Easy Pumpkin Dessert Recipes for a Sweet Fall
26 recipes for creamy pies, tender cakes and bars, fragrant breads, and other treats that feature pumpkin, the ingredient of the season
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Pumpkin Cake Roll; recipe and photograph by Annalise Sandberg
My desk is next to a strange quirk of my apartment building: There’s a small window tucked below the ceiling. I can’t see anything but sky. Usually I don’t pay much attention — I’m just grateful for the natural light it throws on my desk. But this time of year, I find myself gazing up and out at the perfectly blue skies. They signal the move from summer into autumn. And in my book that can only mean one thing: Pumpkin, especially pumpkin desserts.
I keep a can of pumpkin puree in my pantry year-round, but usually I don’t find myself reaching for it until the crisp September air settles in. Once fall arrives, I might go through a can a week.
Canned pumpkin puree works beautifully in both savory and sweet recipes. For me, though, nothing beats fall desserts made with pumpkin. That inexpensive can might become a classic pumpkin pie, of course, but also a cream cheese-filled pumpkin roll, a pumpkin sheet cake with chocolate bourbon buttercream, seven-layer pumpkin bars, a dense pumpkin flan, silky pumpkin ice cream ...
It's easy to get swept up in all the creative ways to use pumpkin puree, but first, let’s touch on a few pumpkin dessert basics.
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How to make pumpkin desserts: the basics
Before you start dreaming about, “What desserts can I make with canned pumpkin,” you’ll want to be sure you have the right kind of canned pumpkin, or some fresh pumpkin. And then there’s pumpkin pie spice.
Pure pumpkin vs. pumpkin pie filling
You’re likely to find two types of canned pumpkin products. Most recipes call for puree, which is often labeled “100% pure.” It’s nothing but — you guessed it — pureed winter squash. No sugar, no spices, no additives. Just soft, lush, orange goodness. And because it’s nothing but winter squash, it’s quite healthy — packed with fiber and vitamin A.
Canned pumpkin pie filling or pumpkin pie mix, on the other hand, aims to get you to a finished pie PDQ. It comes with sugar, spices, and other ingredients already mixed in. All you need to do is add eggs and evaporated milk, pour it into a crust, and bake. It’s an excellent shortcut for newbie bakers, but I’d rather have control over how much sugar goes in, not to mention the combination of spices. If you’ve only got pumpkin pie filling in your cabinet, be aware: The two products are definitely not interchangeable.
How to make desserts with fresh pumpkin
If you’ve got the time, you don’t need a can. Making your own real pumpkin puree isn’t hard at all. Plus, it gives you seeds to roast! First, make sure you’re using the right kind of squash: Choose a sugar pumpkin on the small-to-medium side (large pumpkins can get too stringy), with unblemished, bright orange skin. A pumpkin that weighs around three pounds should give you enough puree for one can’s worth, a little less than two cups.
Use a large chef’s knife to carefully cut the pumpkin in half. Discard the stem and stringy pulp (save those seeds). Place the halves cut-side down in a shallow baking dish and bake at 375°F for 45 minutes to an hour. The pumpkin is ready when a fork easily pierces the skin and flesh. Let the cooked squash cool, then scoop the flesh into a food processor or blender and puree. If you’re looking for a perfectly smooth texture, like for a pudding, push the puree through a strainer before using.
Make your own pumpkin pie spice
Let’s talk about pumpkin pie spice, shall we? It’s what gives pumpkin spice lattes and all those other products their, y’know, pumpkin-ness. There’s no magic to the spice blend. If you bake often, I’ll bet you already have all the elements in your spice rack: cinnamon, of course, as well as allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Mix up a batch and you’ll be ready to pumpkin-ize everything you can think of. Because it’s nothing but spices, pumpkin pie spice takes just minutes to make. And it’ll stay good for months.
Pumpkin pie recipes from scratch
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “pumpkin dessert,” I immediately picture a pie. I’m always happy with a slice of the classic, nothing but custardy pumpkin baked in a crust with maybe a little whipped cream, but why limit yourself? And if you’re really short on time, a store-bought crust will do in a pinch.
This fun, fluffy treat has you make a quick crust with gingersnap crumbs — just 10 minutes of baking — then fill it with pumpkin puree that’s been lightened with a brown sugar and spiced whipped cream. It only takes 20 minutes to assemble, after which the freezer does all the work. I’m definitely keeping this one in mind as a make-ahead Thanksgiving dessert.
Few things in life disappoint me more than a soggy pumpkin pie. This recipe captures the ideal combo of crisp crust and creamy custard with one step you won’t find in most others: Before the pumpkin puree goes into the filling mixture, you remove the excess water. The end result is the ultimate pumpkin pie, the kind you’re probably yearning for right now.
Who says you need eggs, cream, butter, and wheat flour to make a classic pumpkin pie? With a crust made from almond meal flour and dates, and a custard employing coconut milk and agar powder, you’ve got a glorious pie that’s egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and grain-free. As pumpkin pies go, it’s low in sugar, too.
At a large Thanksgiving gathering, you’d expect to see a variety of different pies: pumpkin, pecan, apple, and so on. But if you're having a smaller get-together, why not kill two pie birds with one delicious stone, by combining the best elements of pumpkin and pecan pies? You’re going to want to use that pecan streusel on everything.
If you’re looking for rich pumpkin decadence, you can’t go wrong by combining it with three types of chocolate: bittersweet in the graham-cracker crust, semisweet in the custard filling, and melted milk chocolate drizzled on top. This is the kind of pumpkin dessert recipe I dream about.
Pumpkin cakes, breads, and cupcakes
I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but: There are only so many pumpkin pies a person can eat. Which is where these baked goodies come in — each one is special enough for a celebration, but there’s not a pie crust in sight. These are some of the very best pumpkin desserts that aren’t pie.
Look at that beautiful swirl! Remember the very first episode of The Great British Baking Show, where the contestants had to make a Swiss Roll and mayhem ensued? This is like that, only much, much easier: To make it, you just roll a lovely pumpkin sponge cake around a tangy-sweet cream cheese filling. Step-by-step instructions ensure you’ll get it right the first time.
I love a good make-ahead dessert. These spiced pumpkin cupcakes are simple to prepare — no mixer required — and you can freeze them for months before frosting. And how about that cream cheese frosting? It works beautifully with pumpkin, and if you really want to go big, drizzle some caramel sauce on top of each frosting mound.
What’s that? A frosted cake recipe you can make in one bowl, and it combines pumpkin and warm spices with chocolate and bourbon? Yes, please. And by the way, pumpkin and chocolate is a flavor combination you definitely need to know about. I can’t believe how easy this recipe is. Plus, it makes plenty of frosting, which means the frosting-to-cake ratio is impressively high, without the need to make a layer cake. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been known to eat the frosting straight, by the spoonful.)
Bundt cakes make me happy. And why shouldn’t they? The pan’s ridges create something beautiful with zero effort, and in this case the batter comes together in just 10 minutes. Seriously, it only takes five steps to get you a cozy-but-sophisticated stunner, perfect for dessert or to pair with a cup of coffee. Fancy it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Be my guest.
Normally I wouldn’t think of pumpkin bread as a dessert, but who wouldn’t want to end a meal with a slice of praline-glazed goodness? Both the bread itself and the praline sauce are as easy as can be, and once you pour that buttery, creamy, brown sugary sauce over the loaf — holy cow. The best part: The recipe makes two loaves! Freeze one unglazed, tightly wrapped, and you’ll have it whenever you need a quick slice.
Pumpkin brownies, bars, and cookies
Looking for something with fall flavors that’s more snacky and nibbly, the kind of thing you’d grab for an afternoon pick-me-up? I’d be happy to munch on any of these chewy, crunchy, pumpkin-packed sweets.
Did you ever try a recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, but it doesn’t use the entire can? When you’ve got just a little leftover canned pumpkin, this should be your go-to recipe. To make it, you’ll need just a quarter-cup of the puree to swirl into fudgy homemade brownie batter. Good luck keeping these around for more than a day.
This brownie recipe features canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice in both the bar and the buttercream frosting for a double dose of pumpkin flavor in every bite. Chocolate chips stud the batter and add texture to these dense fall-flavored brownies.
Every element of this recipe makes me happy: Pumpkin spice cake, check. Two-ingredient fudge, double-check. And the salty crunchy streusel has me swooning — I’ve always been a sucker for a salty/crunchy/creamy/spicy combo. In my home, these get devoured in a matter of hours.
This is one of those keep-it-in-your-back-pocket, emergency recipes. You know the ones: You pull them out when you’ve got a hankering for something sweet and quick, made with a pantry full of staples. In this case, canned pumpkin meets up with evaporated milk, sugar, eggs, and spices for some very tasty pumpkin bars. Once the batter’s in the pan, you sprinkle yellow cake mix, chopped pecans, and melted butter over the top, then let the oven work its magic.
Big, soft, pillowy pumpkin cookies coated with a dollop of brown sugar icing — what more can a person ask for? The cookie dough comes together quickly in just one bowl, and what you wind up with is definitely not your run-of-the-mill pumpkin dessert.
You may already be familiar with seven-layer bars, AKA magic bars or Hello Dolly bars — they’re a gooey, sweet bar made with a cookie-crumb base, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and sweetened condensed milk. What happens when you add pureed pumpkin and spices into that milky base? You get a crowd-pleasing, crunchy-creamy-gooey treat.
Rich and creamy pumpkin desserts
Pumpkin pie has a certain creaminess to it, sure, but sometimes I want something seriously creamy. Puddings, ice cream, cheesecake, mousse … no crunch, no contrast, just melt-in-your-mouth pleasure. Grab a spoon and dig in.
Tangy, luxuriously creamy, with all the coziness of a slice of pumpkin pie on a cinnamon-scented graham cracker crust, this recipe for pumpkin cheesecake will knock your socks off. Don’t skip the salted caramel and whipped cream sprinkled with a little more cinnamon — those finishing strokes make an already-yummy treat spectacular. Looking for a low-carb pumpkin cheesecake? We’ve got you covered.
“Pots au crème” (also called pots de crème) is a fancy kind of pudding where the custard mixture bakes in individual dishes. That makes it a perfect holiday dessert, keeping squabbling kids satisfied — no cries of “He got more than me!” This recipe includes a tasty bonus: A quick batch of candied pecans to top each dish, along with a dollop of whipped cream. (You’re going to want to make those pecans on the regular, with or without the pudding.)
Caramelly flan tops my list of favorite creamy desserts — I find it so satisfying to invert the baking dish and watch that luscious caramel sauce run down the sides of the custard. Adding pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice to the mixture makes it delightfully autumnal.
I often wonder how people who live in the warmer parts of the U.S. handle all that heavy food in fall and winter. If I were wearing short sleeves and sandals during pumpkin season, you can bet I’d be making (no-bake!) pumpkin ice cream instead of pie. This one’s smooth and velvety, with all the spices you’d expect from the traditional pumpkin dessert — and you can prepare it with or without an ice cream maker.
A traditional chocolate mousse has you separating eggs and whipping both whites and heavy cream — delicious results, but time-consuming. This light and fluffy fall treat, on the other hand, relies on a can of condensed milk instead of eggs. Which means it takes just minutes to put together. It’ll still need hours in the fridge, so plan to make this a day before you eat it.
Healthy pumpkin desserts
Sometimes — like, say, after a ginormous Thanksgiving feast — I want something lighter, with less heavy cream and added sugar. Each of these treats is fairly lean on fat, sugar, and calories without sacrificing amazing flavor.
With no cooking and just five ingredients — coconut oil, cashew butter, pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice — you can make a Paleo, vegan fudge that’s every bit as rich-tasting as the kind made with tons of refined sugar.
Thick, chewy, and remarkably satisfying, these blondies use oat flour, coconut sugar, and relatively little butter — and of course, a hearty dose of pumpkin puree. And they’re ready in less than 30 minutes, just the thing when you need a sweet treat that won’t leave you feeling sluggish.
If you’ve got plain Greek yogurt, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and a can of pureed pumpkin, you’ve got everything you need to make this creamy, tangy, lightly sweet (and plenty good-for-you) indulgence.
If I saw this donut at a fancy artisanal bakery, I’d happily hand over my money and expect to feel bloated and uncomfortable afterwards. But — surprise — this recipe not only bakes the ’nuts instead of frying them, it also uses whole-wheat flour and restrained amounts of sugar. That glaze topped with chopped pumpkin seeds almost makes them too pretty to eat.
Classic blossom cookies call for oodles of sugar, white flour, and a hearty amount of butter. These beauties, though, use a little maple syrup for sweetness and white whole-wheat flour, with just one tablespoon of butter. The recipe gets away with it because pureed pumpkin adds natural sweetness and texture. You don’t need the extra calories to create a scrumptious, bite-sized treat with a dark chocolate heart.
More pumpkin baking ideas
We have loads more inventive pumpkin recipes to explore on Yummly. How about some pumpkin muffins and pumpkin loaves?