Category Archives: Caramel Pumpkin Bars

How to Make Caramel-Pumpkin Bars

I’ll confess it, of all the delicious, complicated baked things there are in this wide world to eat, these simple pastries are my favorite. They are more “squares” of caramel-pumpkin pie than they are cookie-like “bars”. In pastry shops, pie squares like these are made on sheet pans (jelly roll pans), but I thought a 10″ x 13″ casserole pan would be better in this instance. It works the same way and doesn’t produce an unwieldy amount. Start by taking your dough disk out of the fridge and laying it down on a lightly floured board.

It’s a bit more challenging to roll pie dough out into a rectangle shape versus a circle, but don’t worry, you can handle it. Just square the dough up a bit as you roll it out. Use your palm…

And your pinky to gently push it to shape.

Too many recipes, in the interests of preventing us from “working” pie dough, make bakers afraid to touch, push and squeeze it in this way. But where is it written you can’t manhandle your dough a little? OK, lots of places. But let’s be real here, as long as you’re not working your pie dough like a lump of silly putty over the Sunday comics, you’ll be alright. Keep rolling…

When it’s about the right size, lay it into the baking pan…

…then gently press it into the contours.

Trim it with a sharp knife (if you wish), leaving an inch-plus lip (this will compensate for any shrinkage).

Lay down your foil…

…and add your weights. Some people like ceramic weights, others like dry beans. I myself am a loose change man. Don’t worry, the money never touches the crust (and it gets sterilized in the bargain!). Bake for 25 minutes in a 375 oven, then remove the weights and foil and brown for 10.

As the crust is baking, make your filling. Why not do it before? Because you want your filling warm, and you want to be able to pour it into the crust while the crust is hot. The first measure is to help prevent cracking, the second to prevent a soggy crust. Trust me, this really works. Start by swirling your cup of sugar and quarter cup of water over high heat until it turns to bubbling syrup.

It’ll turn light amber, then dark amber. A few seconds later a tell-tale brown-black spot will appear, letting you know the caramel is at optimum burnt-sugar flavor (but not bitter).

Quickly kill the heat and start adding your cream in a slow stream, whisking all the while. If you go too fast the sugar will cool too quickly and harden into candy. If that happens it’s no big deal, simply return the pan to low heat and whisk it until the hard candy melts.

Whisk in the last of your ingredients, reserving the eggs. Keep the mixture warm — not boiling — as you wait for the crust to finish.

When the crust comes out of the oven, thoroughly whisk in your eggs and pour the mixture into the shell. No, I couldn’t take pictures of that, I was moving too quickly. If I was a human squid and had another set of hands (or two), believe me, I would have.

Drop the heat to 350, return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the pan, then bake for another 10 minutes or until the center no longer sloshes but jiggles firmly.

Allow to cool for a minimum of an hour before cutting. Or chill, then cut (and eat).

Filed under:  Caramel Pumpkin Bars, Desserts & Cookies | 1 Comment

Caramel Pumpkin Bar Recipe

I’m including two different dough recipes. The first is the skimpier quantity I use, since it makes bars that I think have the optimum crust-to-filling ratio. However since rolling that quantity of pie dough out thin enough to cover the interior of a 10″ x 13″ baking pan can be a bit challenging (especially for those who’ve never done it before), I’m including another version, which ups the quantity by about 25%. This rolls out to a thicker sheet, but it makes an easier job of the process. Here’s the standard quantity:

8 ounces all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter, chilled (substitute lard for up to half)
1-2 tablespoons ice water

And now the “upped” quantity:

10 ounces all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons, 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 ½ tablespoons butter, chilled (substitute lard for up to half)
2-3 tablespoons ice water

Treat them both the same way, as you would a typical pie dough recipe. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl until combined, then rub in (or “cut” in with a pastry blade) the fat. The texture should be like coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces left in it. Add the ice water — the smaller quantity first — and if that’s not enough to bring the dough together into an almost-crumbly ball, then add the rest. Try to avoid “working” the dough which will develop gluten and cause the dough to shrink up in the oven. Pat it into a disk.

Rest the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Roll out to size, lay into a 10″ x 13″ baking pan and trim. Put the pan into the refrigerator to further rest the dough — a minimum of half an hour (this will further relax any gluten). Preheat your oven to 375. When the crust has rested, remove it from the fridge and line the pan with tin foil. Pour in a few cups or pie weights or dry beans, or scatter loose change over. Bake for 25 minutes (during which time you will prepare your filling). Remove weights and the foil and bake for 10 minutes or more until lightly browned.

Now for the filling:

1 cup sugar
¼ cup water

2 cups heavy or light cream
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
1 15-oounce can pumpkin pureé
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs

Moisten the first cup of sugar with the 1/4 cup water in a sauce pan and swirl over high heat until it turns light amber, then dark amber. For a more pronounced caramel flavor, wait for a brown-black spot to appear in the center of the pan before you remove it from the heat and start adding your cream slowly in a steady stream, whisking all the while (watch out, it’ll foam and sputter a bit).

Once all the cream is in, whisk in the rum, pumpkin, sugar, spices and vanilla. Keep the filling warm on a very low flame until the crust is nearly ready. It should NOT be bubbling/boiling.

When the crust has about a minute to go, take the filling off the heat and whisk in the eggs. Remove the crust and immediately pour the warm filling into the hot crust to create a water-proof seal. Put the pan into the oven and drop the heat to 350. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the pan, jiggling it to see how “sloshy” it still is in the middle. Bake another 10 minutes or so, just until the center no longer “sloshes”, but jiggles firmly. Cool for a minimum of one hour before slicing and serving. I prefer mine chilled.

Filed under:  Caramel Pumpkin Bars, Desserts & Cookies | 12 Comments