Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins (with a kick)

Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins

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I had to try making these.  The minute I saw this recipe and its combination of pumpkin, sharp cheddar cheese, and cayenne and black pepper, I was caught in its spell and was just counting the days until I could sink my baking teeth into it.

My eating teeth, too.  These muffins turned out great. They’re completely different from anything I’ve made before. The combination of the sweet pumpkin, the sharp cheddar, and the kick from the pepper that comes in as you’re finishing each bite is unique and irresistible. It’s like the gum that Violet Beauregarde steals from Willy Wonka’s factory: it’s almost a complete meal.

To complicate things, I had to make them the same day — at the same time — that I made Nathaniel’s birthday cake. I had plans the next day to visit Eastern District, an awesome cheese shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, owned by my friend (and former boss) Beth and her husband Chris.  I’ve wanted to go there for ages, and I knew that they would be the perfect consumers for these cheese-featuring treats. (And I knew my kids would not, thanks to the cayenne. Nathaniel will try just about anything, but he doesn’t like too much of a spicy kick in his food.)  Also, it made the day more hectic, so why not? Why just make a layer cake with two soda reductions when you can make muffins at the same time?

While I was waiting for layer cakes to cool and whipped cream bowls to chill, I weighed out the cheese. Four ounces of good quality sharp cheddar, for my cheesemonger friends. (As Chris said, “You mean you didn’t use Pathmark cheese for these?”)

cheese on scale

I whisked together the pumpkin and the sour cream first. Forgive me, I used a “light” sour cream. Habit.

pumpkin and sour cream

pumpkin and sour cream, whisked

I added the eggs next, and instead of half a cup of butter, I used a quarter cup of butter and somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of low fat vanilla yogurt.  Had to lighten this one up a bit, if only to feel better about the delicious cheese.

butter, eggs, and yogurt added

butter, eggs, and yogurt added and whisked

In another bowl, I combined the dry ingredients, substituting whole wheat white flour & wheat germ for the all purpose flour, then adding baking powder, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and brown sugar. I confess that I have never put cayenne pepper in a baked good before. It was a big moment.

dry ingredients

dry ingredients, whisked

Next, the combining. Pumpkin, meet cayenne.

starting to combine

Cayenne, meet pumpkin.

ingredients merging

together at last

pumpkin cheddar muffins batter

And then they were all introduced to the cheese. I took three quarters of my grated cheese and folded it in to the batter, then scooped the batter into muffin cups.  A bit of the remaining cheese went into my mouth, and the rest was used to top off each muffin.

cheese on muffin

Things like this bring out the Homer Simpson in me. Mmmm….cheese.

I baked them for just under 20 minutes. I didn’t write it down, unfortunately, probably due to the fact that I was also getting my frosting equipment together at the same time.  The cheese melted beautifully, though, making the muffins a bit alien-like but not in a bad way.

pumpkin cheddar muffins

pumpkin cheddar muffins

I gave them a few minutes in the pan, and then got them out onto the rack. They smelled amazing.

pumpkin cheddar muffins on rack

They were delicious. Divine. And distinctive.

I’m definitely going to bring these to my Dad’s for Thanksgiving, along with my now-signature pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon chai frosting. They  have  a touch of sweetness from the pumpkin and the dark brown sugar, but they’re savory, and I think they should be served with dinner and not dessert.  I love the kick that you get from the cayenne and black pepper, it’s like a little bite right at the end, but it’s never overpowering because of how well the other flavors combine.

A winning recipe this one, and a nice step out of the usual for me, although of course they are still muffins. I know I make a lot of muffins. People say things. Then they stop talking because they’re too busy eating muffins.


My version of Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins (adapted from marcussamuelsson.com)


1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 tablespoons light sour cream
2 large egs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/8 – 1/4 cup (somewhere in the middle) low fat vanilla yogurt (plain would be fine)
1 1/3 cups whole wheat white flour
2/3 cup wheat germ (I use toasted)
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar


Melt the butter, and set it aside to cool. Grate the cheese.

Heat the oven to 425, you will reduce the temperature later. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sour cream. Add the eggs, butter, and yogurt, and whisk until thoroughly combined.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Make a well in the center.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and fold, just until combined. Don’t overdo it. Fold in three quarters of the cheese.

Scoop the batter into muffin cups and top each one with the remaining cheese.

Reduce oven temperature to 400, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

For the best muffin experience, serve warm, but they’re pretty delicious even if you don’t have a chance to warm them up.

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