As soon as pumpkins hit the stores, two thoughts cross my mind – Autumn baking and HALLOWEEN!

These gluten-free dulce de leche pumpkin cupcakes will delight any trick or treater, so if you fancy handing out baked cupcakes instead of candy, this recipe can be baked and decorated a few days before Halloween. I have two icing suggestions: either a flat icing with Halloween sprinkles & cutouts or a generous swirl of icing for an impressive party number. If you want the leave out the buttercream icing, the pumpkin spiced cupcakes are delicious on their own. As the centre is already filled with dulce de leche, the cupcakes are already slightly moist but If you feel it needs a bit more dulce de leche, put an extra dollop of dulce de leche on top of each cupcake and either serve it without the icing or cover that extra dollop with the icing.

What is Dulce de Leche? It is a thick caramel sauce used as a topping on toast, cakes, pancakes or ice cream in many South American countries. Translated – Sweet Milk – it is exactly that but cooked until the milk turns a golden brown and caramelises into a thick sauce that usually sticks to a spoon quite stubbornly. Besides South American brands selling Dulce de Leche, there is a good version made by Bonne Maman, a French brand under the name Caramel. It is very close to the real thing.

Can’t find dulce de leche? All you need is a slow cooker, a tin of condensed milk and 8 hours! It is very easy to make- follow the recipe below to make your own.
Don’t be tempted to buy those caramel ice-cream toppings. These are made with sugar and water and lack the richness and special taste that dulce de leche offers.

Substitute for food colouring: Using a few drops of orange food colour will give the buttercream icing a vibrant Halloween orange colour, but if you rather avoid any food colouring, adding a teaspoon or more of ground turmeric will give a touch of yellow/orange to the icing. Don’t add too much or the icing may start to taste savoury.

Which pumpkin should be used: Any! As it is pumpkin season, any time you are cooking pumpkin in soups, casseroles, roasts etc, just save 200g of cooked pumpkin for these cupcakes either chilled or stored in the freezer for later use.

Gluten-Free Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Cupcakes


For the homemade dulce de leche:

  • 1 tin (375g) condensed milk
  • Warm water to cover the tin


A slow cooker/crockpot



For the cupcakes:

  • 200g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 90g brown sugar
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 215g cooked pumpkin, mashed and cooled (please note the raw pumpkin weighs the same before it is cooked)

Cocoa powder, for dusting cupcakes (optional)

For the filling:

  • 100g store-bought or homemade dulce de leche

For the dulce de leche buttercream icing:

This quantity is enough to spread the icing flat on 20 cupcakes:

  • 400g icing sugar, sieved
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder or orange food colouring (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 55g store-bought or homemade dulce de leche

This quantity is enough to pipe the icing into high swirls on 20 cupcakes:

  • 500g icing sugar, sieved
  • 160g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon orange food colouring
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 70g store-bought or homemade dulce de leche


  • Electric handheld mixer
  • 1 large muffin baking trays
  • 20 Cupcake liners (Halloween theme if possible)
  • Preparation time for homemade dulce de leche: 9 hours
  • Preparation time for pumpkin cupcakes: 30 minutes
  • Baking time for cupcakes: 20 minutes
  • Preparation time for buttercream icing: 20 minutes
1. If you plan to make your own dulce de leche, make it the day before you make your cupcakes.

2. Place an unopened tin of condensed milk on its side (leave the label on) in the slow cooker.

3. Add warm water to the slow cooker until the tin is submerged, allowing at least 5 cm of water to be above the tin.

4. Cover the slow cooker with the lid and set on LOW for 8 hours.

5. Turn the slow cooker off and allow the tin to completely cool down before removing them from the water.

6. When cooled, dry it with a tea towel and carefully open it. A word of warning: Do not attempt to open the tin while hot as it could explode slightly and the hot dulce de leche may burn you. Also, don’t try to speed up the slow cooker by choosing the HIGH option. The pressure in the tin may explode at a high temperature.

7. Either use the dulce de leche for this recipe or store it for later use in a clean glass jar in the fridge. To make it worth your while, I recommend preparing two tins. One for this recipe and the other for snacking or served with other desserts.

8. Once you have your dulce de leche ready, start making the cupcakes.

9. Remove the hard shell of the pumpkin and cut it into bite-size pieces.

10. Cook in simmering water for about 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin feels soft enough to mash.

11. Drain and allow to cool in a sieve.

12. Meanwhile, melt the butter very gently and allow to cool.

13. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F.

14. Whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, bicarb of soda, baking powder, salt and spices.

15. In another bowl, whisk the sugars, cooled melted butter and eggs until smooth.

16. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

17. Whisk in gently the cooled pumpkin mash.

18. Fill each cavity of a cupcake tray with a cupcake paper liner.

19. Fill each cupcake liner halfway with the mixture, using either an ice-cream scoop or a large spoon.

20. Bake for 20 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the centre of one of the cupcakes. If it comes out clean and has no mixture attached, the cupcakes are ready.

21. Allow to cool in the tray on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

22. Remove the cupcakes from the tray and allow to completely cool on a wire rack.

23. Fill the dulce de leche into a piping bag that has a long nozzle attachment. If the dulce de leche is too thick, add a little milk to loosen it.

24. insert the nozzle into the centre of each cupcake and squeeze the dulce de leche gently into the cupcake. There should be a tiny bit of dulce de leche peeking out of the cupcake.

25. If you don’t have a piping bag or piping gadget, grab a melon baller and scoop out a pea size cavity into the centre of each cupcake. Using a teaspoon, fill the cavity with dulce de leche.

26. Next prepare the buttercream icing.

27. Cream all the ingredients and only one tablespoon of milk together until well mixed and smooth. It is important to have the butter at room temperature – this guarantees a fluffy buttercream.

28. Add the other tablespoon of milk if the buttercream icing appears too stiff.

29. Taste the buttercream. Add more dulce de leche for a more caramel taste, if needed.

30. Cover each cupcake with the buttercream either using a piping bag with a fluted nozzle or by using a spatula, making wavy patterns.

31. Decorate with cocoa powder, Halloween edible sprinkles or decorations.

32. Store in the fridge in a sealed container until ready to serve. Keeps for 3 days.

Makes 20 cupcakes

Avoid softening butter in the microwave. Plan ahead and allow the butter to soften to room temperature by leaving it on your kitchen counter from 30 to 60 minutes or cut the butter into pieces and place in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10 minutes. Remove the butter with a fork from the water and start baking. Surprisingly, the butter does not melt in the warm water.