High Country Baking: Pumpkin Pie Bars are an easy fall dessert to make through Thanksgiving
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Love pumpkin pie? Hate making pie crust? Then these bars are for you. Pumpkin pie filling, in all its glorious goodness, is baked on an easy-to-make shortbread crust and crowned with a sweet, crunchy nut topping. Serve them unadorned for a casual treat or top them with a whipped cream rosette for a fine fall dessert. They’ll take you from Halloween right through to Thanksgiving.
Little can go wrong with this recipe, just be sure to line the pan with foil or it’ll be almost impossible to remove the baked bars. For the best results, use fresh, soft brown sugar and high-quality pumpkin puree. Want a richer filling? Use half-and-half in place of the evaporated milk or substitute whipping cream for part of it.
Pumpkin Pie Bars
Works at any elevation
Make in a shiny metal 8-by-8-inch baking pan with 2-inch sides
½ cup unbleached flour, spoon and level
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
¾ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
15 ounces commercial pumpkin puree (one can)
12 ounces canned evaporated milk (one can)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
Generous ¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sweetened whipped cream, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position: Line the baking pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab. Grease any exposed parts of the pan and the regular foil with a baking spray that contains flour. Set aside.
2. Make the crust: Place the flour, pecans, salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped and the ingredients are blended. Cut the butter into small pieces, add them with the vanilla, and pulse until the mixture is uniformly moistened and crumbly. Stop before clumps of dough form. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, distribute it evenly and gently press it into the bottom to form a flat crust. Bake until the dough is set and golden brown around the edges, 15-20 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Wipe out the bowl of the food processor; you’ll use it again to make the topping.
3. Make the filling: In a mixing bowl, whisk or beat the eggs with an electric mixer. Add the sugar, spices and salt and whisk/beat again. Add the pumpkin and the milk and whisk/beat at a low speed (you don’t want to create air bubbles) until thoroughly blended. Slowly pour the filling onto the cooled crust; it will come almost to the pan’s top. If your pan is less than 2 inches deep, you won’t use it all. Bake until the top is set but still jiggles, (it should be firm enough to support the topping but not fully baked), 45-50 minutes.
4. Make the topping while the filling is in the oven: Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine them and finely chop the nuts. Cut the butter into small pieces, add them and pulse until they blend into the dry ingredients. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the topping evenly over the set filling, return the pan to the oven and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, another 15-20 minutes. Cool completely on a rack and then refrigerate until chilled, lightly covered.
5. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, between the foil and the filling: Then use the foil handles to gently lift the uncut pastry out of the pan. Cut into bars with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, wiping it clean between slices and then lift each bar off the foil with a metal spatula. Add a rosette of whipped cream, if desired, right before serving. Present them cold or at cool room temperature. They’re best the day they’re made but still good a day later.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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