Recipe Review

I Tested the Most Popular Pumpkin Muffin Recipes and Found the One You Must Make

published Oct 9, 2022
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4 different pumpkin muffins on surface, each a different recipe
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Before the super-sweet lattes, spiced cookie dough, and Pumpkin Spice Oreos, there was a subtler, more delicious way to welcome in fall. Yes, I’m talking about the humble pumpkin muffin, which to this day is my preferred pumpkin treat. Store-bought muffins can do the job in a pinch, and an oversized bakery muffin can almost satisfy my cravings. But for the real-deal experience, I prefer a homemade pumpkin muffin, enjoyed alongside a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee. 

To me, the perfect pumpkin muffin needs no adornments. It should be moist but not dense, 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 the part, the muffins should be a gorgeous orange hue, with a lofty rise and a nicely domed top. They should be equally 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 via an epic celebrity recipe showdown. I began by searching for the most popular recipes on the internet, then selected ones that took different approaches. Would oil or butter reign supreme? Which mixing method would prove most effective? I headed to the kitchen to find out. 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Meet Our 4 Pumpkin Muffin Contenders

To keep the playing field fair, I omitted any mix-ins or toppings called for in the recipes, with the exception of a sprinkling of sugar. I also chose not to include any recipes that started with cake mix — although I am curious to try those!

Lovely Little Kitchen’s Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins are the first ones to come up in a Google search. I couldn’t help but get excited as I read through the glowing reviews, many of which described the muffins as “amazing,” “gorgeous,” and “perfect.” I was curious about the use of coconut oil as the fat — which the blog’s author says contributes to their moist texture — and I appreciated that they used the entire 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, studded with rolled oats, and sweetened with maple syrup. Kate gives the option of using coconut oil or olive oil, and I opted for olive to increase the variety of fats in the showdown. As someone who prefers to start their morning on a healthier note, I was eager to see if this better-for-you rendition could hold its own amongst the sweeter recipes. 

Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Muffins hail from her beloved cookbook Baking: From My Home 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. In lieu of the traditional muffin mixing method (in which the wet ingredients are stirred into the dry), Dorie has you cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer before adding the remaining wet and dry ingredients. This recipe also calls for raisins, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, all of which I omitted for this showdown. 

Hummingbird High’s Small Batch Pumpkin Muffins certainly looked the part, with their sugary domed top and deep amber color. They’re adapted from the extremely popular pumpkin bread recipe in blogger Michelle Lopez’s cookbook Weeknight Baking, which made me extra intrigued. 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 the fat. 

How I Tested the Pumpkin Muffins

I baked all of the muffins on the same day in the same 12-cup muffin tin, and I baked them all in paper liners. I used organic King Arthur flour (whole-wheat for Cookie and Kate’s, unbleached all-purpose 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 purée. I tasted the muffins after they had cooled completely, and then 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. I did, however, include the sprinkling of granulated sugar in Cookie & Kate’s recipe and the raw sugar in Hummingbird High’s recipe. 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

1. The Best for Butter and Jam: Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Muffins 

Thanks to Dorie’s mixing method — which called for creaming the butter and sugar that aerated the batter — these muffins rose nicely in the oven and had a tender, cake-like crumb. Although they looked like cupcakes, they certainly didn’t taste like ones: With half as much sugar as the winning muffins, they were the savoriest of the bunch. The spice flavor was also pretty muted, which was unfortunate, considering they were the only muffins to call for freshly-grated nutmeg. 

While these muffins didn’t satisfy my cravings for a moist pumpkin muffin, they are a great blank slate for your favorite spreads. Dorie suggests serving them with butter and jam or marmalade, and I couldn’t agree more. Tea time, anyone? 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

2. The Feel-Good Favorite: Cookie & Kate’s Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

Similar to cauliflower crust or zucchini noodles, these healthy muffins aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking they’re something they’re not. With that said, if you’re looking for a whole-grain, naturally sweetened pumpkin muffin, this is absolutely the best one to make. They didn’t rise as high as the others, and they didn’t stay as moist in the following days, but they had a lovely tender texture, great flavor, and the perfect level of sweetness.   

For my next batch, I’ll try making these with coconut oil, as that’s what the winning muffins called for. I also think they’d taste great as the base for a morning glory muffin

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

3. The Bakery-Style Beauty: Hummingbird High’s Small Batch Pumpkin Muffins

I gasped when I pulled these muffins out of the oven. Each one had formed sky-high domed tops covered in crackled, sparkling sugar. Out 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 of the others had in 12, they certainly put the spice in 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 tad drier than I would have liked, and left me with almost a full can of leftover pumpkin purée. While they’re a great small-batch project, they weren’t the all-purpose, forever favorite muffin I was searching for. 

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

4. The Clear Winner: Lovely Little Kitchen’s Best Ever Pumpkin Muffins

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 execute (no mixer needed!). This was the only recipe that used the entire can of pumpkin (a quality we loved in our winning pumpkin bread recipe, too), which helped keep the muffins moist and meant I didn’t have an awkward amount of leftovers. 

After filling each muffin cup with a heaping ice cream scoop full of batter, I was nervous they would overflow. Instead, they rose and domed beautifully, creating perfect-looking muffins that didn’t need any extra toppings or mix-ins. The coconut oil made them taste rich but light, and they stayed moist for an entire week after I baked them. I’ll admit they’re pretty sweet, and the spice flavor is subdued, but I think that’s what makes them so crowd-pleasing. In fact, they were the universal favorite among my friends and family who tasted them.

Next time, I’ll likely double the spices, and if you do want them less sweet, several commenters said they had success with less sugar. But otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Do you have a favorite pumpkin muffin recipe? Let us know in the comments!