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High Country Baking: Pumpkin squares

It’s important to use soft, supple dates when making these pumpkin squares.
Vera Dawson/High Country Baking

Autumn captured in a cookie, that’s what these bars are. Warm spices, sweet dates and crunchy nuts showcased against a background of pumpkin make them a perfect fall treat. The play between these flavors, brightened by a lemon glaze and coupled with a moist, almost-chewy texture, are well balanced and appealing. Their allure is subtle, bringing you back for one more bite, time and time again.

It’s important to use soft, supple dates. I prefer purchasing whole dates and chopping them rather than buying those that are packaged pre-chopped. To speed up the chopping process, I quarter the dates, dump them in a food processor, add a tablespoon or two of the flour required for the recipe to the bowl to prevent them from sticking to the blade, then pulse until they’re chopped fine. If you try this, be sure to add both the dates and all the flour that was processed with them to the batter. 

These are good the day they’re baked and better a day or two afterwards when the flavors have had time to come together.



Pumpkin Squares

Adjusted for elevations of 7,000 feet and above

Make in an 8-by-8-inch shiny metal baking pan



Cookies

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)

Slightly less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 large egg (break egg into cup measure; beat lightly, measure out 1 1/2-2 tablespoons, this is half an egg)

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s

4 ounces (a little less than 3/4 of a cup) pitted dates, finely chopped

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Lemon Glaze

About 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Prep: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches beyond two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies. If using regular foil, thoroughly grease it with a baking spray that contains flour. If using nonstick, grease any exposed parts of the pan.

Make the batter: Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl and whisk vigorously to blend. In another bowl, combine the half-egg, oil and sugar and whisk to mix well, then stir the chopped dates into this mixture. Add half of the egg mixture and half of the pumpkin puree to the dry ingredients and stir well until blended. Repeat and stir again, checking the bottom of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Stir in the nuts.

Bake and cool the cookies: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading and leveling it. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

Glaze the cookies: While the cookies cool (they should be sightly warm when you add the glaze) sift 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar into 1 tablespoon lemon juice and whisk until blended. Add more sugar and/or lemon juice, a little at a time, until glaze thickens to a molasses-like consistency. Drizzle glaze over the uncut slab of cookies when it is slightly warm and still in the pan, then cool completely. 

Cut, save, or store the cookies: Use the foil handles to remove the slab of cookies from the pan, cut it into squares and serve or store, covered well, in the fridge for 5 days.

Editor’s note: This is a variation of a recipe from “The Best American Recipes 2004-2005.”


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