Always a decision this time of the year as to which pumpkin bars to make – silky pumpkin cheesecake bars, pumpkin bars with a crunchy oat crust, pumpkin bars with a maple sugar streusel topping, and the list goes on. I’m starting the pumpkin bar season off with the pumpkin cream cheese bars, the ultimate in comfort foods as the weather turns cool on us.
Canned Pumpkin vs Fresh Pumpkin or Squash
Although we do grow a lot of different varieties of pumpkins and squash on our small farm, I’ve found the canned pumpkin to be the go-to alternative for bars.
After adding the amount of sugar and spices that pumpkin bars and cakes call for, you can’t really distinguish the nuances of which variety of winter squash you use, and the canned pumpkin is just as nutritional considering the other ingredients that go in bars. We are, after all, making a sweet treat and sometimes it’s difficult to justify the prep work required of fresh pumpkins for something with this much sugar.
To me it is similar to my earlier years as a bartender when customers would order a really expensive bourbon and coke. The sweetness of the coke was so overpowering I’m sure they could not tell the difference between that expensive high-end bourbon and the less expensive house bourbon. Now, a bourbon on the rocks or with a splash of something less sweet, well that’s a different story.
So, I save the heirloom varieties of pumpkin and squash for meals where I can truly savor the differences in their nuttiness and sweetness.
What is the Best Canned Pumpkin?
An informative blog post on what is actually in the canned pumpkin you find in the grocery store can be found here. It turns out that most canned pumpkin includes different varieties of Winter squash, often butternut.
The main thing to watch for is that you don’t purchase canned “pumpkin pie filling”. That option has spices already added, and sometimes it includes sugar. You want to make sure you get a can that states 100% pumpkin. Libbys is my favorite brand.
Sweet or Savory Pumpkin Recipes for Fall
Here are a few of my favorite recipes using pumpkin and winter squash. Some are sweet and some are savory. Some work with canned pumpkin and some are better with Winter squash.
Favorite Savory Recipes
- Using spaghetti squash as a low carb pasta
- Pepperonata with Butternut Squash and Romesco
- Brazilian Shrimp in Pumpkins – Camarão na Moranga
- Low Carb Pumpkin Ancho Soup
Favorite Sweet Recipes Using Pumpkin or Squash
- Low Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake
- Pumpkin Amaretto Bread
- Pumpkin Martini
- Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Chai Spice Filling
Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 10 x 15 baking pan (or 9 x 13)
- Bowls, spatula and knife
For the Cake Part of Bars
- 1 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup oil vegetable oil or canola oil
- 15 oz can 100% pumpkin (Libbys is one good brand)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
For Cream Cheese Frosting
- 6 oz cream cheese at room temperature
- 6 Tablespoons butter at oom temperature
- 1 Tablespoon milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (or spray with cooking oil spray) a 10 x 15-inch baking pan. If you use a more common 9 x 13-inch pan, you will have to cook it longer or the middle will not get done. Alternatively you could only pour in 3/4 of the batter into the 9 x 13 and use a muffin tin or small baking pan for the rest.
- In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat together the sugar, the oil and the pumpkin until creamy (about 1 min). Beat in eggs until well combined – about 2 minutes.
- In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices. Add these dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
- Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until evenly golden and a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool completely (about 1 1/2 hour) before frosting.
- Using a stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until mixture is smooth. Be sure and add powdered sugar slowly or it will fly out and make a big mess. Spread frosting over completely cooled bars.
- Chill before cutting into bars. Makes 2-3 dozen bars (depending on how large you cut them).
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