Serves a Crowd

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Chai Cream Cheese Frosting

November  5, 2010
1 Ratings
  • Makes about 18 cupcakes
Author Notes

At my Thanksgiving, we get creative with the placecards. We've decorated turkeys and stuck name tags onto gourds. I thought it would be cool to stick little place card flags into pumpkin cupcakes, thus, this recipe... When I was younger--before chai tea was everywhere--I used to make homemade chai in a saucepan by combining cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, honey, milk, and black tea. It was delicious, and the inspiration for this absolutely delicious cream cheese frosting. - SmallKitchCara —Cara Eisenpress

Test Kitchen Notes

Everyone in my family loved these adorable little cakes. They are spiced a la pumpkin pie, and SmallKitchCara uses a generous amount of oil to ensure a moist and tender crumb. But the crowning touch is that chai frosting! You make fragrant chai tea syrup and incorporate it into the frosting. It adds a subtle yet lingering spiciness that marries well with the warm flavors of the pumpkin cupcakes. Next time I might add additional syrup to the frosting for a more pronounced chai flavor. (Note: the recipe refers to adding ginger to the cupcake batter, but no amount is given. I added a teaspoon.) —cookinginvictoria

What You'll Need
  • For the cupcakes
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola or safflower oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 15 ounce can pureed pumpkin
  • For icing and decorating
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons decorative gold sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cupcake pans very well, and, if you like, place cupcake liners in each.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl). In another, larger bowl, using handheld or stand mixer, beat together the sugar and oil until the sugar is saturated by the oil. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the pumpkin. Add the flour mixture, and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. Divide batter equally among cake pans.
  3. Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the cupcakes to a rack to cool completely.
  4. Make the Frosting: Combine the sugar, 5 tablespoons water, the chai tea bags, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves, then simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the syrup steep another 20 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick, and squeeze out all the flavor from the tea bags, then toss them. Let the syrup come to room temperature before proceeding.
  5. Using a food processor or a mixer, combine the butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, honey, and chai syrup until very smooth. If you have time, refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors come together, but take out of the fridge at least 1 hour before frosting the cupcakes, so that it’s spreadable.
  6. Spread a generous amount of frosting on top of each cooled cupcake, then sprinkle the gold sugar on top.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
  • ZombieCupcake
  • sshumans
  • cookinginvictoria
  • Sagegreen
I'm the founder, editor, and head chef at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen (, a site dedicated to easy-to-execute recipes and stories from a quarter-life kitchen. I'm also the author of In the Small Kitchen published in 2011.

26 Reviews

Stephanie B. September 27, 2014
I made a lot of mods to this, and they turned out really great. 1) There's no way I would every use equal parts sugar to flour. I used between 3/4 - 1 c sugar for the batter. 2) A cup of oil also seemed like a lot to me. I eyeballed the amount of oil, but I'm guessing I used about 1/2 c, and I used coconut oil. 3) I used 2 eggs, not 3 (no good reason there). 4) For the frosting, I used 1/2 c powdered sugar.

They turned out moist, delicious, and still plenty sweet to my tastes. The tea syrup frosting is great!
Stephanie B. September 27, 2014
Oh yeah, I also didn't have whole cinnamon stick and cardamom pods when making the syrup: I just put powdered cinnamon and powdered cardamom into a sachet for loose tea. I think it worked out ok?
Anna D. October 13, 2013
These cupcakes are absolutely amazing. I did use puréed pumpkin instead of canned and they turned out great. The chai frosting is delicious and completes the recipe, so if you make these don't leave it out.
Deborah~ March 3, 2013
How much ginger? I'm going to try a teaspoon.
ZombieCupcake February 19, 2013
Have made these a couples times now always have to do a double batch!
barb48 November 20, 2012
I don't own cardamom or a cinnamon stick (just the powder). What other type of frosting would be good on these cupcakes, using basic icing recipe of sorts? Or should I just skip the cardamom?
Kvanm October 28, 2012
I made these yesterday and found them perfect in every way. The cakes were super moist and full of pumpkiny-spicy goodness. Loved the icing, too. Thanks for a wonderful recipe.
FlawlessMom February 12, 2012
I made these again today for a Valentine's party and everyone seriously LOVED THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!
FlawlessMom January 22, 2012
So, I made these today and they are nothing short of perfect. I made mini cupcakes because I needed them to finish a table of other desserts. I didn't even make the frosting because there were so many other sweets, and they're GREAT without! Next time I'm making the frosting, no question. But I just wanted everyone to know these are so good, they don't even NEED frosting!!!!
sshumans October 23, 2011
I made these today for a brunch party and they were a huge hit. Thanks for sharing!
cookinginvictoria November 27, 2010
I was the recipe tester for these cupcakes, and I just wanted to add one thing to my notes: The frosting really does bloom if made in advance. I made a batch of these cupcakes on Monday, frosted a few to sample, and then froze the rest of the cupcakes and the frosting to serve this weekend. When I tasted the frosting today, I was struck by how the flavors had intensified. It now has a deeper chai flavor and is even more delicious. So I totally concur with SmallKitchCara's recommendation to let the frosting sit a bit before frosting the cupcakes, if you possibly can.
adamnsvetcooking November 27, 2010
I agree with that. The cream cheese dressing is really great and works wonderful with the pumpkin! Who would have known. This is definitely one of my favorite recipes!
RecipeSoup November 19, 2010
Well, I did make these cupcakes and they're terrific! The frosting is extra "eat-right-out-of-the-bowl" yummy, too. Thank you so much for this recipe!
Cara E. November 23, 2010
You're welcome--glad you liked em!
RecipeSoup November 13, 2010
I'd like to make these cupcakes -- they sound yummy!! -- but I'm a little confused about the sugar amounts in the cupcake recipe. I see three separate measurements for sugar for a total of 2 1/2 cups of white sugar and an additional 1/2 cup of light brown sugar. Is this correct, or am I reading the recipe incorrectly? Thanks!
Cara E. November 16, 2010
You're right--how'd that get in there?? It's supposed to be 1 1/2 cups total--1 cup white, 1/2 cup light brown. THanks!
Cara E. November 16, 2010
Oops--I meant 2 cups total. Still, thank you for noticing.
Sagegreen November 9, 2010
Yum! Lovely recipe.
cheese1227 November 7, 2010
I just have one question, how did these stay put on the table if you used them for place cards? That would have simply meant that it was acceptable to have dessert BEFORE dinner. Lovely!!
Cara E. November 8, 2010
Well delicious as they may be, in my book turkey & gravy etc come first! But there may be some guests who treat these as appetizers.
adamnsvetcooking November 5, 2010
I love idea about the frosting this is a must try
drbabs November 5, 2010
We must be on mind meld--this is almost exactly what I was thinking of when today's theme was announced!
Cara E. November 8, 2010
So funny! Chai and all?
drbabs November 9, 2010
chai and all (love chai)
wanderash November 5, 2010
This look fantastic. I am waaaay into the frosting!
AntoniaJames November 5, 2010
What a great recipe. Love it!! (Especially the frosting, which I can see would be so, so versatile.) ;o)