AUNT BECKY’S PUMPKIN BARS
My aunt Becky’s pumpkin bars are a quintessential part of my childhood. This classic pumpkin bar recipe has so many fond memories associated with it and to this day is still one of my favorite fall desserts. Every year we’d go to her school’s fall play where she would make trays upon trays of these to sell at intermission as a fundraiser for a school home economics youth program she helped to lead. She did this for 15+ years, and her record is making 52 pans of pumpkin bars (that’s 104 dozen bars!).
When I was about 10 years old, I had my aunt dictate this recipe to me so I could write it down and make these at home. I still have that copy, written on a piece of orange construction paper, tucked into my recipe binder that I pull out every year in the fall to make pumpkin bars for family and friends. The only change I’ve made to the original recipe that I wrote down as a kid is adding my favorite homemade cream cheese frosting in lieu of a store-bought version. And correcting a couple of spelling errors.
If you’ve been looking for the best pumpkin bars recipe, pumpkin desserts to make, or fall dessert ideas, this is it. Simple. Classic. Delicious. The perfect fall treat!
TELL ME ABOUT THIS PUMPKIN BARS RECIPE
Level of difficulty: Easy! Measure and mix your ingredients as directed, spread in your prepared pan, bake, cool, and frost… you can totally make these! And you should.
Flavor: Pumpkin is the predominant flavor of this fall dessert, as you’d expect.
Time: If we’re being honest, it will take you 1.5-2 hours to make, cool, and frost your pumpkin bars. This allows enough time to cool your bars before you slather them with homemade cream cheese frosting. The active time needed to prep ingredients and bake your bars is about 45 minutes.
2 KEY INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR THE BEST PUMPKIN BARS WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Canned Pumpkin Puree: you need one 16oz can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) to make this recipe. Check out the FAQ section for more information on why 100% pumpkin puree is the best choice for pumpkin desserts.
Whipped Cream Cheese: whipped cream cheese is the secret ingredient to making the best cream cheese frosting! Using this helps create the smoothest frosting. Yes, you can use regular cream cheese, but you need to work a lot harder to avoid lumps in your frosting.
OVERVIEW: HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN BARS
Pre-heat oven and prep baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°F and generously grease a 10x15 cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and set aside
Mix together ‘wet’ ingredients: in a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, sugar, and pumpkin puree until combined
Add in dry ingredients: Slowly beat in dry ingredients until smooth (*option to mix all dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before doing this if desired)
Pour into the prepared pan and bake! Pour mixture into the greased jelly roll pan and spread into an even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before covering with frosting
Make the cream cheese frosting: in a large bowl beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add in vanilla extract, and confectioners sugar (1/2 C at a time) and continue to beat until smooth. If a thicker texture is desired, add an additional 1/4 C confectioner’s sugar and beat until combined and smooth.
Frost bars, cut, and serve: spread cream cheese frosting evenly over pumpkin bars. Cut into squares, serve, and enjoy!
Store leftovers: store leftover bars in a covered, air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days
FAQS FOR MAKING THE BEST PUMPKIN BARS
What is the difference between pumpkin puree vs. pumpkin pie filling? Canned pumpkin puree, or 100% pure pumpkin, only contains cooked and mashed pumpkin whereas pumpkin pie filling contains cooked and mashed pumpkin with added flavors, spices, and sometimes added sugars. Pumpkin puree is great for making all kinds of baked goods like pies, cakes, and muffins. It is also great for making autumnal savory items like soups. Using 100% pumpkin allows you to customize your dishes with the spices and flavors you want. For this reason, 100% pure pumpkin puree should be used in this recipe.
Can I use pumpkin from my garden instead of canned pumpkin? Of course! You will need about 2 cups of cooked and mashed pumpkin for this pumpkin bar recipe. If you have pumpkins to bake and use, please feel free to do so! My aunt will also tell you that you could use baked and mashed winter squash or even cooked and mashed carrots (there is a funny family story around this) as a substitute.
Do I really need a jelly roll pan, or 10x15” pan, to make these? To get a true pumpkin bar, that is the best size pan to use. However, in college when I did not have this size pan at my disposal, I would make these in a standard 9x13” pan which turned this recipe into a pumpkin cake! It was still absolutely delicious, but needed to cook longer (closer to 45 mins - 1 hour) due to the depth of the batter in the pan. If this is the size pan you have, you could still give this recipe a try, just re-brand the result as a pumpkin cake instead.
EQUIPMENT NEEDED TO MAKE PUMPKIN BARS WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
A jelly roll pan. A jelly roll pan, or 10x15" cookie sheet, is needed to make bars for a crowd. Don't have one of these? Check your local thrift shop! I’ve found that thrift shops often have some high quality kitchen items, especially when it comes to miscellaneous pans (like bread pans, pie pans, bundt pans, etc.) at a very low price point. So it’s definitely worth a stop to see if you can get a jelly roll pan for this recipe if you’re in need of one! Plus, upcycling is good for the environment. It’s a win-win!
If you didn’t luck out at the thrift store, or would prefer to order a new pan online, here is a link to a good quality jelly roll pan.
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