Sonoko Sakai’s Curry Kabocha Crumble Muffins

published Oct 28, 2021
Curry Kabocha Crumble Muffins Recipe

These egg- and dairy-free muffins are uniquely spiced with Japanese curry powder in addition to the usual cinnamon and nutmeg.

Makes12 muffins

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour 3 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes

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pumpkin muffins on a cooling rack
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

There is nothing more quintessentially fall than the ubiquitous pumpkins. Their varietal colors and shapes, and their bright orange interiors are much to be admired. My favorite pumpkin is kabocha, the Japanese winter squash, which I enjoy for its sweet, chestnut-like flavor. 

Although kabocha is known as a Japanese squash, it was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Some say the word kabocha is derived from abobora, the Portuguese word for squash. Others say that kabocha came from the word Cambodia, which is where the Portuguese missionaries also set foot. But if you keep tracing kabocha’s roots further, you will eventually end up somewhere in the Andes region. I can see how this prolific grower could have transplanted itself from continent to continent, its seeds traveling around the world in missionaries’ pockets or carried by migrating birds, dropped to the ground and sprouting in the backyards of Japanese temple gardens and fields to become the beloved and familiar landrace variety that we call kabocha (which, by the way, is also a generic Japanese word that refers to all pumpkins). 

My mother associated kabocha with food shortages during the war. In the Japanese  countryside where she fled with her family, they basically subsisted on the squash. You think my mother would have tired of kabocha, but she loved it. She would put it in our miso soup and our bento boxes to brighten up our meals, or fry it up into tempura. Kabocha was also always present during the American holidays, which we celebrated just as much as we did Japanese holidays when our family moved to the States.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

These days, one of my favorite ways to use kabocha is in these vegan-friendly curry kabocha pumpkin crumble muffins, which I developed during the pandemic with my kitchen assistant, Daniela Swamp. They can be made with canned pumpkin purée, but when made with fresh roasted kabocha the flavor is exceptional. The idea of using Japanese curry powder in a muffin might seem unusual but it works, as many of the spices that we associate with a spice muffin — cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom, allspice — are in my Japanese curry powder. To make the muffins extra special, I make a crumble with orange zest, flour, brown sugar, coconut flakes, coconut oil, curry powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. As the muffin bakes, the topping crisps up beautifully, adding a fun, craggy coating and a delightful crunch to these autumnal treats.

Curry Kabocha Crumble Muffins Recipe

These egg- and dairy-free muffins are uniquely spiced with Japanese curry powder in addition to the usual cinnamon and nutmeg.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 3 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes

Makes 12 muffins

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the muffins:

  • 1

    (4-to-6 pound) kabocha squash or baking pumpkin

  • Cooking spray or melted coconut oil, for the muffin tin

  • 1 3/4 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light or dark brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    baking powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    curry powder, preferably S&B or Sonoko

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    canned unsweetened full-fat coconut milk

  • 1/4 cup

    melted coconut oil

  • 2 tablespoons

    molasses

  • 1 cup

    walnut pieces (optional)

For the topping:

  • 1

    medium orange

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light or dark brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    unsweetened coconut flakes

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons

    melted coconut oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    curry powder, preferably S&B or Sonoko

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Cut 1 kabocha or pumpkin roughly in half (cut next to the stem rather than through it). Scoop out all of the seeds and most of the stringy bits. Place cut-side down on the baking sheet.

  3. Bake until the pumpkin or kabocha is tender and easily pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, brush the wells of a standard 12-well muffin tin with melted coconut oil or coat with cooking spray.

  4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven but keep the oven on. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pumpkin flesh into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process, scraping down the sides as needed, until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Measure out 1 cup of the purée for the muffins (save the remaining purée for another use).

  5. Place 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  6. Place the kabocha purée, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1/4 cup melted coconut oil, and 2 tablespoons molasses in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Add to the flour mixture and stir until just combined, it will take some arm strength and the batter will be very thick. Stir in 1 cup walnut pieces, if using.

  7. Divide the batter between the muffin wells, filling each about 3/4 full. Smooth the top of each muffin with a knife.

  8. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium orange (about 2 teaspoons) into a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup coconut flakes, 2 1/2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir until combined and evenly moistened. Sprinkle evenly over the muffins.

  9. Bake the muffins for 10 minutes. Rotate the muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean, 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Recipe Notes

Using pumpkin purée - 1 cup canned pumpkin purée can be used in place of the kabocha purée.

Storage: The muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.