the great debate: made from scratch, semi-homemade, or right out of the box

Nov 4

Ai absolutely love pumpkin, but ai love pumpkin even more now that I am making my own pumpkin puree.

A few weekends ago, we made the trek up to Yuba County to a town named Wheatland.  I was in search of an heirloom variety of pumpkin called Winter Luxury.  After a scare of low fuel on our drive up (yep we ignored the low fuel warning until we were surrounded by farm land and no signs of a gas station for miles), we coasted our way into a gas station in Wheatland and then finally on to our final destination–Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm.  Although I was on a mission to obtain these prized pumpkins, this was also our first trip to a pumpkin patch.  The kids had so much fun!

And while the kids had fun in the corn and sunflower mazes and the train and pony rides, I was in heaven with all of the different varieties of pumpkins and Winter squashes.  I finally found THE one variety I sought out for–Winter Luxury!  I bought only two because we made this an overnight weekend trip and I wasn’t sure how well they would keep in the trunk of the car.  I guess I could have hauled ten pumpkins up to the hotel room . . . no too fanatical even for me.

I have to say that our trip was so much fun and like cherry picking we did this past Summer, we’ve decided to make this our annual Fall family trip.  And although the farm can get busy, there are lots to do and see in this kid friendly pumpkin farm.  AND . . their apple cider is just out of this world!  It tastes like drinking an apple right from the tree.  This is my other regret–that I didn’t buy this by the gallons.  But then again hauling five gallons of cider to our hotel room?  That fridge in the hotel room couldn’t even hold a bottle of water anyway.  Must rethink the storage of pumpkins and cider for next year.

So on to the post topic–made from scratch, semi-homemade, or right out of the box?  My Mom says I make things hard on myself and that I should take more shortcuts.  And with two small kids I tend to agree . . . but . . . where’s the challenge in adding water to a cake mix? I am not one to turn my nose up to any semi-homemade or out of the box desserts since I’ve made my share of these and they have helped me out in a pinch.  However, in this point of my life, I am opting for the challenge and going from scratch all the way, maybe.  Okay depends . . . like I said I have two small kids and never say never when you are a Mommy.  I say do what is best for you at the time.  If I have to take a side . . . 89.9% of the time I say made from scratch.

People have “bucket lists” or things they want to do or accomplish in their lifetime.  I have a “bake-it list” things I want to . . . well you get the picture.  I am happy to say that making this all from scratch Pumpkin Crunch was another check off my list.  Pumpkin Crunch is well-known in Hawaii.  It is sort of a tart/pie/bar.  It is baked inverted–meaning the pumpkin is placed first in the baking pan and then the crunch or crust is layered on top.  Then once cooled it is flipped over and then a cream cheese whipped topping is layered over the pumpkin.  This is probably one of the easiest desserts to make because the recipe calls for canned pumpkin, yellow cake mix, and cool whip.  It probably takes an hour to make–5 minutes to prep, 50 minutes to bake, and then another 5 to whip up the cream cheese topping layer.  Simple and easy right?  And why mess with a classic?  Because it’s on my bake-it list?  Not a good enough reason.  How about this one–because I want to see how much better it will taste from scratch?  That’s better.  There is something to be said about the freshness and flavors from fresh and natural ingredients.  And in most cases this means it will probably take a little more work.  But isn’t that always the case with hard work?  You reap the rewards of your labor.

The first step was the pumpkin.  Ohhhh the pumpkin.  These Winter Luxury pumpkins were just beautiful.

After cleaning out the seeds and the fibers, I cut the pumpkin in fourths, sprinkled some brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice, and then baked them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 30-35 minutes or until soft.  Once cooled, I scooped out the flesh and placed it in a food processor.  Puree until smooth around 3 minutes.  Although this took about an hour longer than opening up a can of pumpkin puree, you just can’t beat the crisp freshness of making your own.  I mean I made the puree from a pumpkin that was picked only days ago as compared to something sitting on a shelf with a shelf life of a billion years, okay okay perhaps more like 3 years.

Next was tackling that yellow box cake mix that serves as the crust.  Betty and Duncan have got this down to a science, but how does this translate to the home baker devising something from scratch?  Since I wasn’t quite baking the cake per se, I needed something to mimic that crumble that is sprinkled over the top of the pumpkin.

I am happy to say that faith brought me to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe blog, where her food philosophy is exactly what I was searching for: cooking from scratch.  Mel’s Homemade Yellow Cake Mix recipe was exactly what I was looking for.

The last layer is the cream cheese topping.  This one was easy peasy.  Instead of using Cool Whip, I whipped up my own whipped cream and incorporated that into cream cheese.

Winter Luxury Pumpkin Crunch from Scratch


Pumpkin Layer

29 oz or roughly 3 1/2 c fresh pumpkin puree (Winter Luxury, Sugar Pie, or other baking variety of pumpkin)
1 1/3 c sugar
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 12 oz can of evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Crunch or Crust Layer:

1/2 c sugar
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c cake flour
1/3 c nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c chopped pecans (or macnuts or walnuts your preference)
1 c butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla

Cream Cheese Whipped Topping Layer:

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp sugar


Pumpkin Layer

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13×9 rectangle pan or 8′ deep round pan with cooking spray.  You can also line the pan with parchment paper for easy removal.
  2. In a large bowl, mix pumpkin puree, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, evaporated milk, eggs, and vanilla extract.  Mix well.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and set aside.

Crunch or Crust Layer:

  1. In a large bowl mix sugar, all-purpose flour, cake flour, nonfat dry milk powder, baking powder, and salt.  Ensure all ingredients are mixed well.
  2. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the pumpkin layer.
  3. Sprinkle pecans over the mixtures.
  4. Sprinkle remaining mixture over the pecans.
  5. Mix vanilla with melted butter.
  6. Evenly pour butter mixture all over.
  7. Bake for 50-55 minutes.
  8. Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Whipped Topping Layer:

  1. Whip heavy whipping cream until soft peaks and then add the sugar a little at a time.  Whip until stiff peaks.
  2. In bowl of a standing mixer, mix cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla.
  3. Fold in whipped cream in the cream cheese mixture and chill if necessary.

To Assemble:

  1. Run a knife along the edges of the baked pumpkin crunch.
  2. Place a serving plate or platter on top of the pumpkin crunch and flip it over.
  3. Spread cream cheese topping over the pumpkin.
  4. Sprinkle pumpkin pie spice over the cream cheese layer (optional).

So the verdict on my made from scratch pumpkin crunch?  It was definitely worth the extra work and whole ingredients.

The pumpkin was light and creamy and not at all gritty, which you sometimes get from canned puree.  I can’t say enough how fresh it tasted.

The crust had a nice nutty crunch and a hint of soft shortbread instead of the more gummy texture you get from a cake mix.

And finally the whipped topping layer so creamy without any artificial aftertaste of Cool Whip.

I do have to state one caveat, Pumpkin Crunch should be eaten chilled and ALWAYS best the next day.  I know it will be tempting to just try a little right out of the oven, but don’t!  You’ll be disappointed.  Pumpkin Crunch with all of those layers need to sit and come together.  Overnight the flavors deepen and only get better.

I saved a bite for you!

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Comments: 10

  1. Bluejellybeans November 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm Reply

    Very nice! Thanks for sharing this recipe with us. Is good to know an original recipe from Hawaii.
    A hui hou! (is that correct?

    • ailovebaking November 8, 2011 at 12:13 am Reply

      Mahalo (thank you) Giovanna! Yes “a hui ho” is correct : )

  2. Val Uchida November 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm Reply

    That looks delicious! I have always made my pumpkin crunch with fresh pumpkins from our yard this time of year. After I clean out the pumpkins, I steam them and later scrape the meat off the hard skin and run it through the food processor, take what I need and freeze the rest in 2 cup portions. I don’t add any spices except cinnamon before I bake it, because my family doesn’t like the taste of pumpkin spices. I always make my own fresh whipped cream with the cream cheese, but I never made the my own yellow cake mix, because I didn’t have the recipe….and now thanks to you…I have the recipe!!! Yay!! I’m going to try it ALL from scratch for this Thanksgiving.
    Thanks again for sharing and wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    • ailovebaking November 8, 2011 at 12:20 am Reply

      I have to learn how to “store” pumpkin puree! I should have done what you do and immediately portioned it out and freezed it. Do you store in regular ziploc bags?

      We had pumpkin in everything over the last few weeks and I think the family is all pumpkined out. Yeah I agree with the pumpkin pie spice–I really only use a little. It can overpowered the pumpkin. I think I am going to try and make my own pumpkin pie spice with more cinnamon and less nutmeg.

      This all from scratch version was really good. I am glad I tried it out. The crust or crunch is quite different from the cake mix version. Let me know what you think if you do try it. Hey I am going to message you later. I’ve been thinking about Pumpkin Haupia since you mentioned it awhile back!

  3. Lora November 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm Reply

    omg this looks just fantastic. Mouth. Watering. I never heard of these types of pumpkins before. You’ve made me curious so I must search for them in the Farmers’ market now.

  4. […] made my own extremely creamy Winter Luxury pumpkin puree that I used in my made from scratch pumpkin crunch.  I also made some heavenly rich Pumpkin Leche Flan, pictured above, and more on that […]

  5. Patsy April 24, 2012 at 10:08 pm Reply

    I like the new remodeled blog sight you have.. An your pumpkin dessert look so good. I’m gonna try to make this the next time we have a family gathering and thanks for sharing your recipie.. Say hello to mom.. Aloha Patsy

  6. Julie Hashimoto-McCreery October 16, 2013 at 4:47 am Reply

    thanks for this recipe! i cannot wait to try this sooner than later… i grew up on the island of kauai and am no stranger to the simple version of pumpkin crunch… however, i’ve been hoping to create and/or try a completely homemade version for years! this is my starting place, for sure. 🙂

    • ai love baking October 17, 2013 at 3:54 am Reply

      Hi Julie! Mahalo for stopping by my blog–I always get so excited to hear from fellow island locals! Although there is something enduring about the classic pumpkin crunch, I have to admit completely from scratch just tasted . . . real, if that makes any sense lol. Let me know what you think if you ever try it 🙂

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