Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Crunch Bars

You should never poison your friends. This is axiomatic. But sometimes, you know, it's just really hard not to.

Today's challenge: gluten free. I am not gluten-intolerant, but these were made for a dear friend who cannot eat gluten. At all. Ever. Seriously, do you have any idea how difficult this is? I didn't and probably still don't. Gluten is everywhere. Sort of like air, only most of us can (and do) routinely inhale air without the terror of imminent death. The idea of having to carefully scrutinize every label may not be so bad (some of us are compulsive label readers already), but imagine not being able to eat at any restaurant ever again. Yeah, that's what I thought. Me neither.

I was so preoccupied with being clever with this dessert that it completely escaped my notice that, while the pumpkin bars would not kill her, the marinated sun-dried tomatoes I also fed her just might, as the Italian dressing they were soaking in was loaded with MSG. The moral of the story? Eat dessert first. That way, even if your friends are trying to poison you with the entrée, you will be too full to eat any of it.

Crust, filling, crumb:  Ready to assemble and bake.
What You Need
  • 200 g (1¼ cups) gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 75 g (¾ cup) almond meal
  • 110 g (½ cup, packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 175 g (6oz, or 1½ sticks) cold butter
  • 75 g pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 25 g crystallized ginger, finely chopped
  • 120 g (4oz, ½ brick) cream cheese, room temp
  • 200 g (1 cup, about ½ can) pumpkin puree
  • 100 g (⅓ cup) raw, unfiltered honey
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

What You Do
  1. Make sure that your measuring utensils are clean. Seriously, don't pull the scoop out of the whole wheat flour canister and use it to start measuring the gluten-free flour.
  2. Prepare an 8x8 baking pan with a foil sling: two pieces of foil, perpendicular to each other, with about 2 inches above each edge of the pan, so you can lift the entire cookie out in one piece. Lightly spray the foil with nonstick spray. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Combine the flours, sugar, and spices in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse several times to combine.
  4. Add the cold butter (cut into about 1 TBS sized chunks). Pulse about 10 times (about 2 second pulses) until the crumbs are moist (like wet sand, not dry sand), and slightly smaller than garden peas. You want to pulse about two times past the point where you would stop if this was a shortbread recipe, but you have to stop before the entire mass comes together as a ball of dough.
  5. Reserve about 1½ cups of crumbs. Press the remaining crumbs into the bottom of the pan, and bake the crust for about 10-15 minutes until lightly golden.
  6. While the crust bakes, add the pecans and candied ginger to the remaining crumbs.
  7. Beat the cream cheese until soft, then mix in the pumpkin, honey, and cinnamon until smooth and uniform.
  8. When the crust comes out of the oven, cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the pumpkin filling over the crust, then sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top.
  9. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until the topping looks nicely golden brown. Cool in the pan for about 15-20 minutes before attempting to use the foil sling to lift the whole cookie from the pan.
No foil sling: The first piece comes out in crumbles.
If you need this to cut cleanly, definitely use a sling.

What You Eat
You will be very tempted to cut the pan into 9 squares. Please examine the information below before following through with that impulse. Because these numbers are calculated for a pan cut into 16 2x2-inch squares. That's right. If you insist on cutting 9 pieces, I am not responsible for the extra 200 calories per bar. Yes, I said per bar. No, that's not a typo. It's also 14 extra grams of fat.

Calories 261 Protein 2.9g Vitamin B6 4.4%
Fat 18g Vitamin A 46% Folate 1.7%
Saturated Fat 7.6g Vitamin C 1.2% Vitamin B12 0.62%
Polyunsaturated Fat 2.1g Calcium 3.5% Pantothenic Acid 2.8%
Monounsaturated Fat 6.5g Iron 3.5% Phosphorus 6.4%
Cholesterol 32mg Vitamin D 2.1% Magnesium 7.0%
Sodium 106mg Vitamin E 8.0% Zinc 3.6%
Potassium 119mg Thiamin 4.2% Copper 7.3%
Carbohydrate 25g Riboflavin 3.8% Selenium 3.9%
Fiber 1.6g Niacin 3.2% Manganese 24%
Sugars 13g
Values are approximate, but based on the USDA database of nutritional information.
They are intended as a guideline only.

What You Learn
Thicker crust, thinner topping? Use your judgement.
  • The crumb texture is important here. It's how you get the crunch. Too few pulses, and you get a sandy shortbread crumb. Too many, and you get cookie dough. You have to pulse past shortbread but not quite all the way to dough.
  • Oh, the spicy deliciousness! I was so in love the curry in last week's pumpkin scones, but I did not want these to have the same flavor profile. Ok, well, I can't lay off the ginger to save my life, but instead of more curry or standard pumpkin pie spice, I used my garam masala. This is not hot, but along with the ginger gives you a bit of a warm finish. If you just used pumpkin pie spice, these would still be awesome.
  • You should have a lot of crumb, enough to very generously cover the filling. I like a lot of crunchy topping. If you like a thicker crust and less topping, then go ahead and use more crumb on the bottom and less on the top. Nothing bad happens.
  • Warm from the oven, this tastes great. But the pumpkin filling will be very soft, making the bars more difficult to cut cleanly. Refrigerated overnight, the crumb stays crunchy, the filling firms up, and the bars cut cleanly. Your bars, your choice.

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