Awhile back, I was really craving pumpkin bars. I rarely make desserts with cream cheese frosting, though. I find heavy, thick frosting overwhelms a tender cake crumb. Still, cream cheese is a good contrast to pumpkin and spice, so I decided to create a lighter version that has more the texture of a marshmallow cream. It succeeded beyond my expectations.
In fact, I was barely was able to save a piece to photograph. Even my picky middle child liked this cake.
As you can see, this is more a cake than bars. And the ratio of frosting to cake is much better this way. Traditional pumpkin bar recipes call for a jelly roll pan and result in a bar that is barely an inch and a half tall. I used a 9×13 baking dish instead.
The other substitution was the spices. I used a good Vietnamese cinnamon and Chinese 5 spice together and increased the suggested amount by about a third. A quality ground ginger with allspice would be another great variation on this theme, but I wanted to avoid the boring pumpkin pie spice flavoring here, and I also wanted to create a cleaner, warmer taste, which Chinese 5 spice delivers in spades. Chinese 5 spice, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a combination of star anise, anise seed, cloves, ginger, and Chinese cassia cinnamon. I like the Penzey’s brand, but whatever you use, make sure it’s fresh! Old spices ruin far too many dishes, and as we move into the holiday season (at least here in zone 4b) fresh spices are a must. For spices I use infrequently, I’ll write the date purchased on the container so I can’t kid myself about how old the stuff is. Here’s the recipe, if you’re interested. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 15oz can of cooked pumpkin
Combine above in electric mixer until smooth. Then add the following dry ingredients:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour(Whole wheat pastry flour could be substituted here, if you wish.)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp Vietnamese Cinnamon
2tsp Chinese 5 Spice
1 tsp salt
Pour into greased 9×13 pan. Bake 40-50 minutes. Check with wooden skewer for desired doneness. Cool thoroughly.
Frost with the following:
8 oz cream cheese, soften
2/3 cup unsalted butter
pinch of salt,
3 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
1 tsp Penzey’s double strength vanilla or 2 tsp regular strength vanilla
Whip until light and fluffy. You may have a bit of frosting left over. Freeze in an airtight container for later use if small children are unavailable to help you dispose of leftovers. Conventional wisdom dictates refrigerating cake with cream cheese frostings. Mine never last longer than 2 days, so I leave them on the counter.
Your choice. Either way, enjoy!