I love pumpkin everything and always have.
I think my first taste of pumpkin combined with cream cheese was the pumpkin roll that my mom used to make around the holidays. She made a richly spiced pumpkin sponge cake, spread a cream cheese filling over the surface and rolled it up. After she pulled it from the fridge, we would sneak a little slice … an hour later we would pass by the kitchen for another little slice … so glad she made two pumpkin rolls at a time. One time we froze one and shipped it to my friend in New York. It was expensive to send, but she was overjoyed!
Pumpkin and cream cheese were made for each other. These bars are a great seasonal dessert that you can make a day ahead. I like to use the triple gingersnaps from Trader Joes for the crust, but you could go with graham crackers if that is what you have on hand.
Chopped pecans would be a welcomed addition to the streusel. You can easily double this recipe and bake the bars in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Just adjust your baking time as needed. I like to cut these into little squares because they are so rich. Wait until they are completely chilled before you cut them. Enjoy with a little freshly whipped cream!
Pumpkin Pie Bars with Gingersnap Crust
For the gingersnap crust:
1 1/4 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (gingersnaps ground in a food processor)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
For the pumpkin filling:
8 ounces (full-fat) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
For the streusel:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper and then spray with pan spray. (Don’t forget this step! This helps you remove the bars from the pan.) Set aside.
To prepare the crust: Mix the cookie crumbs, sugar, salt and butter together in a medium bowl until combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes and begin making the filling.
To prepare the filling: Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar together in the bowl on high speed until creamy and smooth — about 1 minute. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, pumpkin, sour cream, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. Beat until everything is combined and creamy. Pour the filing into the warm crust. Set aside.
To prepare the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over filling.
Bake the bars for about 30 minutes and check to see if done. The bars are done when the edges are lightly browned and the center is set — this could take 40 minutes or closer to 60 minutes. Keep an eye on them as ovens vary. Allow bars to cool in the pan set on a wire rack at room temperature for one hour. Refrigerate for at least three additional hours — or overnight.
When you are ready to remove your bars from the pan, put a large plate over the top of your pan. Use a kitchen torch to warm the bottom of the pan. This will melt the butter in the crust slightly and allow for an easy removal. Lift the parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. 16 small bars works well for me.
Store your beautiful bars in the refrigerator. Serve with softly whipped cream and enjoy!
Erin Brown is a pastry chef and proprietor of Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.