Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pumpkin Bars

    The other day it rained. It rained hard. Not just a downpour, but I'm talking monsoon type water accumulation. The rain and hail came on suddenly and would not quit. Mudslides soon followed, with people and vehicles getting swept up in the currents and buried in a matter of moments. The accompanying lightning and thunder were just the lights and soundtrack to complete the "apocalyptic" weather event that had descended upon us. I've never seen a storm like that before, and I read that it was a once in 1,000 year event. Lucky us.
   Well, thanks to the lovely weather, my family and I were trapped indoors. But, we were all safe, healthy and warm with plenty of provisions to see us through until the storm passed, and the wreckage left in it's quake could be addressed. So, what do I do when it looks like the world is ending outside? I bake of course. Wouldn't you?
    I first made my kids some homemade hot chocolate (cocoa powder, milk, vanilla and pure maple syrup), at their request, and then got to baking. I had a few cups of fresh pumpkin puree ready to use, so I got out my cookbooks and started searching. I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Bars in my local church cookbook, but as I was reading the recipe I saw that it was full of highly processed ingredients (white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil) that I'm trying to weed out of our diet, so I decided I would change things up. I used whole wheat pastry flour, pure maple syrup and butter as substitutions. Yes, I still use butter. It's not as processed as vegetable or canola oil and it's good for you. I promise. Look it up. :)
    Well, the end result was delicious. A moist cake that is just sweet enough, but not cloyingly so, that is topped with a delectable cream cheese frosting (or whipped cream if you prefer). I just had to share it with you. I bet you're thinking, "Wait. I thought this was supposed to be a bar recipe. Why did she just say it's a cake?" Well, while reading through the original recipe I noted that it seemed to me that it would be more of a cake than a cookie bar (because of the amount of eggs, and the inclusion of a fair amount of both baking powder and baking soda) and I was right. This is definitely a cake, but if the original author can call it a bar, then I will too. (You can cook it on a sheet pan if it makes you feel better - like you are making a cookie bar, instead of a cake. But don't be mad at the end result. It will be soft, moist and tender like a cake. Not at all crispy, gooey or chewy like a cookie.)
    Ok, now down to the recipe. As I mentioned before, I swapped out less processed ingredients to fit our healthier life style, and I also added some ground flax seed for extra nutrition. I reduced the amount of sweetener, not only because I wanted to keep it on the healthier side, but also because I opted to use pure maple syrup instead of white sugar, and it's pretty pricey. (100% Pure Maple Syrup is my sweetener of choice, though, so if you haven't tried it you really should. I find the best price in my area is at Costco, but definitely shop around to find a good deal where you are. I keep jugs of it on hand, since we only use that and honey for most of our sweetening needs anymore. I should really buy stock in it!)
Do you have any favorite healthy swaps? I'd love to hear about it.

Here's the recipe:
adapted from Shauna Young's Pumpkin Bars 

Pumpkin Bars

1 1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (I always use salted)
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (can sub 16 oz can pumpkin)
1/2 cup ground flax seed (I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together all the ingredients, except the flour, until smooth. Slowly mix in the flour until fully combined. Spread the batter evenly into a prepared 10x15 baking dish, or a sheet pan. Bake 20-30 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). All ovens are different. Check after 20 minutes, and then go from there. Cool, and serve with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows) or sweetened whipped cream.
Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup (to taste)

Blend with an electric mixer until all ingredients are smooth. Mix for an additional 5 minutes on high (to get it light an fluffy). Refrigerate if the frosting gets too runny, and then whip again before icing the cake/bars.  


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bake Sale

   Tomorrow, the elementary school that my kids go to is having it's annual Fall Festival. It's the biggest fundraiser for the year, and this year they are going all out. They are having a rock wall, inflatable slides and obstacle courses, a magic show, a book fair, dancing, games, food, and a silent auction for some amazing prizes. For the past few years, the Ball Room Dance group at the school also does a bake sale at the festival. My son is a proud Ball Room Dancer and so I do what I can to support him and the group in any way I can. My task today is to bake copious amounts of goodies for the bake sale. So, while I know these things aren't healthy, and they don't fall in line with my healthier lifestyle that my family and I have been living recently, I am making desserts. I actually had to make a run to the store to buy some white flour, because I haven't had a need for it since I made Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls. We only keep 100% Whole Wheat Flour in the house anymore.
  So, after I got everything together, I decided to make a few of my favorite sweet indulgences that could easily be portioned out for sale at the festival. These are the recipes I decided on:
Texas Canyon Lemon Bars, Snickerdoodle BlondiesNutella Pumpkin Swirl Bread (that I'm actually making as little muffins), Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze (I replaced the sweet potato in this recipe with pumpkin and added 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice). I love these recipes and I'm sure they'll stand out from the usual chocolate chip cookies, and store bought cupcakes sold at your everyday bake sale.
   If you try any of them, or have a favorite, let me know! What's your favorite thing to eat/buy at a bake sale?

Texas Canyon Lemon Bars,

Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze
(Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze)