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Pumpkin Hazelnut Bars

November 30, 2009

That’s right, folks.  Another dessert.

I’ve been cooking non-dessert things too, and many of them should be blogged about.  But life gets busy and I don’t always have time to find the best natural light and take pictures. 

However, the holiday season is upon us and that means that you’ll probably be invited to at least one party, if not several.  And you’ll probably be asked to bring something (unless you’re friends with people that have their parties catered- I have heard that people like that do actually exist- but none of my friends are in that income bracket).  It can be a challenge to find a seasonal dessert besides cookies that travels well, and these bars fit the bill perfectly.    

The week before Thanksgiving my office had a Thanksgiving lunch, and I signed up to bring “something pumpkiny,” not knowing exactly what I wanted to bring.  I came across this recipe for pumpkin hazelnut bars in The Washington Post archives, and thought I’d give it a shot.

My dessert was the first thing at our office lunch to be completely gone.  True story.

It all starts with toasted hazelnuts that are ground up and used to make a shortbread-esque crust.  While that’s baking, you make a more velvety version of pumpkin pie filling (a cup and a half of cream, anyone?).  Once that’s poured on top, you bake it again and that’s it. 

Toasting the nuts is key since that brings out even more flavor, and the nuts in the crust are what push these bars a step above the rest.  If I didn’t have to share I probably would have eaten half the pan. 

Maybe you’ll have more self-control than I do, and you won’t eat any of the pumpkin hazelnut bars before you take them your office luncheon or your friend’s party or what have you.  If so, good for you. 

If not, you’re in good company.

Pumpkin Hazelnut Bars

(Adapted from The Washington Post)

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) toasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts (see NOTE)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

For the filling

  • 15 ounces canned pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie filling)
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees.

Use butter to lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Pleat a 22-inch-long piece of aluminum foil lengthwise to make a 9-inch-wide strip, then fit it into the pan like a sling, pressing the foil into the corners to line the bottom and 2 short sides of the pan (the foil will overhang the two short sides). Dust the exposed buttered sides lightly with flour, shaking out any excess.

For the crust: Combine the flour, toasted hazelnuts and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 20 seconds, until the nuts are ground to a powder; stop to tap down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Combine the 8 tablespoons of “butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a hand-held electric mixer; beat on high speed for 1 minute, until the mixture is pale. Reduce the speed to low; add the flour mixture to make a soft dough. Press the dough evenly into the lined pan. Bake on the low rack for 15 minutes or until the crust just starts to brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in a medium bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Gradually whisk in the cream to incorporate well.

Transfer the partially baked crust to the stove top; pour in the filling, making sure it flows into the corners evenly. Return to the oven and bake for about 35 minutes or until the filling is set in the center. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, then run a knife around the inside edges to release the pastry from the pan. Use the overhanging foil to transfer the slab to a cutting board. Cut into 24 bars.

(Alternatively, the pan can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Use the overhanging foil to lift the slab of pumpkin bars onto a cutting board and cut into 24 bars. Serve chilled or at room temperature.)

NOTE: To toast hazelnuts:

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and place them in a 350-degree oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts can burn quickly.

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