If you've never had pumpkin crunch, I'm a little jealous of you. It's one of my all-time favorite local Hawaii desserts, and the original pumpkin crunch recipe is simple and easy using boxed cake mix. But this one is different because it uses a homemade cake mix you can easily make from scratch!
Update Disclosure: This post has been updated for one or more of the following reasons: easier reading, updated photos, clearer instructions, and just plain ol' improvements to the recipe (as noted).
What is Pumpkin Crunch?
Pumpkin crunch is essentially a dump cake where there are three layers. The bottom layer is a baked pumpkin filling, and the top streusel crust is made with cake mix, butter, and nuts. After baking, the entire thing is flipped upside down, with a whipped cream topping added as the third layer.
This baked dish is a popular dessert during the holiday season in Hawaii. Consider it part of the Americana section of the island's local food culture. Pumpkin crunch used to be a novelty recipe in the islands, but became a staple over the years. Nowadays, you can even buy pumpkin crunch at restaurants in Hawaii. Lucky for you, it's easy enough to make at home.
Ingredients for Pumpkin Crunch Recipe
You don't need a lot of ingredients to make pumpkin crunch. My version in the recipe card below includes how to make a homemade cake mix if you don't have boxed caked mix. But feel free to use this recipe with either. The other main component is the filling. I added more spices to bring it closer to a traditional pumpkin pie taste.
- Pumpkin Puree: Since this is about as American as we get, using canned pumpkin puree such as Libby's is a great option. Do not use pumpkin pie mix because it already contains sugar and spices.
- Heavy Cream & Milk: I use a combination of heavy cream (35% or more) and milk instead of evaporated milk since it's hard to find where I live. It makes the pumpkin crunch more velvety.
- Sugar: The main sweetening component of the pumpkin crunch. Adjust from the recommended measurement for your taste.
- Eggs: I use one more egg to get a lighter filling. They will make the filling set into a custard-like consistency.
- Pumpkin Pie Spices: A combination and a good ratio of certain spices add more festive flavors to the pumpkin crunch.
- Cake Mix: Feel free to use boxed cake mix for this pumpkin crunch. But since I live abroad and boxed cake mix is hard to find, I made an easy homemade alternative for the crunchy topping.
- Butter: Instead of mixing butter with the cake mix topping, you stream it throughout. That way, you get bites of cake and crunchy streusel simultaneously.
- Walnuts or Pecans: I use pecans for this recipe, but the classic recipes call for walnuts. Feel free to use whatever you prefer!
- Cake Mix: The quickest substitute for homemade cake mix is simply buying cake mix. You would still have to use your own butter and nuts for the topping but it eliminates a step for you!
- Pumpkin Pie Spice: You can make your own pumpkin pie spice blend by using the spices in your pantry. This homemade pumpkin spice blend from AllRecipes should help you out!
- Heavy Cream: You can swap out the heavy cream for milk or evaporated milk. Just note that it won't be as rich as using heavy cream.
- Using Cold Butter Instead of Melted Butter: If you want an even crust, you can slice cold butter into thin squares and line them up like tiles on top of the cake mix. This post about a cherry dump cake shows how to evenly spread the butter squares. As it bakes, the thin butter slices will spread more evenly on top of the cake mix.
- Layer More: To make a more uniform crust, I sandwiched the nuts between layers of cake mix. I used half the cake mix to make the first layer of the crust, added the pecans, then topped the pecans with the rest of the cake mix.
How to Make Pumpkin Crunch
You can whip up this pumpkin dessert quickly! Before doing anything else, remember to preheat your oven.
These is a summary of what you will do.
- Make the Homemade Cake Mix
- Add flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds until you no longer see the butter pieces and everything is well incorporated. Set aside for later use.
- Make the Pumpkin Crunch Filling
- Add heavy cream, milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, eggs, salt, and pumpkin pie spices in another bowl. Whisk until smooth.
- Bring Everything Together
- Pour the pie filling into a prepared baking dish lined with parchment paper. Then gently top the filling with the prepared cake mix. Keep the surface area of the filling intact to make the two layers.
- Top with Chopped Nuts
- Take your melted butter and carefully spoon it throughout the cake mix. You will end up with pockets of butter. Bake in your preheated oven.
How to Serve
Once baked, let the pumpkin crunch cool completely. Then turn it over onto a large baking sheet that will fit the entire cake. Now the pumpkin filling is on top.
Here Are Two Options for Serving
- If you are serving immediately to a crowd, top the entire pumpkin crunch with whipped cream and chill for about twenty minutes before cutting into squares.
- If you are eating it piece by piece, slice it into squares and add a dollop of whipped cream to the individual pieces.
You can store pumpkin crunch in the fridge for up to a week. Make sure you cover it well, or it will dry out.
Pumpkin Crunch with Homemade Cake Mix Recipe
The equipment and ingredients sections contain affiliate links to products I love to use as well as items that I personally believe make this recipe the best version of itself.
Homemade Cake Mix
- 240 grams all-purpose flour
- 200 grams white granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 50 grams cubed unsalted butter, cold
- 1 box yellow cake mix
- 1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz or 425 grams)
- 240 grams heavy cream
- 120 grams whole milk
- 200 grams sugar
- 4 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
Add to Crust
- 227 grams unsalted butter, melted
- 100 grams chopped pecans
- whipped cream
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F)
- Make Homemade Cake Mix: In a food processor, add flour, sugar, salt, and butter. Pulse until the butter pieces disappear and the mix is well incorporated. Set aside. (skip this step if using boxed cake mix)
- Make Filling: In a bowl, add pumpkin puree, heavy cream, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves. Whisk until smooth.
- Line a 23x33 cm (9x13 in) baking dish with parchment paper. Pour the pumpkin filling into the prepared baking dish.
- Gently add the cake mix on top without breaking the surface.
- Top with nuts then spoon the melted butter.
- Bake for 50 mins to 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Once completely cooled release onto a large baking pan or plate upside down.
- Slice into squares and top with whipped cream.
Have You Tried This Recipe?
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