Friday, December 2, 2011

pumpkin bars with maple cream cheese frosting

Thanksgiving feels like it was ages ago, though it was just last week that I was huddled around our dining table, 14 unnervingly-cheerful family members by my side, reaching for my second [or was it third?] helping of turkey and Butterbeer.

What I wouldn't do to have some leftover turkey here at the apartment so as to stop chewing on my own hand whenever I get hungry. The lack of quality food and utter depression that accompanies it can only mean one thing: we've approached finals season.

Presumably, I spend most of my days holed up in my room or at a coffee shop, frantically reading hundreds of pages of Spanish literature and philosophy that I shirked during the semester, writing the best-quality term paper[s] I can a week before the due date, and waking up every morning praying that I'm back in my fluffy bed at home, having left all final exams and papers behind me.

Okay, admittedly, it's not that tragic. Mostly it's been painful not being able to play PS3 when AC:R sits next to my television remote forlornly, abandoned and neglected, wondering how it got stuck with a good-for-nothing college student who really should have read that 200-page Spanish novel 2 weeks ago when it was assigned rather than spending hours doing so yesterday in order to write a paper due next week.

...not that I'm, you know, bitter or anything.

Pumpkin Bars with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
A bakedbeen original
Makes 18-24 bars

For the pumpkin bars, you'll need:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin [not pumpkin pie filling]
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 heaping tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • a few shakes of cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup crushed pecans
  • 1/4 cup raisins
For the maple cream cheese frosting, you'll need:
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla

To prepare the pumpkin bars:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line and grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, beat eggs, oil, brown sugar, and pumpkin until fluffy, 4-5 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.  Using a wooden spoon, hand-mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Be careful not to over-mix. Once mixed, toss in the pecans and raisins and give the batter another turn. Pour the batter into the prepared pan for 25-30 minutes, until set. Let cool completely before frosting.

To prepare the maple cream cheese frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Lower mixer speed to low and slowly add in powdered sugar. Mix until combined. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat for another 3-5 minutes, until fluffy. Refrigerate until frosting reaches spreading consistency, about 30 minutes. 

Once bars are cool, spread the cream cheese frosting evenly over top. Garnish with whole or crushed pecans, if desired. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes before slicing.

Luckily, after a week of unprecedented amounts of catch-up and studying, Noosh and I got to spend the afternoon and evening out, shopping in pleasantly nippy, chilly weather and meeting up with good friends for an extraordinarily entertaining little dinner party.

For the occasion, I decided to bake. I felt as though I hadn't baked in years, although I made about 4 desserts for our Thanksgiving dinner last week. I'll blame it on finals-prep having drained the life and joy out of me.

But I digress: baking. Pumpkin bars with maple cream cheese frosting, to be precise. For some reason I have this delusion that baking with pumpkin after Christmas is just blasphemous, since pumpkin is the epitome of fall deliciousness and happiness, and the only thing I want to do when winter rolls around is stuff a pillow over my head and hibernate for 3 months. So I figured: I only have two more weeks at the apartment, I have a can of pumpkin in my pantry, and it would be going against nature for me to use it after I'm back for intercession; might as well put it to delicious use.

I always view pumpkin in the same light I do carrots, when it comes to baking. They both have a sort of mild, dense, earthy quality about them which pairs wonderfully with spices, nuts, and dried fruits. Pumpkin bars I've had in the past are typically made with just pumpkin and spices, and have a really pleasant cake-y quality to them. But I like my pumpkin bars heartier, so always add ground nuts [what's more fitting than pecans?] and raisins to give them some body and a sort of rustic, cold-weather touch. Maple added to the frosting to tie it all together, and you're left with a beautiful fall dessert.

Simple, but comforting. As is spending an evening after a stressful week with good friends and good food.

And with a happy belly and residual smile from a wonderful night, the next two weeks don't seem quite so daunting.


Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)