Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dairy-Free Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes for our Hero Cat Punkin from author Cleo Coyle

It's True. These cupcakes actually taste like a slice of pumpkin pie. They also make a relatively healthy dessert for the fall holidays. They’re low in fat and packed with nutritious, fiber-rich pumpkin. My version of the recipe is also dairy free, and I'm happy to share the details. But first...

Because we're celebrating our love of cats this week on the blog, I'm dedicating this post to my hero cat Punkin. His rescue story is one my husband and I will never forget...

Brave Little Kitten

One stormy October night, three kittens huddled together in a flimsy cardboard box. Their mother had been gone far too long and they were hungry, cold, and scared.

The oldest of the three brothers, a little pumpkin-colored tabby, took it upon himself to leave their hiding place, where their mother had stashed them. He squeezed through the edge of a fence and onto our porch.

When we heard Punkin's desperate mewing for his missing mother and saw his bedraggled little form shivering on our back yard patio, we hurried outside. But Punkin didn't know us, and he disappeared through the fence, racing back to his brothers. 

I grabbed a flashlight, leaped over the neighbor's fence, and quickly located Punkin and his littermates. One by one, I handed each of the quivering fur-bundles to Marc. One of the kittens (the cream-colored one) chomped down on Marc's thumb so hard he had to grit his teeth to keep from crying out, but he never let go. Marc got all three kittens inside our warm home. 

Happily, Punkin and his two brothers (Nougat and Spunky) were saved, and when their mother finally returned, we were able to reunite her with her kittens.

Punkin and his family are now beloved in our house, but we never would have rescued their shivering forms that night if that little ball of orange fur hadn't been brave enough to search for help.

Punkin (as a brave little kitten)
and his mother, Chicklet.

Punkin and his mom today, enjoying some
time together on our small sun porch.

No surprise, Punkin still acts like the "big brother" cat, looking out for his mom and littermates as well as our other New York rescue cats, who are now part of his colony. 

If anyone in the colony makes so much as a meep, let alone a meow, Punkin is first on the scene to investigate. For our readers, he's the feline equivalent of Detective Mike Quinn. Needless to say, Marc and I feel much safer knowing that a cat like Punkin is on Watch at our house. And so...

In honor of Punkin, I give you...

Cleo Coyle has a partner in 
crime-writing—her husband.
Learn about their books
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Cleo Coyle's
Pumpkin Pie

While our hero cat Punkin inspired this post, I have to give a hearty shout-out to Nancy Phillips, who is our hero, too.

I've mentioned Nancy before on the blog. She's a breast cancer survivor, a loving wife, and dedicated mother of two wonderful children. She's also a great supporter of mystery authors, and we love her dearly.

A few months ago, Nancy e-mailed me a Pinterest photo of Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes making the rounds on the Net. (I'm not sure of the original source, but it's been duplicated many times.) Nancy sighed, wishing she could bake and eat them, but the recipe used evaporated milk, and Nancy is allergic to dairy (specifically casein). Most recipes for this style of cupcake use either evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk.

Inspired by Nancy's predicament, I experimented with the recipe she sent me, coming up with a diary-free version. I think I nailed it. Marc flipped for these (and so did I). Frankly, it was hard to stop eating them!

This recipe will give you a cupcake with good structure, so it will look pretty when served on a dessert tray. Yet when you bite into it, you'll be tasting pumpkin-and-brown-sugar goodness with a texture that will make you think you're eating a slice of pumpkin pie.

If you're not allergic to dairy, try topping it with my Pumpkin Spiced Whipped Cream. If you are, then you must try Nancy's favorite dairy-free topping--Whipped Coconut Milk. Either way, Marc and I certainly hope you will eat with pumpkin spice joy!

~ Cleo

To download this recipe in a PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here

Click here for the recipe.

Makes 11 Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1/2 cup dark (or light) brown sugar, packed*

1/3 cup granulated white sugar

3 large eggs, lightly beaten with fork

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup almond milk (or another nut milk)*

2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

(*Notes: Almond milk will keep this recipe dairy free. It also brings nice flavor to the cupcakes. If you don't wish to create a diary-free recipe, simply substitute cow's milk in an equal amount. On the brown sugar, I prefer dark brown for the complexity of flavor. If you'd like a lighter-colored cupcake, then use light brown sugar.)


Step 1 - Make batter: First preheat your oven to 350° F. Into a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin puree, sugars, eggs, vanilla, almond milk, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Whisk until blended. Whisk in the baking powder and baking soda. Finally, whisk in the flour and mix until completely incorporated, but do not over-mix. Batter should be smooth but loose. 

To fill the cupcake pans, you will be pouring the batter, which is why I suggest transferring the batter to a container with a spout. (I like to use a large, glass measuring cup.)

Step 2 - Bake: Line 11 of the cups in your pan(s) with good-quality paper liners and coat the papers very generously with non-stick spray. You must do this to keep the baked cupcakes from sticking to the papers (or you can use silicone molds).

Divide the batter evenly among 11 cups in your pans. Batter should nearly fill each cup. One cup will not be used. Fill that cup halfway with water to prevent scorching in the oven. 

Bake at 350° F for about 30 minutes. Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes are done when the batter is set. The baked top will feel slightly spongy yet firm (not liquid) when lightly touched. 

Step 3 - Chill: Remove the pan from the oven, allow it to cool, and then chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or two. If you’re in a hurry, let the pan cool down enough to be handled (about 10 to 15 minutes) and pop it in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes. 
At that point, they should be chilled enough to serve topped with my Pumpkin Spice Whipped Cream (if you're able to eat dairy) or (for a dairy-free option) Whipped Coconut Cream. See both recipe below...

To download this
recipe PDF,
click here.

How to Make 

Dairy-Free Whipped 

Coconut Cream

To read the entire recipe
post, click here.

To download the
recipe in a keeper
PDF document,
click here.

Cleo's Pumpkin Spiced Whipped Cream


1 cup very cold heavy (whipping) cream
3 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Directions: For best results, chill your bowl and mixer's beaters in your refrigerator or freezer before starting. Place the cold heavy cream into the chilled bowl. Add the sugar and spice and mix on low just enough to blend it into the cream. Now beat on high until stiff peaks form. Do not over-beat or the whipped cream will begin to break down. If not serving immediately, you can store the Pumpkin Spice Whipped Cream in a covered plastic container for 3 or so days in your refrigerator. If the cream becomes loose or deflates after a day or two, simply re-whip it using a pre-chilled bowl and beaters. This will easily restore it to a beautifully whipped state.

*Sugar note: You can substitute powdered sugar for the granulated white sugar; simply increase the amount to 4 tablespoons.

Click here to downnload
this recipe in PDF form, and...


Punkin Season!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

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  1. We once found a kitten in our wood pile. He was so little we had to feed him with a doll bottle. The cupcakes look delicious!

    1. Elaine - I can't imagine anyone not trying to save a helpless kitten. They tug at our hearts and become part of our families. I love hearing found-cat stories--whether they're in a wood pile or at the shelter, in the alley or in the forest. Thank you so much for dropping in to share yours!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    2. Whoohoo!! what a wonderful story! Thank you Cleo and Marc for saving such precious kittens and momma. I too am a feral cat rescue mom - and I love my kitties. Wish people would just THINK!! animals need to be spayed/neutered to keep this type of things from happening! think what might have happened to these precious babies and mom had you and Marc not found them. Thanks again for your compassion and opening your hearts and home to the lost. God bless you and all the others out there who care for the animals. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!

  2. Punkin is so handsome! How lucky that he found you and was able to lead you to his family. I'm fascinated by the coloring of the kittens. You'd think they would have had the darker fur of their mom. I can see some dilute "pumpkin" in her fur. So, would that mean their dad was likely an orange tabby?

    Your pumpkin cupcakes are making me hungry!!!

    1. Thanks, Krista! Punkin is now beaming with pride. We've been curious about the coloring, too, and who the father is of this brood. One day, a few months after we took in Punkin and his family, we got a clue. A giant cream-colored Tom cat came prowling around our patio. He looked exactly like Nougat (the kitten that mistook Marc's thumb for a tube steak). He was in good shape and had zero interest in trading his rogue life for domestication, so we wished him well as he roamed on.

      We have plenty of cupcakes in the fridge. Come on over and I'll put on a pot of joe! :) Thanks for stopping by--the countdown is on for our releases in December. Some exciting weeks ahead!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Cleo, love the story of Punkin and his brothers. So glad they found their mom again. And these cupcakes look divine, with or without dairy. Yum!

    Daryl / Avery

  4. What a WONDERFUL story! So glad Punkin found you & Marc.

    The cupcakes look delicious!

  5. Wonderful brave kitty and yummy cupcakes! Brava, Cleo! XO MJ

  6. Many years ago, a neighborhood stray took to having her kittens under our compost bin. I guess they liked the shelter and that it was toasty warm. It was difficult, but we always managed to find homes for the kittens. The mother and her adult daughter refused to become indoor cats, but we finally managed to round them up and have them spayed.

  7. What a sweet story (except for Marc's injured finger!) with a happy ending! I could go for one of these cupcakes right now!

  8. This post was made to order for me. I LOVE pumpkin desserts and I rescue cats. I volunteer at our County shelter and also with a local feline rescue. I also foster for both groups. My latest fosters were a mom and two babies. The boys were adopted last week and now I'm working on getting their mom adopted. Besides fostering for these groups, I also take care of a colony of ferals and strays (they have all been spayed/neutered.

    About 2 years ago, 3 strays cats had litters at my dad's house. I got the moms spayed and caught their 12 kittens (was never able to catch the males). The kittens that had been living under the house looked like your little ones when I brought them home. They were thin, had runny eyes and noses (URI). It took 9 months but I eventually got all 12 fixed and into good homes (I couldn't keep them because if I did I couldn't foster). And Punkin's bravery reminded me of one of the mother cats. I had caught all but 1 kitten, who stayed in a wood pile. I got his mom spayed and when I released her, she went to the wood pile and slowly coaxed her baby out. The little one was so scared that it took mom 45 minutes to patiently get the kitten closer to the house, and she eventually led the kitten into the house so I could catch her. It was such an amazing thing to watch. She trusted me, and knew her baby would be safe with me - I was humbled. The mom ended up moving in with my dad.

    Cats can bring so much happiness.

  9. You, my friend...

    Les loves the cat stories as I have forced him to become a dog person :-)

    How well I remember sending you that link and feeling "oh so sorry" for myself because I wouldn't be able to eat pumpkin pie any longer. I should have known that you would have come to my rescue, just the way you rescued Punkin, his siblings and his mama. Thank you for having such a rescuing spirit and huge heart. You are well loved...

  10. Hooray Punkin. I recently adopted my first orange cat. His name is Mariusz. He'd adore one of these cupcakes.

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story about Punkin. He and his mom are gorgeous!

  12. Punkin and his mom are very lucky to have found each other. He is such a handsome follow.

  13. Punkin and his mom are beautiful. You are so lucky to have such a sweet pair of cats. This past May we rescued a mama and her four kittens from an abandoned shed. Penny and Nashi (one of the kittens) have become an indelible part of our family. The other three kittens found homes with friends. So, we get to see them grow up, too. Rescues are the BEST!