Alright, I could only stay away for so long.
We’ve got our first pumpkin recipe today!
Super simple. Super quick. Super delicious.
In fact, these bars were one of my first forays into a) baking with pumpkin b) baking for others and c) baking at all.
It was freshman year of college. Fall. Cold. Wet. And I was falling. I was cold and wet – literally and figuratively. I was trekking back and forth across the grounds, wondering why on earth I picked the dorm on the northern most point of campus when majority of my journalism classes were on the southern end.
Oh right, it had four kitchens. One on every floor.
A lot of my free time was sucked up during those walks. And what little I had left should have gone to studying or socializing or scouting out better waterproof footwear to deal with the constant gloom I trudged through.
Instead, I baked. I figured out how to maneuver in the tiny dorm kitchen, stacking bowls and trays and hiding ingredients in bins under my bed. Occasionally, I’d lug everything down to the first-floor kitchen, just off the tv room, switching on the Food Network while I busied myself, trying anything to make it feel more like a home. It helped a bit.
Feeding people helped too. Something about sharing with and nourishing others did more to warm my cold bones than any pair of wool socks I could own. Especially when it was something made with fall spices – warm and rich, wrapping around a generous dose of pumpkin. I so vividly remember making these bars the night before my favorite journalism class. The feel of the linoleum under my feet, the bright fluorescent bulbs buzzing above me. I was buzzing too - excited to share my treats with my classmates and professor. The next day I held the pan in my arms as I walked the stone paths, relishing my journey more than I ever had.
They weren’t perfect, though. I took them out just a hair too soon and got that lovely crater in the center that appears in underdone cakes. I made enough frosting to smooth it out and no one was the wiser. I fed people and made them happy, and, selfishly in the process, made myself happy too. My professor actually stopped teaching early so we could all eat and enjoy, we passed the pan around the room. There were happy smiles and generous nods, some people took seconds. That day after class, I didn’t walk home. I floated.
In all honestly, these bars weren’t perfect, either. I left them in a hair too long this time. So, the edges were a little more browned than I’d like, but there is no big dip in the middle, no need for spackling with frosting. So we’ll take it as a win, and I know the recipe is a solid one, so don’t fret about that! The spice amount is just right, the cake is tender and moist, and the orange in the frosting compliments the pumpkin so perfectly I could cry. But I did enough of that freshman year.
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 can pumpkin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper and spray with baking spray. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the sugars and the oil until light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl and stir in eggs, one at a time, mixing well to fully incorporate each before adding another. Stir in vanilla and pumpkin.
Gently fold in dry ingredients, scraping bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is fully incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated over for 25 – 30 minutes, or until edges are just golden brown.
Remove and let cool on rack to room temperature.
When bars are cool, frost with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. block cream cheese, at room temperature
Zest of one orange
1 pound powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 - 4 TBSP cup milk
Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl and add the zest, almost all of the powdered sugar (reserve about 1 cup), vanilla, and salt, and slowly begin to combine. Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (I like my frosting to be thick enough that if I swipe a spoon or spatula through it, it stays put.) If necessary, add reserved powdered sugar or more milk until you’re happy!