It’s October, which means that McSweeney’s article reminding us that it’s decorative gourd season (McSweeney’s, you may recall, puts it a little less delicately) has probably started showing up in your Facebook feed again. It also means that it’s time for pumpkin-flavored desserts to start popping up for the next month or two.
Pumpkin is a divisive ingredient. After taking a non-scientific survey among friends, some were absolutely against the idea of adding this orange gourd into something sweet to eat (and for some, “pumpkin spice” inspires ire), but for those who love it, pumpkin season is the bee’s knees. If you are in the latter group, our list of locally made, seasonal pumpkin-flavored desserts is for you. You’ll notice that my list is of pumpkin-flavored baked goods, sans traditional pumpkin pies. I love pumpkin pie, but I rarely eat it before Thanksgiving, so I decided to keep the focus on lesser known pumpkin gems.
Here are my five favorite pumpkin sweets found in Berkeley and Oakland. If I’ve left off your favorite, feel free to add it into the comments section below.
Pumpkin Cake Roll at Timeless Coffee
For a wide variety of pumpkin desserts, hit up Timeless Coffee once the season hits. At this time of year, the café always has several pumpkin-flavored treats on its menu. On recent visits to Timeless on Piedmont Avenue, it was offering a gluten-free pumpkin chocolate-chip churro waffle, pumpkin pie, gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pie soft serve and a pumpkin cake roll — all of which are completely vegan. As the season goes on, it may offer other pumpkin desserts, so keep your eye out. I was in the mood for cake when I stopped in, so I had a thick slice of the pumpkin cake roll ($4.75), which was a spongey, moist cake rolled around a layer of decadent cream. Yum. Timeless Coffee, 4252 Piedmont Ave. (at Glenwood), Oakland and 2965 College Ave. (at Ashby), Berkeley
Pumpkin Donut at Homestead
At Homestead, also on Piedmont Avenue, pastry chef Aimee Wingen is making pumpkin donuts ($4) to celebrate Halloween, her favorite holiday. These puffy yeasted donuts are topped with a rich chocolate ganache and filled with a pumpkin-flavored pastry cream — it’s a dreamy combo. Wingen said that she adds brown sugar to the pumpkin mash and roasts it to bring out the flavor of the gourd before incorporating it into the cream with some cinnamon. The Halloween-themed candies and sprinkles that top each donut make them even more of a delight to eat. These seasonal donuts will be available at Homestead through the end of the month during its café hours (8 a.m. to noon, Tuesday through Saturday). Homestead, 4029 Piedmont Ave. (at 40th), Oakland
Punk’n Cupcake at James and the Giant Cupcake
If cupcakes are your pleasure, you are probably already familiar with James and the Giant Cupcake in Oakland. Here, through the month of October, you’ll find a variety called the Punk’n. These pumpkin cupcakes are filled with cream cheese frosting and then topped with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spices. The cake itself has a spicy ginger flavor that is perfectly balanced by the sweet, rich filling. I liked that the whipped cream topping added a lightness to the cupcake and was just a tad sweet. As with all of its offerings, James and the Giant Cupcake offers Punk’n as a bite-size mini ($2) or a larger full-size cupcake ($3.50). James and the Giant Cupcake, 6326 San Pablo Ave. (at Alcatraz), Oakland and 341 17th St. (between Webster and Harrison), Oakland
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies at Mariposa Baking Company
Pumpkin sweet lovers who are gluten-free and dairy-free will want to head to Mariposa Baking Company, which is now offering its pumpkin whoopie pies ($8.35) filled with a vegan buttercream. A package comes with two hockey puck-sized pies. The pumpkin cakes have a powerful clove-heavy spice and aren’t overly sweet. In contrast, the vanilla buttercream — made with a combination of powdered sugar, Earth Balance palm oil shortening and vanilla extract — is very sugary, almost reminiscent of the cream filling in an Oreo cookie, but better. Together, the combination is a winner. A warning, although the buttercream is vegan, the cakes contain eggs. Mariposa Baking Company, 5427 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Pumpkin Bread at Cheese Board Collective
The Cheese Board Collective has recently brought back its much-loved pumpkin bread ($7). These little loaves of goodness are wrapped in plastic wrap and sold with its other baked goods in the bakery/cheese shop. Once unwrapped, you can immediately detect a strong molasses fragrance coming from the dense cake, which has cranberries and walnuts baked inside. To be honest, I didn’t taste pumpkin — the cake reminded me more of a date cake — but I loved it anyway. More gingery than cinnamon-laden, this bread is not too sweet and has a little tartness from those cranberries. The ends of the loaf are usually my least favorite slices because they’re often dry, but the pumpkin bread was deliciously moist, from heel to heel. When we contacted the Cheese Board to ask about its availability this season we were told, “It is still uncertain if we will have it every day or on particular days. Customers can call ahead and see if it is available.” The Cheese Board Collective Bakery and Cheese Shop, 1504 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley .