This post is sponsored by Natural Delights. These pumpkin cupcakes have no refined sugar. Instead, they’re naturally sweetened with Medjool Date paste and topped with maple cream cheese frosting.
I don’t know if anyone is happier than I am that fall has finally arrived. But then again, maybe I just needed it to get here more than most. I was really starting to stew in the heat, slowly simmering all the time, and by the end of summer, I was left with this bitter, “how dare you?!” feeling toward summer.
Fall refreshes me. It feels good to start a new season, but especially this cozy one. I’m ready to roast everything, use cinnamon ultra-liberally, and buy the big cans of pumpkin. I’ll never run out of things I want to make with pumpkin puree. Example: these pumpkin cupcakes, which are a little lighter (calorically) and more wholesome, too, since they’re made without refined sugar.
All the sugar inside the cupcakes themselves–and they’re only ever so gently sweet–is thanks to the inherent sweetness of Natural Delights Medjool Dates. Instead of using white or brown sugar like I normally use in my baking, I pitted and chopped 20 Medjool Dates, soaked them in 1 cup of very hot water for an hour, and then pureed them in my food processor until a smooth paste formed. This is Medjool Date paste.
You can use it just like jam or preserves, or in baking like I did, to replace refined sugar. From my experience and what I’ve gathered from friends, you can substitute Medjool Date paste 1 for 1 for refined sugar (so, replace 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup date paste).
In these pumpkin cupcakes, I think the date paste helped to keep them moist. The flavor of Medjool Dates is a little maple syrupy, so it’s a natural fit for recipes that complement that warm flavor, like spice cakes (pumpkin, carrot, banana, apple…).
The cupcakes themselves are only ever so gently sweet, a choice I made to tilt them a little more toward the wholesome side of the cupcake spectrum, and sure, to save some sweetness for the frosting :)
This maple cream cheese frosting is lovably simple–just a mix of cream cheese, 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup (real deal or bust, friends) to thin it out to a creamy, spreadable consistency (and maintain the natural sweetener vibe we have going), a splash of vanilla extract, and a pinch of cinnamon for warmth. These aren’t the cupcakes with frosting piled high; they’re the homey, late Sunday afternoon, feel-good ones. The frosting is just enough, the sweetness is just enough.
½ cup low-fat buttermilk (or ½ cup unsweetened almond milk + 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice)
⅓ cup canola oil
1 large egg
¼ cup chopped pecans, plus more for sprinkling on top of the frosted cupcakes
Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Splash vanilla extract
Pinch ground cinnamon
For the date paste, in a large mason jar or a heat-safe container with a lid (a small pot can work), combine the dates and hot water. Let them soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour to soften.
Drain the dates, reserving ½ cup of the soaking water.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the dates and ¼ cup of the reserved water and puree until the dates form a smooth paste, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add more water if needed until you reach the a thick, but spreadable, consistency.
The date paste can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. **Note: You will end up with more date paste than you need for the pumpkin cupcakes. You will only use 1/2 cup date paste in the cupcakes.
For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 375°. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the pumpkin, date paste, buttermilk, oil, and egg, and mix on medium speed until combined, about 90 seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold in the pecans. Be careful not to over-mix the batter or the cupcakes will end up tough.
Lightly spray the paper muffin liners with cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, filling each one about ⅔ full. Bake until the muffins are puffed, slightly crackled on top, and they spring back when gently touched in the center, 20 to 22 minutes. Remove the muffins from the muffin tin immediately and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on on low speed until creamy and smooth. Add the maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon, and mix until blended and smooth. The consistency should be light, creamy, and spreadable. (If it seems too thin, chill it for 20 to 30 minutes before frosting the cupcakes, to allow it to firm up a bit.) Frost the cupcakes and serve. Store leftover frosted cupcakes covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.