Happy Autumn! Why is there only one week left of October?!? It went by wayyy too fast (but I’m not complaining since that means I’m half way done with the school semester!) Oh how I wish it could be October all the time… anyhow, I’ve finally managed to go a little pumpkin crazy the past few weeks at least, thank goodness. I’ve needed something to balance out my busy studious life. Pumpkin patching, baking, and eating are all enough to make me pretty stoked on just about everything in life. All I need is pumpkin. Seriously.
Or maybe I could just turn into a pumpkin.
That would be really cool.
(I probably will turn into a pumpkin at the rate I’m going…)
My lovely friend Tyler and I went to Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch up highway 1 a few weekends ago and had a pumpkin freak-out. It was awesome. The October issue of Sunset magazine featured this place as one of the best farms to find “offbeat” pumpkins. So of course that sparked an interest. And I got about 5-6 pumpkins and squashes that ended up costing me only $20! Way cheaper than I expected. Maybe it was because I had a little self control (as opposed to the other years I’ve gone). It was pretty darn cool. I just wish some place around here carried cheese pumpkins! I’ve been searching all over for them. But they may just be an east coast squash because of the climate. I’m not sure. More research is needed to be done… supposedly they are the best pumpkins for pies and soups. Maybe I’ll have to resort to buying some seeds perhaps…
As far as the baking and eating goes, this vegan chocolate pumpkin date (fat-free) bundt cake is what started it all off. It was a recipe from the Vegetarian Times cookbook that I’d had dog-eared for quite some time, but I added my own spin on it by using spelt flour (bad idea) and by mixing a little cocoa powder in there for an extra twist. How did it turn out? Not so good. Dry. Flavorless. Boring. But the chocolate sauce made with brown rice syrup and almond extract was quite good! So, needless to say, I won’t be posting the recipe. It’s just a bit disappointing. The words “fat-free” should have been cautionary enough. No oil in vegan baking is just bad, bad, bad. A big no-no. Add to that spelt flour and what you get is yikes! dryness. So yeah, there you have it. If you’re looking for a NON-vegan version of this (what inspired me to make it with the cocoa swirl from the get-go), maybe try out this recipe. I think I’ll go that route next time… it calls for buttermilk and eggs. How can that fail?
So as much as I do love vegan baking, this little experiment turned me off a bit from it. I haven’t given up on it of course, but I suppose it turned me into the complete opposite direction. Like into the direction of eggs. Cream cheese. And BUTTER.
Yes. You heard that right.
That equals out to be these delicious pumpkin cheesecake bars!
I have never made or baked with cream cheese to make any sort of cheesecake before. I’m typically not a cheesecake kind of gal. It is usually sickeningly rich and after the first few bites, I’m over it. But you can give me a piece of pumpkin cheesecake any day and I’ll happily take it off your hands. Who knows what brought on this craving, but I was certainly feeling it one afternoon and I was in the perfect baking mood. And I just so happened to have a block of neufchatel cheese. Only one though, so my cheesecake cake had to be scaled down into bars because typical recipes like this one typically call for four packages or so. I find that a bit unnecessary, especially as it can add up cost-wise pretty quickly! So I made it into bars by using a few various recipes. And they came out amazingly well. Not too rich, just the right amount of creaminess, spiciness, pumpkin and graham cracker goodness. And those little bits on top are crystallized ginger, incase you were wondering. Pretty much is equivalent to the cherry on top. Yes, I’m pretty proud of this one. Just wait. Make it and you’ll understand.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
Makes 8-12 bars, depending on many factors of course… (you may not want to share)
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
zest of one lemon
For the filling:
8 oz. neufchatel cheese, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of cloves and cardamom
Directions for the crust:
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until the crumbs look moistened by the butter.
Press into an 8×8 pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or so until the crumbs look a little browned.
Let cool slightly.
Directions for the filling:
With a handheld mixer, beat together the cheese and sugar on low to medium speed until combined. Add the eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and spices and beat on low until all combined and smooth.
Pour over the crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until set and slightly browned on the edges.
Cool and/or refrigerate and cut into bars (or cut em up with cute cookie cutters!)