Pumpkin delights

It was cool and cloudy with a mist that collected on the windshield of the car, prompting an occasional swipe with the rubber blades. I was traveling home from Willmar, where I had given a few cooking demonstrations at the West Central Tribune Wo...

It was cool and cloudy with a mist that collected on the windshield of the car, prompting an occasional swipe with the rubber blades. I was traveling home from Willmar, where I had given a few cooking demonstrations at the West Central Tribune Women's Expo. As I traveled north through the country on U.S. Highway 71, I passed a couple of pick-your-own pumpkin patches and several roadside stands and wagons full of the familiar bright orange squash, just waiting to be carved into jack-o-lanterns and set on windowsills and front-porch steps.

That old familiar feeling came back. The one that makes me want to stop and fill my backseat with pumpkins to bring home and turn into pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. But I know better. You see, many years ago I did bring home a few large pumpkins from a roadside stand. Feeling very domestic, I roasted those pumpkins. I pureed the flesh, planning to freeze some and turn the rest into pie and spicy quick bread. I mixed and baked with great anticipation. The pie was horrible - watery and fibrous, not the traditional rich, custard-like filling I was expecting.

No one told me that most pumpkins we buy in the store and choose from those roadside stands are bred for eye-appeal, to be used for decoration and to be carved for jack-o-lanterns. After doing some research, I discovered the solid-packed canned pumpkin available in grocery stores is made from pumpkins bred for flavor, with thick flesh and a dull yellow skin. So, if you're feeling ambitious and want to start from scratch, check with the farmer you are buying from to be sure you are getting the right kind of pumpkin.

Spiced Pumpkin Bars are an adaptation of a recipe I clipped many years ago from a magazine. They are moist and full of the spices of autumn. I used a can of organic pumpkin. Check the label of the canned pumpkin you plan to purchase so that you are not getting pumpkin pie filling instead of solid-packed pure pumpkin. Pumpkin pie filling is laced with spices, often sweetened, and will not work well in this recipe.

Now, these bars are delicious with a topping of cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with chopped walnuts and cut into little rectangles or squares. You know, the way you see them at fall pot-lucks and church dinners. But cut into seasonal shapes with a cookie cutter, each sliced in half and sandwiched back together with a thick layer of bittersweet Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and then sealed up with more Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, they're fantastic.


They're pumpkins baked for flavor, not for decoration. Eat them up!

Spiced Pumpkin Bars
4 eggs
1-2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 (15- to 16-ounce) can pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 15-x10-x1-inch baking pan. Line pan with parchment paper.

In mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to pumpkin mixture and mix thoroughly.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until wooden pick comes out clean when poked into middle of cake.

Cool completely. Frost as bars, with either Orange Cream Cheese Frosting or Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, or cut pumpkin shapes with a cookie cutter. Cut each little pumpkin shape in half to make two thin pumpkin shapes. Spread a thick layer of Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting on one half of each pumpkin shape. Put together like a sandwich. Frost the outside with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate as desired. Frosted pumpkin-shaped bars can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic container. Bring the bars to room temperature before serving.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
12 drops yellow food coloring
4 drops red food coloring


In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter. Add vanilla and blend. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time, beating well until smooth. Add food coloring and blend.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon chunks, room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted

In a large mixing bowl, use electric mixer to beat butter and cream cheese together until blended and smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat mixture until thoroughly combined.

Tip from the cook

--To melt chocolate, coarsely chop, then place in a double boiler or a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Use a metal spoon or rubber spatula to stir chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Avoid any moisture getting into the chocolate. It will stiffen into a coagulated mass unsuitable for use.

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