High Altitude Baking: Pumpkin squares (recipe)
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: 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.
autumn captured in a cookie — that’s what these bars are. Warm spices, sweet dates and crunchy nuts showcased against a background of pumpkin make them a perfect fall treat. The play amongst these flavors, brightened by a lemon glaze and coupled with a moist, almost-chewy texture, are well balanced and appealing. No, they don’t dazzle; their allure is more subtle. They bring you back for one more bite, time and time again.
It’s important to use soft, supple dates; I prefer purchasing whole dates and chopping them rather than buying those that are packaged pre-chopped. To speed up the chopping process, I quarter the dates, dump them in a food processor, add a tablespoon or two of the flour required in the recipe to the bowl to prevent them from sticking to the blade and then pulse until they’re chopped fine. If you try this, be sure to add both the dates and the flour processed with them to the batter.
I think these are good the day they’re baked and better a day or two afterwards, when the flavors have had time to come together.
(Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher. Make in an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan.)
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons bleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
Slightly less than ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
½ large egg (break egg into cup measure; beat lightly, measure out 1½ to 2 tablespoons, this is half an egg)
½ cup canola oil
½ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
4 ounces (a little less than ¾ of a cup) pitted dates, finely chopped
½ cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
About ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches beyond two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies. If using regular foil, thoroughly grease it with a vegetable oil-flour spray; if using nonstick, grease any exposed parts of the pan.
Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl, and whisk vigorously to blend. In another bowl, combine the half-egg, oil and sugar, and whisk to mix well, then stir the chopped dates into this mixture.
Add half of the egg mixture and half of the pumpkin puree to the dry ingredients, and stir well until blended. Add the remaining halves and stir again, checking the bottom of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Stir in the nuts.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading and leveling it. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.
While the cookie cools, make the glaze: Sift 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar into one tablespoon lemon juice, and whisk until blended. Add more sugar and/or lemon juice, a little at a time, until glaze thickens to a molasses-like consistency. Drizzle glaze over the uncut cookie when it is still slightly warm, then allow it to cool completely. Cut into squares and store, covered well, in the fridge for 5 days.
This is a variation of a recipe from “The Best American Recipes 2004-2005.” Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.