Shorter days, cooler nights and leaves of autumnal colors can only mean one thing: fall baking season has arrived. To confirm this theory, during last weeks trip to the farmers market I noted that summer's offerings of bright raspberries and ripe peaches have been replaced by fall crops of apples, pumpkins and squash. It is clearly time to put away my recipes for stuffed strawberries, and start baking with these delicious fall flavors. The hardest part for me is always deciding where to start, so last week I decided to dive in head first and make a batch of my favorite Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Every time I make these pumpkin bars I am reminded of baking with my mother. She is an expert baker and I learned almost everything I know from our time in the kitchen together. We used to make these together each fall when I was young, so it was especially poignant for me when last week I made this season's first batch with my daughter. Though she is not yet 2, she is already interested in things like "mixing," "pouring," and "dumping." I have given her her own mini-spatula which she uses to help me stir ingredients and taste the batter. She also has small measuring cups that I fill with flour for her to "dump" into the bowl, and a small oven mitt that came with her Melissa & Doug cookie kit.
Last week we made a batch of these together for a fun afternoon activity. Then, later that week, I made a second batch during her afternoon naptime. I found that, whether making it with a child in the kitchen or on my own, assembling the batter and frosting is a snap. In the short time it takes to make the batter the most important thing is to thoroughly blend the ingredients so that the batter is smooth and glossy before it is spread into the pan. This ensures a light fluffy cake without any lumps or uneven flavor.
Once they are baked, finishing the bars merely requires letting them cool before covering them with a generous amount of frosting. Eating them is like enjoying the flavor of pumpkin pie with the texture of a moist brownie. When I took my first bite of these last week it really hit me that fall baking season has arrived. The time has come for me to showcase all the wonderful seasonal fruits and vegetables that create delicious fall baked goods. And I am more than ready.
Perfect Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
a recipe from my mother
1 2/3 c. sugar
1 c. oil
1 14 oz. can pure organic pumpkin puree; or the equivalent amount of fresh pumpkin
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
2 C. confectioners' sugar, sifted.
FOR FROSTING: Cream to together cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat well until mixture is smooth.
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 pan and set aside.
2. Mix eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until completely smooth and blended..
3. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. With mixer on low, add these to wet ingredients until fully combined. Remember to scrape down sides of the mixer as needed.
4. Spread batter into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until center is set and cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting the bars. Cut into bars and serve.
Naptime Recipe Props: When it comes to baking this really is one of the simplest, most delicious recipes I have. They are fun to make with kids because the recipe is straightforward and takes little time. If you kids like raisins or nuts in their desserts feel free to toss some in.
Naptime Stopwatch: Making this batter takes less than 10 minutes. Then it is just a matter of baking and cooling. The frosting is also a snap, requiring about 3 minutes and the whisk attachment for the blender.
Naptime Notes: This a humble dessert that is perfect for adults and children alike. They are great for potlucks, bake sales and just eating at home with the family.