Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Praline Buttercream

IMG_1537I dreamed up an autumnal dessert treat just before we embarked for our week in the woods. It was actually one of those “dreams” you have while you’re awake. James and I happened upon a cupcake recipe which featured a liqueur in its frosting. I was, at first, skeptical of how influential the liqueur would be since buttercream is so often purely sweet with maybe a touch of vanilla shining through. In spite of my skepticism, I decided to give the recipe a try. To our surprise, the liqueur sent the entire cupcake completely over the top!

The success got my little wheels to turning. “There are so many liqueurs out there just waiting to be paired up with the perfect cupcake combination,” I thought. One glance over to the table housing our pumpkin stock and I knew my recipe should involve pumpkin.

A quick tour through our liqueurs showed we didn’t really have much to choose from. Irish Cream? Nah. Kahlua (coffee liqueur) didn’t seem like the best fit, either. Amaretto (almond liqueur) is a natural choice, but we use it so frequently that it seemed like IMG_1532we’d be settling. Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) would be tasty, but perhaps not quite what we were looking for.

When I think autumn and pumpkins and sweet stuff, I usually also think of pecans and walnuts as natural co-stars. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any liqueurs with those flavors. That was James’ homework: research how we can get our hands on some pecan or walnut liqueur! What he found was Praline Liqueur.

So, on our first full day in the cabin — while James was out doing a little bit of exploring (i.e. shopping) — I set out to create a cupcake recipe that would be the perfect marriage of pumpkin, pumpkin spice, and pecan liqueur. This turned out to be one of my fondest memories to bring back from our vacation. I put on some quiet, cooking “mood music” and set to work. It was a blissfully fun and relaxing experience — smelling all those flavors while also gazing out the cabin windows at the autumn leaves and the distant hills. Sigh. James came home from his exploring to a cabin alive with the smell of cupcakes!


If you aren’t able to find Praline or any other type of pecan liqueur, you can substitute a liqueur of your choice (I’d recommend Amaretto or Frangelico, personally). You could also swap out the pecans in the recipe to IMG_1533match whatever nut liqueur you choose. But, Praline is definitely worth seeking out and no more expensive than any other liqueur variety!

If you aren’t able to find whole wheat pastry flour in your grocery store, you can substitute all-purpose flour without any problems. An advantage of using whole wheat pastry flour, though, is that you can add a good deal of fiber to the recipe without the heaviness of regular whole wheat flour (which is better suited for baking bread).

Since I usually try to avoid refined sugars whenever possible, my pantry is usually crammed with alternatives that work in different cooking situations. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, “brown sugar” is merely refined white IMG_1525sugar with a little bit of molasses added back in for color and flavor — an imposter! Already, when a recipe calls for white sugar, I usually substitute evaporated cane juice (which looks just like white sugar except it’s off-white). I prefer this substitution since the simpler refining process leaves behind many of the minerals and nutrients that gets stripped out of white sugar. So, when I need brown sugar in a cake or cupcake recipe, I merely add 1 teaspoon of molasses to 1 cup of evaporated cane juice (mashing it around until it’s incorporated) and I’ve magically made brown sugar without having to go out and buy it.

Pumpkin Pie Spice is usually readily available in the spice aisle, but I enjoy the freedom of tinkering with the levels of the individual spices which make up the traditional spice mix: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. If you don’t happen to have the separate spices in your spice cabinet, just substitute for them by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice.


If you read through this recipe, you may wonder why the instructions ask you to spray the muffin cup liners with cooking spray. Cupcakes which are lower in fat (as these are) are often prone to sticking to the muffin cup liners to the point that a considerable amount of cakey goodness is thrown away with the liner. This, to me, is a tragedy — unless, of course, if you happen to enjoy eating muffin cup liners. I prefer to get my fiber elsewhere, so that’s why I spray the muffin cup liners.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Praline Buttercream
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 12

    1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
    2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pecans
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
    2/3 cup pumpkin purée (homemade or canned)
    1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup light brown sugar
    1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
    2 large eggs

    Praline Buttercream:
    1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
    2 1/2 tablespoons Praline (pecan liqueur)
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 cups powdered sugar
    1/4 cup chopped or sliced toasted pecans

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

    Place 12 muffin cup liners in muffin pan; coat each liner with cooking spray. Set aside.

    In a medium bowl, combine the flour, finely chopped pecans, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and allspice; whisk to combine.

    In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.

    In a large bowl, add the brown sugar and softened butter. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. While beating at low speed, add flour mixture and pumpkin mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

    Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of one cupcake comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

    Meanwhile, prepare the praline buttercream. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter, liqueur, vanilla, and salt with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar beating just until smooth. Spread frosting evenly over cooled cupcakes; garnish with toasted pecans.

A note to parents and other alcohol-conscious folks out there: this recipe is not meant to be served to children since the alcohol in the frosting (minimal though it is) is not cooked away at all. Most liqueurs have the same alcohol by volume as other flavoring extracts used in cooking (such as vanilla or almond extract), but since the frosting calls for so much, this is more of an “adult treat”.

Separately, both the cupcake and the buttercream have modest levels of flavorful excitement. Together, the cupcake tames the sweetness of the buttercream while the Praline shines through the taste of both. I purposefully kept the spice volume on “low” in the cupcakes so as not to overshadow the romance between the pumpkin and toasted pecans, but they certainly do their part to tie the whole thing together.

Be sure to store the cupcakes in the refrigerator. Allow the cupcakes to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.


~ by Jason on November 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Praline Buttercream”

  1. Sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Are they good enough to make you want to slap yur momma?
    Love ya’ll

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