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Kabocha Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, has a dense, sweet flesh that is perfect for these tender cupcakes, which can be eaten as is, dusted with confectioners’ sugar or spread with the frosting in the recipe. You can bake and mash the squash up to 2 days ahead. Any extra puree will keep well in the freezer for up to 6 months.


For the cupcakes: 

  • 1 kabocha squash, about 2 lb.  
  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1/2 cup canola oil 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 
  • 1/4 cup low-fat milk 

For the frosting: 

  • 8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, at room temperature 
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar 
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice 


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

To make the cupcakes, cut the squash in half crosswise and place, cut side down, in a baking pan with the water. Bake until very soft when pressed, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Scrape the flesh from the peel into a bowl. Mash with a fork or puree until smooth; measure out 1 cup.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla and the 1 cup squash puree until smooth. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the squash mixture, followed by the milk, until well blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each one about two-thirds full. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, in a bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cheese, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and lemon juice until smooth. Spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes and serve immediately, or refrigerate the frosted cupcakes for up to 1 day. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Eat Well, by Charity Ferreira (Oxmoor House, 2008).