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Pumpkin Crunch! Lemon Crunch!

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Pumpkin Crunch Bars/Cakes and Lemon Crunch Cakes are popular local desserts in Hawaii. Growing up, we ate them often at birthday parties and potlucks. Now as adults, we make it at home or buy it from local bakeries!

Pumpkin Crunch Cake from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu)

It's a local favorite!

In Hawaii, we have a popular dessert called Crunch Bars/Cakes. It comes in two flavors: Pumpkin Crunch or Lemon Crunch. They are both so good, and the only thing they have in common with each other is the crunch element.

Pumpkin Crunch from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu)
Pumpkin Crunch from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu)

We love textures in dessert, and Pumpkin Crunch and Lemon Crunch are great examples of this.

FYI, Pumpkin Crunch comes in the form of bars and round cakes. Lemon Crunch usually come as round cakes.

Pumpkin Crunch Square from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu)

What Is Pumpkin Crunch and Lemon Crunch?

Pumpkin Crunch and Lemon Crunch isn't unique to Hawaii (nor is it a Hawaiian dessert, more here). But there's something about the way it's made in Hawaii ("local-style!") that makes it taste much better than the mainland versions.

There are three parts to a Pumpkin Crunch:

  • Bottom: crunch base (secret ingredient for this is a box of yellow cake mix, which is then topped with chopped nuts and melted butter)
  • Middle: pumpkin filling (a mixture of canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, and cinnamon )
  • Top: whipped cream (heavy cream, whipped!)

Lemon Crunch Cake from The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl (Oahu)

There are three parts to a Lemon Crunch:

  • Bottom: lemon cake (most home recipes call for yellow cake mix)
  • Middle: lemon curd (homemade is best, the tangier the better)
  • Top: whipped cream with crushed toffee (can use crushed Heath Bars)

Our local version of Lemon Crunch Cake was invented in the 1950s by Norman Hideo Asao, a baker at Alexander Young Hotel. The original dessert was called "Lemon Krunch Cake." Those who remember eating this cake said it was amazing, so light and heavenly. I wish I could have tried the original 🙂 .

Lemon Crunch Cake from Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu)

Where Does the "Crunch" Come From

The "crunch" in Pumpkin Crunch comes from chopped nuts. The "crunch" in Lemon Crunch comes from crushed toffee.

Pumpkin Crunch Bar from Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu)

Do People Make Crunch At Home?

Yes! People love to make Pumpkin Crunch Bars and Cakes at home in Hawaii. You'll find homemade versions often at birthday parties, potluck parties, etc.

To make Pumpkin Crunch Bars, mix together a 15oz can of pumpkin, 12oz evaporated milk, 3 eggs, 1 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour that into a greased 9x13 pan. Then sprinkle an entire box of yellow cake mix over the surface of the pumpkin mixture. You just sprinkle on the cake mix dry, straight from the box. Then sprinkle 1 cup of chopped nuts, making sure to cover the entire cake mix surface (pecans and walnuts are popular, though I love macadamia nuts). Then evenly drizzle 1 cup of melted butter over it all. Bake for an hour at 350F, then cool and invert! Top with lots of whipped cream. Some people like to do a whopped cream cheese/cool whip/powdered sugar mix, but I like plain whipped cream.

Pumpkin Crunch Bars are typically cut into squares, presented in cupcake liners, and served chilled.

I don't see homemade Lemon Crunch Cake as often, (probably because it's more involved and not as easy to serve for a crowd/larger local parties).

Seasonal Pumpkin Crunch Pancakes at Over Easy in Kailua

Variations on Pumpkin Crunch

Pumpkin Crunch is so popular in Hawaii that some places make special pumpkin crunch flavored treats! Over Easy in Kailua makes super good Pumpkin Crunch Pancakes (with pumpkin crunch filling and cream cheese tucked between the pancakes, and the "crunch" element scattered throughout). Via Gelato in Kaimuki makes Pumpkin Crunch Gelato. Note: these are seasonal treats that are usually offered in October and November.

Coffee Crunch Cake from Valerie Confections (Los Angeles)

Crunch Cakes Outside Of Hawaii

Pumpkin Crunch seem to be a specifically Hawaii thing, but the west coast has a long tradition of coffee crunch cakes and lemon crunch cakes. Check out Valerie Confections in Los Angeles (pictured above, their coffee crunch cake is very delicious) and Yasukochi's in San Francisco (they're famous for the coffee crunch cake, but also make lemon crunch cake).

Pumpkin Crunch Cake from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu)

Where To Eat Crunch Cake in Hawaii

Below are my three flavor places to get my fill of Pumpkin Crunch and Lemon Crunch!

  • Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery (Oahu) - Come here for Pumpkin Crunch Bars. You can buy individual square bars or get it in a whole giant round (which is what we often do for Thanksgiving 🙂 ). I love how they use SO MUCH whipped cream. It's almost a 1:1 ratio of whipped cream and pumpkin filling.
  • Diamond Head Market & Grill (Oahu) -  They make Pumpkin Crunch Bars and Lemon Crunch Cakes. Get one of each! I especially like the pecan cookie crust they used for the Pumpkin Crunch base. (Also get a Spam Musubi by the register, I eat these often).
  • The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl (Oahu) - They make Pumpkin Crunch Bars (and Cakes) and Lemon Crunch Cakes, and Strawberry Crunch and Pistachio Crunch! Stick to the two "main" ones: Pumpkin and Lemon. Don't forget to order a bowl of oxtail soup (a local treat, post coming soon) when you go, gotta have a nice savory dish before dessert.

FYI, the pastry chef of The Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl previously worked at Diamond Head Bakery, so you'll notice a lot of similarities between the desserts at both locations. Is one better than the other? Too hard to say, I love them both ^_^

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Mahalo for Reading!

Wendy Williams

Monday 19th of October 2020

Oh how i love pumpkin crunch from Pipeline!!!!! Cannot make it for Thanksgiving this year ... dumb Covid! :( So i need to find the right recipe to make it myself!

Kate

Sunday 22nd of September 2019

I make something really similar to the pumpkin crunch, but I don’t add nuts, it’s served cake side up, and warm. I’m really interested in trying the pumpkin crunch bars! (Though I’ll probably still leave out the nuts, because of allergies)

Kathy Chan

Monday 23rd of September 2019

Hi Kate!

Oh wow, that sounds super tasty! I love the idea of it being warm with the cake side up ^_^

- Kathy

Brent

Saturday 7th of September 2019

Yasukochi's in San Francisco is famous for a coffee crunch cake - wonder if it originated from these types of crunch cakes? A scan of their Yelp also shows chocolate crunch and lemon crunch cakes too. I've actually never had any crunch cake while in Hawaii, will have to add to the list!

Kathy Chan

Monday 9th of September 2019

Hi Brent!

I keep meaning to try the cake from Yasukochi's (but they are always sold out by the time I get there :) ). There's also another famous coffee crunch cake made by Valerie Confections in LA.

The cake from both Yasukochi and Valerie is a recreation of the famous crunch cake from Blum's Bakery! I wish I could taste them all side by side.

Hope you enjoy pumpkin and lemon crunch next time you are in Hawaii!

- Kathy