When we were invited to a pumpkin-carving party in anticipation of Halloween, I knew three things– 1) I was going to carve a fabulous pumpkin; 2) I was going to bring dessert; and 3) that dessert would also have to include pumpkin.
Last year for this event I made cupcakes– these cupcakes, to be exact— but while they were delicious and well-received, they were kind of a pain to transport in my two-tier cupcake carrier, while carrying a pumpkin. Also, cupcakes aren’t the ideal serving size for parties where there’s a buffet’s worth of food options– too big for people who want to sample multiple desserts. So this year I decided to solve both problems and make pumpkin bars.
Bars are really the ultimate in portability, since you transport them in the same pan they’re baked in. And you can cut them as large or small as you like, making them great to feed a crowd. For this recipe, I was looking for a moist, brownie-like bar full of pumpkin flavor, and decided to jazz it up by adding a cream cheese swirl.
Of course, I wasn’t delusional enough to think that I was the only one who’d come up with this idea, so I did an online search and found this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It looked like just what I wanted, so with only one minor tweak (substituting actual spices for “pumpkin pie spice”), I made it!
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Batter
- 8 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Beat butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg, vanilla, and pumpkin puree and beat until combined. It’ll look curdled, but don’t worry.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin/butter mixture and mix until just combined.
3. In the same bowl you used for the dry ingredients, use a fork to beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Add egg and continue to beat until smooth. (you add the egg last to avoid cream cheese lumps) Note: if your cream cheese is too cold, microwave 1/3 of the block for about 15 seconds and then mix it into the rest of the cream cheese– it’ll warm up the whole block.
4. Spread 2/3 of the pumpkin batter into the bottom of a foil-lined 9×13″ pan.
5. Dollop cream cheese mixture over the pumpkin batter base. Dollop the rest of the pumpkin batter over the cream cheese. Swirl with a knife.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.
7. Cool completely, then chill before slicing into squares.
These turned out delicious, though not quite as moist and dense as I wanted. I’d been looking for something almost like a blondie, but these are definitely more like cake– lighter and fluffier than a blondie, but not quite as light as regular cake. I think it’s the amount of liquid in the pumpkin, or possibly the fluffiness of the creamed butter and sugar. Next time I’ll try melting the butter instead to see what happens!