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Pumpkin Bars Recipe & Video

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Pumpkin desserts start to enter my thoughts as soon as the heat of summer fades. Its sweet earthy flavor and dense fibrous texture is well suited for the baked goods we make during the cooler temperatures of Fall and Winter. These Pumpkin Bars have that same basic combination as the beloved Pumpkin Pie, combining pastry with a creamy smooth custard-like pumpkin filling. Only Pumpkin Bars are easier to make, no rolling of pastry, and they are made in a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking pan, which feeds a larger crowd. While these Pumpkin Bars don't need any garnish, they are delicious topped with a dollop of whipped cream.  

I really like the brown sugar shortbread base used for these Pumpkin Bars. It has a buttery sweet caramel flavor and a crisp and grainy texture. The crust is pre-baked as this ensures that the pumpkin filling will not soften the shortbread. I also like to sprinkle the hot shortbread with finely chopped toasted pecans (or walnuts) as they add a buttery caramel flavor plus the nuts also help prevent the pumpkin filling from seeping into the crust.

The pumpkin filling is easily made as all it involves is a quick stir of all the ingredients in a large bowl. This is a rich custard filling consisting of eggs, pumpkin puree, heavy cream, spices (ground cinnamon and ginger), and brown sugar. Once made it is poured over the pre baked shortbread crust and baked until the filling has set and has a lovely sheen to it.

For the Pumpkin Filling I normally use canned pure pumpkin puree (no spices added to it). Another option is to make your own puree using the smaller pumpkin varieties like Sugar Pie, Baby Bear or Cheese Pumpkin (approximately 5 - 7 lbs., 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 kg.). To begin, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, remove all the seeds and stringy fibers, and then place, cut-side down, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) oven for approximately 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours (depending on size) or until easily pierced with a knife. Then scoop out the pulp and puree in a food processor until smooth. You do need to extract all the liquid, so strain the pumpkin through a cheesecloth lined strainer and then cool the puree before using.

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Pumpkin Bars: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking pan with foil (shiny side facing up), and then butter the foil.

Place the pecans on a baking sheet and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly brown and fragrant. Let cool and then finely chop. Set aside.

Shortbread: In the bowl of your electric stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat, on low speed, until combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl as needed. Add the flour and salt and beat just until you have coarse crumbs (not a solid ball of dough). Press the batter firmly and evenly onto the bottom of your prepared pan. Lightly prick the surface of the shortbread with the tines of a fork. Bake for about 16 to 18 minutes or until the shortbread is lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Immediately sprinkle the finely chopped pecans on the hot shortbread. With the back of a fork or spoon, gently press the pecans into the hot shortbread. Let the shortbread cool for about 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Filling: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the pumpkin, sugar, ground spices, and salt and whisk to combine. Gradually stir in the cream and vanilla extract. Pour the filling over the pre baked crust and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and has a shiny sheen. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Run a knife around the inside edges of the pan. You can then cut into bars while they are still in the pan. Or you can lift the pumpkin bars from the pan by holding onto the edges of the  foil. Place on a cutting board, peel back the foil, and cut into bars or squares. The bars can be covered and refrigerated for up to three days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Garnish: Whip the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Place the whipped cream in a piping bag fitted with an open star tip and pipe a small rosette of cream on top of each pumpkin bar.

Makes 20 pumpkin bars.

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Shortbread:

3/4 cup (75 grams) pecans

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (105 grams) light brown sugar, firmly packed

Pumpkin Filling:

3 large eggs (150 grams), at room temperature

1 - 15 ounce can (2 cups/425 grams) pure pumpkin puree (no spices added)

3/4 cup (155 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup (180 ml/grams) heavy whipping cream, at room temperature (cream with a 35-40% butterfat content)

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) pure vanilla extract

Garnish: (optional)

1/2 cup (120 ml/grams) cold heavy whipping cream (cream with a 35-40% butterfat content)

1/2 - 1 tablespoon (7 - 15 grams) granulated white sugar, or to taste

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