Are you surprised? Once again, we bring you a dessert that will never be recommended by the American Heart Association. But these pumpkin bars are perfect for Halloween parties, and I’m making dozens of them for my sister Allis’s housewarming Halloween bash. (I also made bunches of them for a recent Molly’s Mutts & Meows fundraiser.)
The original version of this bar cookie used a spice cake mix as the base. Just between you and me, I thought it was disgusting. So I replaced it with the world’s easiest bar cookie base, created by Alice Medrich and published in her wonderful book Pure Dessert, as the base for the best lemon bars ever. The topping does have one healthy item in it: pumpkin. The rest of it–cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs… Well, I suggest when people ask what’s in them, you just mention the pumpkin.
Here’s the recipe.
Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars
This makes a 9×13-inch panful, and it is made in two stages: first you bake the base, then the filling with the base. Total baking time is about an hour.
2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
16 oz. can pumpkin
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ginger)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnut or pecans
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the sugar, salt and flour. Melt the butter and pour it into the flour mixture; add the vanilla. Stir it together and dump it into the pan and pat it out to the edges. (Notice the elegant simplicity of this approach: no hauling out the food processor and cutting up cold butter and whirring it together with the dry ingredients and then pressing the crumbs into the pan. This is easy.) Bake it for about 25 minutes, until it’s well browned at the edges and golden in the middle.
In the meantime, make the filling. Beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy, then pour in the milk and beat again. Add the eggs, pumpkin, spices and salt. Mix well. Pour over the baked crust and sprinkle nuts over the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until set. Cool and then refrigerate.
However, I think these bars are delicious warm, and I dig right in as soon I think they’ve cooled off enough that I won’t burn my mouth too badly.
For parties, I cut the bars about an inch square and put each one in a cupcake paper. There are lots of cute and seasonal cupcake papers around; I’m using black-and-white polka-dot ones for this holiday.