainly take more work, though, with having to make the purée yourself.
Did you change the Pumpkin Crumb Cake Muffin recipe? It’s our favorite fall muffin and my kids would probably notice if it’s different!
Hi Steff, that recipe has not changed at all! It’s a popular favorite. You can find a variation without the crumb and icing here.
I hope the cupcake recipe comes soon! I was already planning on making chocolate cupcakes for my best friends birthday on Friday !!
On October 1st!
These muffins are so delicious and they were easy to make! I did add the chocolate chips from the notes section and they made the muffins even better. Perhaps I’ll try mini chocolate chips next time to see if more of them rise to the top to be seen in pictures.
We’re so glad you enjoyed the pumpkin muffins, Samantha!
Is there such a thing as pumpkin extract? Would that increase the flavor? Maybe increasing the amount of pumpkin and then reducing it on the stove would heighten the pumpkin flavor! Also adding soft chunks of roasted pumpkin in the middle of each roll could be an option!
Love all of these suggestions! I settled on a version without pumpkin, though. I do want to try cooking the pumpkin puree to reduce it down even more for next time.
I appreciate the time & effort you put into testing recipes. It adds to your credibility. Many other sites just copy recipes – shuffle order of ingredients. Thanks for the great recipes!
Not a review, but… Well, I think I LOVE your husband, and especially his ‘colorful’ description.
Just a thought on the dinner rolls…America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for pumpkin pie includes cooking the pumpkin to bring out the flavor. Do you think that would help pump up the flavor in the rolls?
That’s a great suggestion! I haven’t tried that. Thank you for sharing!
Sally, what do you do with all of this food? I want to practice decorating cookies and cakes, and I get stuck when I think about how we’ll deal with my rehearsal baked goods.
Hi Eileen, Our team takes many home, all of our neighbors, extended family, and friends have been enjoying them for a few weeks now!
There’s a group here in New Zealand that helps coordinate bakers who can’t eat it all with community groups who could use a treat. And we have a neighbor who puts things in a cabinet and let’s everyone know it’s available through a Facebook group.
So excited to try the revised salted caramel frosting recipe! Thanks for revisiting! To be honest, I was scared away by the previous version’s somewhat mixed reviews (& there aren’t many salted caramel frosting recipes out there actually… probably due to the issues stated above!). Anyway, as always, luv ya, Sally!
Those pumpkin muffins look delicious! Looking forward to the chocolate filled cupcakes. I’m a fan of frosting-less cupcakes! And “tastes like… yellow” had me cracking up! Looking forward to your 4th cookbook!
Sally – You have made baking fun again!! I look forward to your emails and recipes and have expanded my baking (cap)ability so much since I started following you. Plus the fact, I’m having FUN doing it. Thank you so much!
Can I use gluten free flour in the pumpkin muffin? Thanks
Hi Teandra, that isn’t something we have tested. I don’t bake often with gluten free flours, but I do have a big section on my website with naturally gluten free recipes (that do not require flour in the first place). I hope you can find something there. I love these pumpkin oatmeal cups.
I love all of your recipes! You are the best. I have made so many of them and get so many compliments! I share your website with many!
I loved the Pumpkin muffin recipe. The best recipe ever. I put cranberries and walnuts. Delicious! I am using a lot of your recipes, as I had stopped baking. I used to bake a lot years ago. Starting again with your delicious recipes.
I love the inside look of these recipe testing posts. As a home cook who likes to experiment and dabble around it is interesting to see the techniques you and your team tweak to get recipes just right. Please keep these posts coming!
These are great – love, “Tastes like yellow!”
Can’t wait for the chocolate cupcake recipe. Your Chocolate cake is one of the best cakes I have ever made! Love your husbands response to the pumpkin rolls. haven’t made the pumpkin muffins yet, but they are on my to bake list, as soon as I buy some more pumpkin. thank you for your all your hard work. Can’t wait to see the behind the scenes of your next cookbook. 🙂