Chef Sam Choy shares his pumpkin crunch cake recipe — and reveals what makes this fall dessert so popular in Hawaii.

By Kait Hanson
September 28, 2020
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Attend any fall gathering in the Hawaiian Islands and you might catch a glimpse of something on the dessert table that resembles cake. Typically served in individually cut squares inside a cupcake liner, this traditional fall dessert isn't cake — it's pumpkin crunch.

"During the season of holidays, everybody looks forward to pumpkin pies, but pumpkin crunch is like a kicked up version of pumpkin pie," James Beard Award-winning Chef Sam Choy shared with Allrecipes. "It's kind of like a real go-to dessert. It's not like you need to be a pastry chef to do it. Baking is definitely a science, but pumpkin crunch is kind of like...slap this with this, follow the directions and it's done."

While no one really knows the exact origins of pumpkin crunch, it's a staple in the islands once fall rolls around.

"Food is what I would call copy cuisine," Choy said. "It probably originated on the stateside and then it came to Hawaii, and it definitely is a dessert that wowed everybody. I think it's funny, because Hawaii is not known for pumpkins, but it's really popular. If anyone takes pumpkin crunch to a party, it's going to be a hit."

So, what is pumpkin crunch? A buttery crust made with a creamy blend of pumpkin and spices, topped with whipped cream.

"What's nice is the crust," Choy shared. "You can use walnuts. I like to use macadamia nuts, but walnuts come out really nice."

A trip to Hawaii might not be a reality this fall, but pumpkin crunch might be the next best thing. Here's how to make this Hawaiian favorite at home, directly from Chef Choy's kitchen.

Sam Choy's Pumpkin Crunch

Ingredients

  • 1 13 oz. can pumpkin
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup nuts, chopped
  • 1 cup melted butter

Directions

  1. Mix pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs and cinnamon and pour into a greased, parchment paper lined 9x13 cake pan.
  2. Spread half of cake mix (dry) over batter and sprinkle with nuts. Spread remaining cake mix on top of nuts.
  3. Pour melted butter over top.
  4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.
  5. When cool, loosen the pumpkin crunch from the side of the pan with a knife.
  6. Invert pan onto platter (the top becomes the crust).
  7. Top with sweetened cream cheese or whipped cream.
  8. Cut into squares and serve.