There are so many signs of autumn in Maine this time of year: leaves falling, heaters clicking on, sweaters coming out of the closet.

Oh, yeah. There are also pumpkin lattes, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin-flavored coffee, pumpkin-flavored beer, pumpkin pie-flavored Pop Tarts, pumpkin cream cheese and … well, you get it. (If you have fun keeping track of this kind of stuff, check out the Pumpkin Flavored Everything Facebook page at

If you love pumpkin, why waste the calories on all of this artificial stuff? Real pumpkin is delicious, which is why its flavor has been incorporated into so many mass-produced products. Instead of downing a pumpkin Pop Tart, try baking with pumpkin at home instead.

“Baking with pumpkin is actually somewhat healthy, if you’re going to bake, because it adds a lot of moisture in baked goods so you don’t have to add as much oil or butter,” said Rebecca Potter of Lyman, a nutritionist whose Pumpkin Brown Cake won first place in the Sept. 14 pumpkin dessert contest at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport.

I was a judge at the contest, along with Pamela Laskey, the owner of Maine Foodie Tours, and Christiane Hennedy, chef de cuisine at On the Marsh Bistro in Kennebunk.

Susan Axelrod, staff writer, judged the pumpkin dessert contest at the Oct. 12 Damariscotta Pumpkinfest. The 18 entries ran the gamut from simple and homey to elaborate creations, including pumpkin croquembouche – a version of the classic French tower of cream puffs – and pumpkin-chocolate caramels.

Several of the entries featured other ingredients that overshadowed the pumpkin, which kept them out of the winners’ circle despite being tasty. The judges – including Alysia Zoidis of East End Cupcakes in Portland; Bremen native Jessica Meyers, a baking education instructor for contest sponsor King Arthur Flour; and Damariscotta municipal Judge John Atwood – awarded first prize to Pumpkin Icebox Dessert by 14-year-old Emma Goltz of Damariscotta. It kept the main ingredient front and center with perfectly spiced pumpkin custard on a gingersnap-pistachio crust.

“I took what I liked from one recipe and added and subtracted until I got what I wanted,” said Goltz, a cook and avid baker who had never previously entered a contest.

We’ve compiled a few of the winning recipes, and some that just caught our eye. In all of these desserts, pumpkin is the star.

Rebecca Potter’s Pumpkin Brown Cake

This is really a brown bread, but the raisins make it so sweet her family always calls it cake.

It’s baked in an old coffee can, and Potter remembers having it at Saturday night supper.

“It’s my mother’s recipe,” Potter said. “She adapted it from a children’s book. My father always drank Folgers coffee in a metal can, so that’s what she used. My mother also made her own baked beans, so we’d often have that on Saturdays – baked beans, hot dogs and cole slaw.”

And pumpkin cake for dessert, sometimes with added nuts.

The judges liked the robust pumpkin flavor that shone through, and we could all imagine ourselves settling down on a chilly fall afternoon with a cup of tea and a slice of this cake.


Rebecca Potter, Lyman, first place, 2013 pumpkin dessert contest at Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunkport.

3 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree, fresh or 15-ounce can

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup water

21/2 cups flour

21/4 cups sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking soda

11/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray three metal coffee cans (11.8-ounce size).

Combine eggs, pumpkin, oil and water in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a whisk. In separate bowl, combine and mix rest of ingredients, including raisins. Then add to pumpkin mixture. Stir until well combined.

Divide cake batter into three cans. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, or until the cakes pull away from the sides and toothpick inserted in center is no longer moist. Let cool in cans 5 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack. Allow cakes to cool to room temperature for easy slicing. 

It was a close second for Maegan Burke’s whoopie pies, which were full of pumpkin flavor and not too sweet.


Maegan Burke, Kennebunk, second place, pumpkin dessert contest at Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunkport.

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup oil

1-1/2 cups mashed pumpkin

2 eggs

3-1/2 cups King Arthur flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

1/2 tablespoon nutmeg

1/2 tablespoon ginger

1/2 tablespoon cloves

Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs, vanilla and pumpkin, and mix until combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely before filling.


8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter, cream cheese and vanilla until combined. Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until combined. Spread filling in between cookies. 

Ki Leffler’s entry came in fourth, but it stood out because of the browned butter frosting, which pairs well with pumpkin.

Leffler, a Realtor in Kennebunk, said the original recipe came from the October 1983 edition of Southern Living magazine.

“This summer, when one of our daughters was visiting, she brought with her banana bread brownies, and they were iced with that brown butter icing,” Leffler said. “I thought, you know that icing would be really good on something with pumpkin and orange.”

The squares are topped with some festive candy corn.


Ki Leffler, pumpkin dessert contest at Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunkport.

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed, undiluted

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1-1/2 cups all-purpose King Arthur flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream shortening; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add pumpkin, eggs and orange juice concentrate; mix well. Combine flour with remaining ingredients, mixing well. Stir into pumpkin mixture. Pour into a greased and floured 9- by 13- by 2-inch baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool slightly until warm, but not hot, and frost with browned butter frosting.


1/2 cup salted butter

11/2 teaspoons vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

About 3 tablespoons milk or half and half

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat past the melting point, until it begins to bubble and foam. Stir constantly until the butter takes on a delicate brown color. Be careful not to burn. Remove from heat and immediately add the remaining ingredients. This should be thicker than a glaze, and slightly thinner than a frosting. Using a spatula, smooth over the top of the cake.

Cool completely and cut into squares.


“I want to be a vet, but I want to have a second job baking or catering or owning a restaurant,” said Emma Goltz, who was surprised when her recipe bested 17 other contestants in the 5th annual Damariscotta Pumpkinfest Dessert Contest. A vegetarian, Emma often cooks for her parents and two younger sisters. Note that although this recipe is called a “pie,” it is baked in a 9 x 13 pan.


Emma Goltz, Damariscotta, first place, 2013 Damariscotta Pumpkinfest pumpkin dessert contest.


8 ounces broken gingersnap cookies

1/2 cup salted pistachio nuts

1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon King Arthur whole-wheat flour

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


1 29-ounce can pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons water

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

11/2 cups packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ginger

Dash ground cloves

Whipped cream and chopped pistachio nuts, for serving (optional)

Prepare the crust:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, combine gingersnaps and pistachios. Cover and process with on/off pulses until ground. Add brown sugar, cover and process just until combined. With processor running, slowly add melted butter in a thin, steady stream. Press mixture onto the bottom of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set and starting to brown. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl sprinkle gelatin over the water; do not stir. Let stand for 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, beat pumpkin puree and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

In a small saucepan, combine evaporated milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Bring to simmering over medium-high heat. Add gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

Gradually pour milk mixture into pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth. Pour pumpkin mixture over crust. Cover and chill for at least 6 hours.To serve, cut into squares and top with whipped cream and chopped pistachio nuts.


“She’s the family baking star,” said Sheri Tripp of Biddeford about her cousin, Liza Bonnell of Portland, who won second prize in the Pumpkinfest contest after winning third in 2012.

Her Pumpkin-Pecan pie impressed the judges with its rosettes of rich, bourbon spiked cream.

“Four years ago I found a recipe in Relish magazine – an insert in the Portland Press Herald – for sweet potato-pecan pie,” Bonnell said. “I made it for Thanksgiving and thought it would be better with pumpkin, so I tinkered with the recipe until I had the right combination. Bourbon cream has always been my favorite sauce.”


Liza Bonnell, Portland, second place, Damariscotta Pumpkinfest dessert contest.


1½ cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Dash cinnamon

3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

¼ cup cold butter

4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Pumpkin filling:

11/4 cup canned pumpkin

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon allspice

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ginger

3 tablespoons softened butter

Pecan filling:

1 cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 stick butter, melted

2 eggs

1 tablespoon King Arthur all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup maple syrup

½ cup chopped pecans

1 to 2 cups pecan halves

Bourbon sauce:

¾ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup half and half

½ package French vanilla pudding mix

2 to 4 tablespoons bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Assemble pie crust dough using traditional technique, line deep dish pie pan with crust.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients for pumpkin filling in large bowl, mix until well blended.

In separate large bowl, mix 2 eggs until frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients for pecan filling except pecan halves and mix until combined.

Fill pie shell with pumpkin filling, top with pecan filling. Arrange pecan halves on top. Bake 45 minutes or until completely set in the center (if edge of crust browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil).

In large mixing bowl, whip all ingredients for bourbon sauce until desired consistency. Pipe on top of pie with decorative tip if desired, or just serve on the side!

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad 

Staff Writer Susan Axelrod contributed to this story.

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