I was going to name these cookies “Pillowy Clouds of Fall Goodness,” but that didn’t have the same umph. You have to possess a serious amount of confidence to say something is the softest ever. Between the light-as-air texture of these cookies and the bold, spiced flavors inside (and out) of them, I’m over here feeling pretty accomplished. No need for applause. I share these gems because I care. Not only are the cookies what you need to top off an autumn meal, they freeze flawlessly if you have an upcoming fête you want to prepare for. Both before and after baking, the freezing capabilities of these soft pumpkin cookies will make them a regular feature on your dessert table.
What are Soft Pumpkin Cookies?
So, I’ll keep a hundred with you: my soft pumpkin cookies were a mistake. You know how I’m always harping on reading the recipe multiple times (and paying attention when you cook or bake)? Well, stress, rushing, and not focusing caused me to screw up the pumpkin cookie that I was developing. As a result, I end up with these new cookies.
Now, I knew something was “wrong” when I went to scoop the dough. It was much softer than I expected. Because I’m cheap (or frugal), I wasn’t about to throw away the dough. Instead, I baked it up to see what I needed to do to “fix” it.
Fix it, hell!
They turned out to be one of the best cookies anyone in my family has ever tasted. Consequently, I preened about the kitchen like I meant to do that and no one in the family was any the wiser.
Here’s the takeaway, Ladies and Gents: ride your mistake until the wheels fall off. You never know if you’ll end up with the next cookie masterpiece.
The actual cookie, however? Think of it as a fluffy pumpkin dessert, packed full of the ubiquitous fall spices, and finished with a dusting of cinnamon-sugar. To imagine what biting into one of these cookies is like: think about how it would feel to bite into a cloud. That description was from the Soldier, y’all. Round of applause for his metaphorical gangsterism.
What do I need to make these Soft Pumpkin Cookies?
You can create these pumpkin clouds with just a quick shop in your pantry- especially if you’ve already hopped on the pumpkin puree train.
As always, the breakdown of the recipe goes: wet ingredients + dry ingredients= pillowy clouds of luurrrrvvvv. The wet ingredients include: light brown and white sugars, and unsalted butter. Later, a room temp egg, packed pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract are added to round out the wet stage.
The dry ingredients blend together: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg (all ground spices, by the way), kosher salt, baking soda and powder, cream of tartar and all-purpose flour.
The final flourish is a roll in a cinnamon-sugar mixture just prior to baking the cookies.
So, let’s get to it.
What’s the Secret to Soft Pumpkin Cookies?
Besides screwing up the original recipe, one of the secrets to creating the soft pumpkin cookies is sifting the crap out of the dry ingredients.
Sifting dry ingredients, though a pain it seems to be, has a purpose. Besides ridding your flour of any interlopers (like grain mill debris and the dreaded weevil), sifting aerates and separates the flour. Adding air to the cookie is key to making it as light as a cloud. It also breaks up large lumps of flour or the wetter spices, like ginger.
So, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices together in a mixing bowl. Scoop cupfuls of the dry ingredients into a sifter and sift the mixture together. I have a three-sift rule. But, even two sifts are better than none.
Set this bowl aside while you work on the wet ingredients.
How long do I beat the butter and sugar?
Did you know that the amount of time you spend beating together the fat and sugar affects how much your cookie spreads and how chewy it is? I know right? Crazy! But, it’s true! We aren’t looking for snickerdoodle-chewy, but we also don’t want tuile-crispy (yuck!). Instead, we want a cookie that retains its shape, and falls somewhere in between chewy and crisp.
Measure (or weigh) the butter, light brown and white sugars into a separate mixing bowl. Use an electric hand mixer or your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to blend together the fat and sugars on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula. Mix again, this time on the second speed for 2 minutes. The mixture should be creamed together, but not light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and beater once more.
What type of pumpkin should I use for my cookies?
Yet again, we learn that an ingredient has a direct effect on how a baked good turns out. In our soft pumpkin cookies, the high amount of liquid- from the pumpkin puree, whole egg, and vanilla- contributes to the softness of the baked cookie.
Now, I want you to keep in mind that, when I refer to “pumpkin”, I’m talking about “packed pumpkin puree”. In the food manufacturing world, when anything (fruit or the like) is called “packed”, it simply means that no water has been added during the canning process. You definitely don’t want to use a homemade pumpkin puree or pumpkin from a can that’s not labeled “packed”. The final dough is already significantly loose, so adding more water is not ideal.
At any rate, once you’ve obtained your packed puree, add it, the egg, and the vanilla to the bowl with the sugars and butter. Blend the mixture together, just until the egg is broken up and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater.
How do I avoid tough cookies?
Tough is the opposite of soft. That’s not news to you, I know, but in the bakeshop, the type of flour we use dictates how tough or soft our baked goods will turn out to be.
Think of the flour as a family home. To the right of the spectrum, the cake flour home has butlers, allowances to eat whatever, whenever; and parents who spend more time indulging than parenting. To the left of the spectrum, the bread flour home are strict disciplinarians who scream and belittle their kids; leading them to become serial killers. When it comes to these pumpkin cookies, however, we want to “raise” them in a home balanced with love, family dinners, and discipline when needed, ie: an all-purpose flour home. They come out soft, but not crumbly; with chew, but not tough.
Flour makes the difference, is all I’m saying. Add half of the sifted dry mixture to the bowl. Blend the flour into the pumpkin mixture for 30 seconds, or just until you can no longer distinguish it. Scrape down, both, the bowl and the beater.
Now, add the remaining flour and blend, once more, on low. This time, only blend for 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and use the rubber spatula to finish the mixing in of the dry ingredients. This is the nurturing that prevents our “pumpkin babies” from turning out to be the John Wayne Gacy of the cookie world.
Mix the dough just until the flour is no longer visible, but no longer than a minute.
Is my batter supposed to be this soft?
Yes. Yes, it is.
The “dough” should have a very thick batter-like consistency. It should resemble a thick peanut butter. To alleviate frustration when it comes time to form and coat the balls of dough, however, you need to chill it for 30 minutes to an hour.
I have an unexplainable aversion to having thick, sticky things on my fingers. Yes, being a pastry chef for 15 years was fraught with spazzing out about icing getting on my hands. Your judgment doesn’t faze me. As a result or my mania, I chill my cookie dough for at least an hour, but sometimes as long as 12 hours (or overnight). Not only does this longer chill firm up the butter and sugar in the dough, it also hydrates it. That hydration turns into moisture during the baking process, which, again, means…softnnnnnness.
Cover the bowl with plastic film or foil and chill it for as long as you can, but no longer than 2 days.
What is Cinnamon-Sugar made of?
It’s not a silly question to me because I’ve been asked it a lot, so, obviously, it’s something that warrants an answer.
Cinnamon-sugar is made from granulated white sugar and ground cinnamon. Usually the formula is 4 tablespoons sugar to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Because I’m a fan of a more robust cinnamon-sugar, my ratio is 3 tablespoons sugar to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Play around with the ratios and make it your own. If you want to go full-on fall, use this Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend instead of cinnamon.
For this recipe, though, whisk together the granulated sugar and the cinnamon until the mixture is uniform. Set the cinnamon-sugar aside.
What else can I use this cinnamon-sugar on?
Cinnamon-sugar is often one of those irksome things to make. I don’t always want to spend the two seconds it takes to measure out and mix it together. Instead, I make a large batch of the cinnamon-sugar and store it in glass spice jars in the pantry. I’m never at a loss as to how to use it, but if you need more recipes for using yours, check out these from some of my buddies:
- Churro Cake by my friend, Aline
- this Apple Cider Donut Cake from Chenée
- Or, these Cinnamon-Sugar Donuts by Mila
What is the best temperature to bake cookies?
After the cinnamon-sugar is mixed and cookies have chilled, preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
While 350°F (177°C) is the go-to for most of our baking, I want to blast these cookies with a higher heat to puff them up and bake them quickly on the outside. Baking at this slightly higher temperature will accomplish that while the inside remains super soft and moist.
After you turn on the oven, line two sheet pans with silicone baking mats, preferably, or parchment paper if you don’t have mats. I prefer mats for this recipe because they help prevent the cookies from spreading too much during baking. “Spread” is just when cookies flatten out. Instead of flat cookies, we are shooting for pillowy, mounded cookies.
Use a portion scoop to scoop (or grab a large, walnut-sized, pinch of) the dough and roll it into a ball. Coat it liberally in the cinnamon-sugar. I usually roll it a little bit more after coating it to press the sugar into the dough. Arrange the dough on the lined sheet pan (1 dozen should fit perfectly).
Slide the pan into the pre-heated oven and bake for 12 minutes. While the first batch is baking, roll and coat the remaining dough.
How long do I need to cool the cookies?
Ideally, you should allow the cookies to cool completely before eating them. I, however, am notorious for burning my mouth and tongue eating them straight out of the oven. Don’t be greedy like me, Friend.
Once the cookies have finished baking, they should be puffed up, cracked slightly, and have a deep orange color. Remove their pan from the oven and allow the cookies to cool, on the pan, set on top of a wire rack for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, transfer the cookies to the wire rack and allow them to cool for 10 minutes, or completely.
What’s the best way to keep my Soft Pumpkin Cookies soft?
Storage plays a huge role in how soft your Soft Pumpkin Cookies remain. Shockingly enough, I had leftover cookies 3 days after baking and they are just as soft as they were when I pulled them from the oven. The key to maintaining soft cookies is sealing them in an air-tight container. If the cookies are exposed to too much air, they’ll dry out and quickly become stale. That said, if they’re exposed to too much moisture, or humidity, they’ll continue absorbing that moisture and become soggy, or worse, moldy.
Go ahead and pop them in a food storage container or a zip-top bag and store them on the countertop for up to 3 days. Don’t store them in the fridge. Refrigeration causes the cookies to become stale much faster.
How do I serve these Soft Pumpkin Cookies?
With milk. Whatever kind of milk your diet allows. Milk and cookies- especially these cookies- are a match made in heaven.
I’ve seen my family enjoy these in some pretty creative ways. One slathered nutella on his- I cringed at the sugar-high he was about to hit. Another sandwiched hers between some softened vanilla ice cream. Decent form, but the softness of the freshly-baked cookies doesn’t lend itself to sandwich-making. The other dipped his in his morning’s coffee. Clearly we are the cake flour family over here.
Can I freeze cookies? If so, how?
Freezing these cookies, both before and after baking is totally a thing.
To freeze the cookies prior to baking, I highly advise you to scoop them into balls beforehand. It’s frustrating to try to wrestle with that “not-quite-thawed-out” lump of dough after freezing it whole. Instead, scoop the dough as you would if you were baking it straight-away. Don’t roll it in the cinna-sugar just yet, though. arrange the balls of dough all on the one pan (no need to space them out since we’re not baking yet). Freeze the dough-balls until solid, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag. Not only will you have cookies on hand for up to 3 months, you can bake them in onesies and twosies. Allow the frozen cookies to thaw for only 5 minutes so the cinnamon-sugar will adhere better.
Bake them in the pre-heated oven. Add an additional minute or two to account for baking from their frozen state.
To freeze the cookies post-baking, allow them to cool completely. Transfer them to a freezer storage bag and, after pressing out all of the air in the bag and sealing, freeze them for up to 6 months. Thaw them on the countertop in their bag, or nuke them in the microwave for 20 seconds to eat straight from the freezer. Psssst! Frozen Soft Pumpkin Cookies make a better “bread” for ice cream sandwiches than do freshly-baked. Don’t tell the girl-child, though.
Can I make these cookies ahead?
You absolutely can make the cookie dough as early as 2 days ahead. I actually prefer to do this. It not only helps firm up the dough, it also hydrates the dough, which makes it even chewier and perfecter (I know that’s not a word). Just mix the dough completely, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for up to two days. Then, proceed like we talked about earlier.
If you want to bake them 3 days in advance, feel free to do that as well. Keep in mind, that, the longer they’re stored after baking, the less exciting the texture will be. A quick nuke in the microwave (10 seconds) is all it takes to restore them to their former glory, though.
So! There you have it. The most perfect mistake I’ve ever made. Be sure to pin this recipe to your pumpkin or baking boards, then share it far and wide with your homies.
Need More Cookies for the Holidays? Check these out:
Soft Pumpkin Cookies with Cinnamon-Sugar Topping
- half sheet pan
- electric mixer or stand mixer
- 2 3/4 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoons (4 grams) ground cinnamon* *or replace the individual spices with Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (113 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup, packed (165 grams) light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup (165 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 cup (230 grams) pumpkin puree not pumpkin pie filling
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon (3 grams) ground cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend
Combine the Dry Ingredients
Combine the Wet Ingredients
- Add the butter, light brown and white sugars to a separate mixing bowl. Use an electric hand mixer or your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to blend together the fat and sugars on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula. Mix again, this time on the second speed for 2 minutes. The will be smooth and creamed together, but not light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and beater once more.
- Add the egg, pumpkin puree, and the vanilla extract to the bowl with the sugars and butter. Blend the mixture together, just until the egg is beaten and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater.
Finish the Cookie Dough
- Add half of the sifted flour-spice mixture to the bowl. Blend the flour into the pumpkin mixture for 30 seconds, or just until you can no longer distinguish it. Scrape down, both, the bowl and the beater.Add the remaining flour and blend, once more, on low. This time, only blending for 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and use the rubber spatula to finish mixing in the dry ingredients. Mix the dough just until the flour is no longer visible, but no longer than a minute.
Chill the Dough from 30 minutes to 1 hour (or overnight)
- The finished "dough" should have a very thick batter-like consistency, similar to thick peanut butter. Cover the bowl with plastic film or foil and chill it for as long as you can, but no longer than 2 days.
Mix the Cinnamon-Sugar (up to a week ahead)
- In a small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and the cinnamon until the mixture is uniform. Store the cinnamon-sugar in a jar with an air-tight lid in the pantry for up to 6 months. Use as desired.
Roll, Coat, then Bake the Soft Pumpkin Cookies
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and line two sheet pans with silicone baking mats, or parchment paper.
- Use a portion scoop to scoop the dough, or grab a large, walnut-sized, pinch of the dough and roll it into a ball. Roll the ball of dough around in the cinnamon-sugar to coat it liberally. After coating it, roll the dough a bit more to press the sugar into the dough. Arrange 12 balls of dough on the lined sheet pan.
- Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven for 12 minutes. While the first batch is baking, roll and coat the remaining dough.
- Once the cookies have finished baking, they should be puffed up, cracked slightly, and have a deep orange color. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cookies to cool, on the pan, on top of a wire cooling rack for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies after 2 minutes of cooling to the wire rack and allow them to cool for 10 minutes, or completely. Bake and cool the remaining cookie dough the same way.
- Store the cookies in an air-tight container at room temperature. Enjoy the cookies within 3 days of baking.
Freezing InstructionsTo freeze the cookies prior to baking:
- Scoop the cookie dough into balls, but don't roll the dough in the cinnamon-sugar.
- Arrange all of the balls of dough on the one pan (no need to space them out since you're not baking them yet).
- Freeze the dough-balls until solid, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag.
- Freeze for up to 3 months and bake them as needed.
- Allow the frozen cookies to thaw for 5 minutes so the cinnamon-sugar will adhere better.
- Bake the dough in a pre-heated oven, adding an additional minute or two to account for baking from their semi-frozen state.
- Allow the baked cookies to cool completely.
- Transfer the cookies to a freezer storage bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
- Thaw the cookies on the countertop in their bag, or reheat them in the microwave for 20 seconds to eat straight from the freezer.
- Prepare the cookie dough as instructed.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for up to two days.
- Roll, coat, and bake as instructed.