The past month has been a busy one in my kitchen. We hosted 3 big dinner parties, one a week for up to 30 people with the same Mexican menu. (I cooked for 4 parties, but I got sick on the day of the last one and we had to cancel it. Bummer.) As soon as one party finished, I started cooking for the next one. I shared all of my party recipes and details in another post.
These pumpkin bars were one of the most requested recipes. I wanted something that was appropriate for the fall season along with the Mexican theme of our menu. So, I tweaked a traditional autumn pumpkin bar recipe by adding a hint of Kahlua to a cream cheese frosting--a nod to Mexico's most popular liqueur. It's one yummy frosting. Since I've made these four times in a month, I know this recipe well. Here's what I've come to like about these pumpkin bars:
They're less naughty than traditional pumpkin bar recipes; I started with a Paula Deen recipe, but used half whole wheat pastry flour and swapped out applesauce for half of the oil. You'd never know it--they're moist and have great texture.
They can be made ahead; in fact, I think they're better the next day. They're still good after four days, maybe longer (don't know, 'cause they never lasted any longer than that). I love the convenience of a recipe I can make ahead when cooking for a party.
The finished, frosted bars freeze beautifullly. Seriously, I couldn't tell any difference between thawed frozen bars and freshly prepared ones. This makes this recipe a great thing to prepare ahead for entertaining or holiday meals. I'm thinking Thanksgiving...
They're versatile. Serve them for a seasonal autumn dessert. Or, like me, you can serve them with a Mexican meal. Pumpkin happens to be a popular ingredient in Mexico, plus there's the Mexican Kahlua. I'm thinking Cinco de Mayo party dessert...
Step-by-step photos for making Pumpkin Bars with Kahlua & Cream Frosting
Step 1. Assemble the ingredients. Here's what you need to make the bars: whole wheat pastry flour, white flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice*, salt, eggs, sugar, canola oil, applesauce, pureed pumpkin
*You can purchase pumpkin pie spice, or make your own. Click here for my recipe.
Here's what you need to make the frosting: Kahlua, instant espresso or coffee granules, cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, cinnamon
Step 2. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Step 3. In a separate large bowl, mix the eggs just until blended.
Step 4. Add the sugar, oil, applesauce, and pumpkin. Mix until well combined and light--approx. 3 minutes.
Step 5. Add the dry ingredients. Mix until blended and smooth--approx. 1 minute.
Step 6. Spread evenly in one 13x18 baking sheet or two 13x9 baking sheets that have been coated with cooking spray. I used 2 of the smaller baking sheets. There is 6 cups of batter, so I put 3 cups in each pan.
Step 7. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let the bars cool completely before frosting them.
While the bars cool, make the frosting.
Step 8. Put Kahlua in small micro-wave safe bowl and microwave just until it starts boiling--approx. 30 seconds. Stir in instant espresso/coffee granules until dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temp.
Step 9. In medium bowl, add butter and cream cheese that is cut into chunks. Blend with mixer until smooth.
Step 10. Add powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Step 11. Add cooled Kahlua mixture and mix just until combined.
Step 12. Frost cooled bars. There is approx. 3 cups of frosting; so if you're using 2 pans, use 1-1/2 cups to frost each pan.
Step 13. For a finishing touch, dust the top of the frosting with ground cinnamon. Shake it through a wire mesh strainer for a finer dust, moving the strainer as you shake the cinnamon into it.
Cover and refrigerate until serving time. It's best to use pans with domed lids so the frosting doesn't get messed up. This also makes it easy to stack pans or stack other things on top of them in the fridge or freezer. (For Amazon link to pans with domed lids, click here for 13x9 baking sheets, click here for 13x18 baking sheets.)
The frosting is what puts these pumpkin bars over the top. So good!
Don't like Kahlua? I love the hint of Kahlua in these. However, if you prefer a plainer cream cheese frosting, omit the Kahlua and instant coffee and add 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.
Here's an idea for the upcoming holidays: Make these now, freeze them, and they'll be ready to enjoy for a Thanksgiving dessert. You have enough cooking to do that day; you'll be so happy to having something ready and delicious to pull out of the freezer.
Make it a Yummy day! Monica
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bars with Kahlua & Cream Frosting
Servings: 48 small or 24 large
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or 1 cup regular whole wheat flour plus 1 cup white flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, whisked
1-2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
15-ounce can pureed pumpkin
3 tablespoons Kahlua liqueur
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder of coffee granules
12 oz. cream cheese (1-1/2 8-oz. blocks), room temperature
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
ground cinnamon for dusting top
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat one 13x18 baking sheet or two 13x9 baking sheets with cooking spray. Set aside.
TO MAKE BARS: In medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Set aside. In separate large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce, and pumpkin; use electric mixer at medium speed to mix until well combined and light (approx. 3 minutes). Using mixer at low speed, add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture until batter is well combined and smooth (approx. 1 minute). Spread batter evenly in pan(s). (There should be approx. 6 cups of batter; 3 cups in each pan if using 2 pans.) Bake for 20-25 minutes until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
TO MAKE FROSTING: Put Kahlua in small microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high just until it boils (approx. 30 seconds). Add instant espresso or coffee granules and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temp. In separate medium bowl, combine cream cheese and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. At low speed, add powered sugar and mix until combined and smooth. Add Kahlua mixture and mix again. Makes 3 cups of frosting. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars. Dust top of frosting lightly with cinnamon by shaking cinnamon through fine metal strainer.
Cover frosted bars with domed lid and keep in refrigerator for up to four days. Frosted bars also may be covered and frozen. Remove lid as they thaw to prevent condensation from forming and making the frosting soggy.
FOR PLAIN CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: omit Kahlua and instant espresso/coffee; add 1-1/2 teaspoons cream cheese.
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I have two sets of these versatile, durable pans; they get used almost every time I bake. I pour 1 batch of Pumpkin Bar batter into two of the quarter sheets or one of the half sheets. Once they're frosted and cooled, they're easy to cover and stack in the fridge or freezer.
I bought this 7-speed mixer after see it recommended by Cooks Illustrated. I often find it easier to use this powerful little work horse, instead of getting out my big stand mixer. It's what I use for mixing my cake batter and frosting for these pumpkin bars.