Always a decision this time of the year as to which pumpkin bars to make – silky pumpkin cheesecake bars, pumpkin bars with a crunchy oat crust, pumpkin bars with a maple sugar streusel topping, and the list goes on. I’m starting the pumpkin bar season off with the pumpkin cream cheese bars, the ultimate in comfort foods as the weather turns cool on us.
Although we do grow a lot of different varieties of pumpkin and squash, I’ve found the canned pumpkin to be the go-to alternative for bars. After adding the amount of sugar and spices that pumpkin bars and cakes call for, you can’t really distinguish the nuances of which variety of pumpkin you use, and the canned pumpkin is just as nutritional considering the other ingredients that go in bars. We are, after all, making a sweet treat (for cheat day or otherwise) and sometimes it’s difficult to justify the prep work required of fresh pumpkins for something with this much sugar.
To me it is similar to my earlier years as a bartender when customers would order a really expensive bourbon and coke. The sweetness of the coke was so overpowering I’m sure they could not tell the difference between that expensive high-end bourbon and the less expensive house bourbon. Now if they order bourbon on the rocks or with a splash of something, that’s a different story.
So, I save the heirloom varieties of pumpkin and squash for meals where I can truly savor the differences in their nuttiness and sweetness. A popular blog called www.thekitchen.com did an interesting post on what is actually in the canned pumpkin, and it turns out that most canned pumpkin also includes some varieties of squash. They suggest Libbys brand if you want 100% pumpkin.
See thekitchen’s full post on canned pumpkin by clicking here. Please let me know in the comments if you have had a different experience with the type of pumpkin you use in bars. I would love to know if you think I’m off-base here.
So, the recipe…..
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars:
(adapted from an old Star Tribune recipe for pumpkin bars)
Ingredients for Filling:
- 1 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 (15-oz) can pumpkin (Libbys is 100% pumpkin)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 6 ox cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
- 1 Tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or spray with cooking oil spray) a 10 x 15-inch baking pan. If you use a more common 9 x 13-inch pan, you will have to cook it longer or the middle will not get done. Alternatively you could only pour in 3/4 of the batter into the 9 x 13 and use a muffin tin or small baking pan for the rest.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar and oil and pumpkin until creamy (about 1 min). Beat in eggs until well combined – about 2 minutes.
- In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices. Add these dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
- Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until evenly golden and a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool completely (about 1 1/2 hour) before frosting.
- Using a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is smooth. Spread frosting over completely cooled bars.
- Chill or freeze before cutting into bars. Makes 2-3 dozen bars (depending on how large you cut them).