For the super sweet lattes, spiced cookie dough, and Pumpkin Spice Oreos, there was a subtler, more delicious way to welcome fall. Yes, I’m talking about the easy pumpkin muffin, which is my favorite pumpkin treat to this day. Store-bought muffins can do the job in a pinch, and an oversized bakery muffin can almost satisfy my desires. But for the real experience, I prefer a homemade pumpkin muffin, along with a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee.
For me, the perfect pumpkin muffin needs no decorations. It should be moist but not thick, and fluffy but not cakey. The spices should be present, but not overpowering, and the muffins should be sweet without tasting like dessert. To look good, the muffins should have a beautiful orange hue, with a high rise and a nicely domed top. They should feel just as at home at a bake sale as they are at a fancy brunch.
But does the perfect muffin recipe exist? I knew the best way to find out was through an epic celebrity recipe. I started by looking for the most popular recipes on the internet and then selected recipes that took different approaches. Would oil or butter prevail? Which mixing method would be most effective? I went to the kitchen to find out.
Meet our 4 candidates for pumpkin muffins
To keep the playing field fair, I’ve omitted any mix-ins or toppings called for in the recipes, with the exception of a pinch of sugar. I also chose not to include any recipes that started with cake mix – Although I ben looking forward to trying it!
Lovely Little Kitchen’s Best Pumpkin Muffins Ever are the first that come up in a Google search. I couldn’t help but get excited when I read the rave reviews, many of which described the muffins as “amazing”, “gorgeous” and “perfect”. I was curious about using coconut oil as a fat — which the blog’s author says contributes to their moist texture — and appreciated that they used the whole can of pumpkin. This was also the only recipe that called for dark brown sugar.
Cookie & Kate’s Healthy Pumpkin Muffins also appear on the first page of Google results. These one-bowl treats are made with whole-wheat flour, sprinkled with rolled oats, and sweetened with maple syrup. Kate gives the option to use coconut oil or olive oil, and I chose olive to increase the variety of fats in the showdown. As someone who prefers a healthier start to the morning, I was eager to see if this one better interpreted for you could hold its own among the sweeter recipes.
Pumpkin Muffins from Dorie Greenspan come from her beloved cookbook Baking: from my house to yours. Inspired by the muffins at Sarabeth’s restaurant in New York, Dorie’s recipe is made with butter, granulated and brown sugars, and freshly grated nutmeg. Instead of the traditional way of mixing muffins (where the wet ingredients are mixed into the dry), Dorie beats the butter and sugar in a standing mixer before adding the remaining wet and dry ingredients. This recipe also calls for raisins, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, all of which I left out for this showdown.
Hummingbird High’s Small Batch Pumpkin Muffins secure watched the part, with their sugary domed top and deep amber color. They are adapted from the extremely popular pumpkin bread recipe in blogger Michelle Lopez’s cookbook Baking during the weekwhich intrigued me even more. Interestingly, the recipe only yields four muffins, which Michelle says is perfect for households of two or four. It was also the only recipe that used canola oil as a fat.
How I tested the pumpkin muffins
I baked all the muffins in the same 12-cup muffin tin on the same day, and I baked them all in paper liners. I used organic King Arthur flour (whole wheat for Cookie and Kate’s, unbleached universal for the rest) and used the method in Cookie & Kate’s recipe to measure it (stir, spoon and level). I used Whole Foods Market 365 pumpkin puree. I tasted the muffins after they cooled completely, and again the next day.
As mentioned above, I omitted the mix-ins in Dorie’s recipe and the oat topping in Cookie & Kate’s recipe. However, I did include the sprinkling of granulated sugar in Cookie & Kate’s recipe and the raw sugar in Hummingbird High’s recipe.
1. Best for Butter and Jam: Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Muffins
Thanks to Dorie’s mixing method—which involved skimming off the butter and sugar to make the batter fluffy—these muffins rose nicely in the oven and had a soft, cake-like crumb. Although she watched like cupcakes, they certainly didn’t taste like those: with half the sugar of the winning muffins, they were the tastiest of the bunch. The spice flavor was also quite muffled which was a shame as they were the only muffins to ask for freshly grated nutmeg.
While these muffins didn’t satisfy my craving for a moist pumpkin muffin, they did… to be a great blank slate for your favorite spreads. Dorie suggests serving them with butter and jam or marmalade, and I totally agree. Tea time, anyone?
2. The Feel-Good Favorite: Cookie & Kate’s Healthy Pumpkin Muffins
Like cauliflower crust or zucchini noodles, these healthy muffins won’t fool anyone into thinking they’re something they’re not. That said, if you’re looking for a whole grain, naturally sweetened pumpkin muffin, this is definitely the best one to make. They didn’t rise as high as the others, nor did they stay so moist for the next few days, but they had a wonderfully tender texture, great flavor and the perfect level of sweetness.
For my next batch, I’ll try to make these with coconut oil, because that’s what the winning muffins called for. I also think they would taste great as a base for a morning glory muffin.
3. The Bakery-Style Beauty: Hummingbird High’s Small Batch Pumpkin Muffins
I gasped as I took these muffins out of the oven. Each had formed towering domed peaks that were covered in crackled, sparkling sugar. Of all the recipes I tried, these were the most impressive and picturesque. And they tasted as good as they looked! With more cinnamon in four muffins than any other in 12, they definitely packed the spice into pumpkin spice.
Unfortunately, if you want more than four muffins, you’ll have to do the math yourself to triple the recipe. These muffins were also a bit drier than I would have liked, and left me with almost a full can of leftover pumpkin puree. While they’re a great project in small batches, they weren’t the universal, all-time favorite muffin I was looking for.
4. The Clear Winner: Lovely Little Kitchen’s Best Pumpkin Muffins Ever
I’m happy to report that these “best ever” muffins live up to their name. The batter came together in the time it took my oven to preheat, and the classic muffin mixing method was easy to do (no mixer required!). This was the only recipe that used the whole can of pumpkin (a quality we also loved in our winning pumpkin bread recipe), which helped keep the muffins moist and meant I didn’t have an inconvenient amount of leftovers.
After filling each muffin cup with a full ice cream scoop full of batter, I was nervous they would overflow. Instead, they rose and domed beautifully, creating perfect-looking muffins that required no additional toppings or mix-ins. The coconut oil made them taste rich but light, and they stayed moist for a week after I baked them. I admit they are quite sweet, and the spice flavor is subdued, but I think that’s what makes them so appealing to the public. In fact, they were the universal favorite among my friends and family who tasted them.
Next time I’ll probably double the spices, and if you to do wanting less sugar, several commentators said they had success with less sugar. But otherwise I wouldn’t change anything.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin muffin recipe? Let us know in the comments!