Pumpkin might not be a flavor that comes to mind for bar cookies, but once you make these pumpkin bars, you’ll be sold on them. These moist and firm squares of pumpkin goodness are topped with a maple frosting, making them a delightful fall treat. If you aren’t normally a fan of bar cookies, these pumpkin bars may have you revising your opinion!
The Neglected Cookie
I hardly ever make bar cookies. I’ll admit it — in the cookie world, they are the red-headed stepchild to me.
It’s likely my childhood experience with bar cookies that is to blame for my bias against them. When I was growing up, it seemed like bar cookies were the domain of health-nut moms who were determined to get their kids to eat good-for-them snacks that they made in bar form and called “cookies.” I have some unpleasant memories of dense squares of whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts with sweeteners that definitely weren’t granulated sugar.
Later on I formed an association in my brain that “bar cookies” always means something like lemon bars (really moist and gooey) or some kind of oatmeal bar (which feels like it’s just a degree or two away from being those cardboard-y things from my childhood).
Just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t think good bar cookies exist because I have had some that were good. But I’ve been burned by enough not-so-great ones that I’m gun-shy about the general category.
Bar Cookies Are More Than I What I Thought They Were
The more I thought about bar cookies, the more I realized that there are some bar cookies I really do enjoy. One of my favorites is when I make Nestle Tollhouse bar cookies. It also turns out that BROWNIES are bar cookies and I’m a true blue Brownie Junkie.
So this means I’m not a bar cookie hater. I just like very specific kinds of bar cookies. Having come to this realization, I decided pumpkin bars might be fun to make.
My Frosting Inspiration
When I made my pumpkin muffins, I made a white chocolate maple syrup glaze that was unbelievably good (I helped myself to
a few many spoonfuls of it and I’m dreaming up other ways to use it). I feel like maple frosting would be quite tasty on a pumpkin bar, so I’ve decided there will be frosting on these.
Canned Pumpkin Is Not Pumpkin Pie Filling
I’ve actually made this mistake before — picking up a can of pumpkin pie filling at the store when I should have gotten canned pumpkin puree. They can’t be used as substitutes without making other changes to a recipe because the filling has spices and sugar, whereas pumpkin puree doesn’t. I didn’t make the mistake very many times, however, because the too-sweet results were very powerful motivators to learn to pay attention at the grocery store.
This recipe uses canned pumpkin puree. So shop accordingly!
On a side note, I came across this bit of information while doing some quick research on canned pumpkin products. You may also find it interesting to know what’s REALLY in your can of “100% Pure Pumpkin.”
My Hand Mixer Gets to Come Out and Play
Quite some time ago, I decided I was done using boxed cake mixes forever. I had a gorgeous KitchenAid stand mixer and over the years she and I became best friends. We made a LOT of breads, meringues, custards, brownies, cakes, and frostings together.
She’s been gone a while and one day I’ll have another one. In the meantime, I have faith that this little gal is up for the job of helping me create a delicious maple frosting. She certainly did great making cheesecake for my “Mini” Apple Cheesecake Galettes.
The Nuts Are Optional
I’m still on this kick of looking for any excuse to put nuts in my baking, so I’m adding crushed walnuts and pecans to the frosting. Normally I’d put nuts in the baked goods, but I’m switching it up this time and putting the texture element in the frosting instead.
But if you prefer, you can forgo the nuts — a nut-free frosting will also be wonderful.
Making Pumpkin Bars
The first step is to cream the butter and the brown sugar together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Then add the remaining wet ingredients: the egg, molasses, vanilla, and pumpkin. Mix everything well.
This is what the mixture looks like in the bowl — almost as if something has curdled. It’s the first time I’ve seen pumpkin do this and it did worry me when it happened. But not to worry, because (according to other recipes) it’s normal. Once the dry ingredients are added, the batter will be a nice, smooth consistency.
Next, sift all your dry ingredients (flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt) into a small mixing bowl.
Now it’s time to add the dry ingredients to the wet in small batches, mixing well before adding the next batch of dry.
Up to this point, I was quite worried that my batter was going to be too runny. An entire can of pumpkin puree seemed like a LOT of wet stuff going into the recipe.
But I’m happy to say that once I finished mixing in the dry ingredients, the batter was close to the consistency of brownie batter. And that weird curdled look was gone.
Having finished making the pumpkin bar batter, I was ready to proceed to baking. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray and use a spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, testing with a toothpick to be sure only a few crumbs stick to the toothpick. Once that happens, the pumpkin bars are done baking.
Let the pumpkin bars cool completely in the pan and while they’re cooling, make the frosting.
Using an electric mixer on low speed, cream the butter in a small mixing bowl. Add the maple syrup and mix well on low speed. Add the powdered sugar in half cup increments, mixing well on low speed after adding each half cup. Add the vanilla and mix well.
If you opt for the nuts, add those and fold in using a spatula.
Once the pumpkin bars are completely cooled, spread the frosting over them with a spatula.
Cut the pumpkin bars into 24 or 32 squares (depending on the size you want each serving to be), serve, and enjoy!
Note: If you are planning to store your pumpkin bars in the freezer, do NOT cut the pumpkin bars yet. The Storage/Freezing part will tell you what steps to take next.
My Food Critic Review of My Pumpkin Bars
What I originally set out to do was try to make pumpkin bars that were the consistency of my favorite brownies — really moist (almost gooey) in the middle with a chewy outer edge.
That’s not what happened. The pumpkin bars turned out more like cake and much less like brownie. They were denser than actual cake, which was good since I wasn’t trying to make pumpkin cake.
They also baked up a little higher than I was expecting. I’m not sure if dividing the batter between two baking pans would have produced something closer to the results I had hoped I would get.
What I think it comes down to is that I need to do more research. I have to figure out the proportions of dry ingredients and possibly the brown sugar needed to create what’s essentially a pumpkin-flavored brownie sometime in the future.
So what did I think of what I got from this recipe? Pumpkin bars that still ended up tasting really good, even if they weren’t the texture I was aiming for. My dog, Teddy, certainly approved because he stole one off the counter when I left him alone for TEN SECONDS with a plate of bars. (I know. What was I thinking? Ten seconds is more than enough time for a dog to make his move.)
So far I’ve eaten two pumpkin bars — one with a fork and another one that I picked up to eat just to see how it held up as a finger food. No excessive crumbling, so I’m satisfied on that count.
I’m glad I chose to put the nuts in the frosting rather than the pumpkin bars themselves. I feel like the crunch is right where it belongs.
So while they aren’t the brownie-like pumpkin bars I wanted, they came out as something that tastes good and holds together well. I’d still call this a solid recipe that I’d make again.
Storing and Freezing Pumpkin Bars
The rule of thumb seems to be that once the pumpkin bars are cut, the pan needs to be tightly covered with aluminum foil — or they should be put in an airtight container. I’d go with the airtight container option because I’ve had brownies and cakes go stale when I tried to store them in the pan they were baked in (even when I used plastic wrap underneath the aluminum foil for extra protection).
Pumpkin bars will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days or 5 days in the refrigerator.
If you are planning to freeze your pumpkin bars to save for a later time, you don’t want to cut them into servings. Instead, put the pan in the freezer to freeze the bars. Remove the “block,” wrap it tightly in several layers of plastic wrap, then in foil. (There are no freezer bags large enough to hold a 9 x 13 block of pumpkin bars, which is why you need multiple layers of plastic wrap.)
The pumpkin bar block will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you want to serve the pumpkin bars, completely unwrap the block, and allow it to thaw to room temperature before cutting into servings.
- For Pumpkin Bars:
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
- 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- For Maple Frosting:
- 5 tablespoons butter, softened
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 ⅔ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ⅓ cup crushed walnuts and pecans (optional)
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together 2 sticks of butter and the brown sugar.
- Add the egg, molasses, vanilla, and pumpkin.
- Mix well.
- In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.
- Add the dry ingredient to the wet in small batches, mixing well before adding the next batch.
- Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.
- Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly in the baking pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Test with a toothpick -- when only a few crumbs stick to the toothpick, the pumpkin bars are done.
- Cool completely in the pan.
- In a small mixing bowl, use an electric mixer on low speed to cream 5 tablespoons of butter.
- Add the maple syrup and mix well on low speed..
- Add the powdered sugar by ⅓ cups, mix on low speed until all the powdered sugar has been incorporated.
- Add the vanilla and mix well on low speed.
- Add the crushed walnuts and pecans. Use a spatula to fold them into the frosting.
- Spread the frosting over the pumpkin bars.
- When ready to serve, cut into 24-32 squares (depending on your preferred serving size).
To store the pumpkin bars:
Place in an airtight container for 3-4 days at room temperature or 5 days in the refrigerator.
To freeze the pumpkin bars:
- Do not cut the pumpkin bars into servings.
- Place the pan in the freezer.
- Once frozen, remove the pumpkin bar “block.”
- Wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and then wrap tightly in foil.
- Place in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Unwrap and thaw to room temperature before cutting into servings.
Want even more pumpkin recipe ideas? Visit the links below for tasty ways to put pumpkin recipes into your food lineup this fall.
And there’s even something for the family dog! (I probably need to make these for Teddy.)