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Not long ago I was lucky enough to help someone who was searching for a way to make “Pumpkin Bars” with gluten-free flours. She gave me her recipe and when I researched it, I found it in food magazines, a wide assortment of cookbooks, and all over the internet. Interestingly, several junior league cookbooks called the exact same recipe “Pumpkin Sheet Cake”. The only difference was that it was baked in an 11 x 17 inch baking pan instead of one slightly smaller (10 x 15 inches).
I came to realize that “Pumpkin Bars” had been around for a long time even though I’d never had one. Being a great lover of all things pumpkin I thought I might have to try to make them. Sous Chef boy (my younger son Brad) was skeptical.
“Why not just make your pumpkin muffins?” (from Gluten-Free Baking Classics)
“Because these are fast and easy to make. They’re like a quick pumpkin fix and they have frosting,” I answered with a huge smile.
Well that changed everything. He nodded his approval and left the room to do homework.
When I started comparing recipes I realized they were all almost identical, with only minor variations in spice, oil and sugar. The recipes also made A LOT of pumpkin squares because they called for a 10 x 15 inch pan. I decided that I wanted to make a smaller amount so I cut it in half and used an 8 x 8 inch pan. I kept the cinnamon but increased it a bit and left out all the various add-ins that bakers had used to make the recipe their own: nutmeg, cloves, nuts, and raisins.
Almost all the versions had a basic cream cheese frosting made with a combination of butter and cream cheese and more or less sugar. Some had vanilla and some were strangely (to me) without it. I wanted something more and so I added a touch of allspice to mine, but you can leave it out. Allspice is delicious with pumpkin and cinnamon.
Sous chef boy kept darting through the kitchen anxiously waiting for just the right moment when the Pumpkin Bars would be cold enough for us to cut into them. He was waiting to put out “the alert” to our many friends on the block who are highly trusted “tasters” for me. They may grouse and groan when I beg them to eat just one more sample of Chocolate Bundt Cake, or Whoopee Pie, or Orange Chiffon Cake, but they always come through. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it, right guys?
So finally, we cut, we tasted, we liked. Sous chef boy thought the bars would also be good with a plain vanilla icing, but would have preferred to top them with caramel sauce. (I should tell you however, he is the kind of person who would like caramel sauce on anything.)
Perhaps you’ve had a hankering for pumpkin bars and want a quick fix? Try my gluten-free version. They’re so good you won’t miss the wheat.
And be sure to let me know what kind of frosting you like!
Makes 9 large or 18 small bars
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 cup Brown Rice Flour Mix*
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Position rack in center of oven. Grease bottom of 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Beat eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin in large bowl of electric mixer for one minute at medium speed. Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt and mix at low speed until well combined and smooth.
3. Spread batter in prepared pan and bake in center of oven 25 – 30 minutes until puffed and cooked through (toothpick inserted into center should come out clean). Cool in pan on rack.
4. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting over the top when completely cool and refrigerate, covered until cold. Cut cake into bars and serve.
Serve chilled or at room temperature. Bars can be made a day ahead. Store in refrigerator for up to four days. Bars can be wrapped with plastic wrap and then with foil and stored in freezer for up to two weeks.
*Find the Brown Rice Flour Mix under Guide to Flour Mixes section on this blog.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 – 2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1. Beat butter and cream cheese in large bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Add confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla and allspice (if using) and beat at low speed until blended and smooth.