What Is Pumpkin Crunch? And Why Is It So Famous in Hawaii?
Chef Sam Choy shares his pumpkin crunch cake recipe — and reveals what makes this fall dessert so popular in Hawaii.
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
- 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
- Mix pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs and cinnamon and pour into a greased, parchment paper lined 9x13 cake pan.
- Spread half of cake mix (dry) over batter and sprinkle with nuts. Spread remaining cake mix on top of nuts.
- Pour melted butter over top.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.
- When cool, loosen the pumpkin crunch from the side of the pan with a knife.
- Invert pan onto platter (the top becomes the crust).
- Top with sweetened cream cheese or whipped cream.
- Cut into squares and serve.