Baking

High Country Baking: Pumpkin Squares

It is important to use soft and pliable dates when making these pumpkin squares.
Vera Dawson/High Country Baking

Fall captured in a cookie is what these bars are. Warm spices, sweet dates and crunchy nuts presented on a pumpkin base make this a perfect fall treat. The interplay between these flavors, brightened up with a lemon glaze and paired with a chewy, almost chewy texture, is well balanced and appealing. Their allure is subtle, bringing you back for one more bite, time and time again.

It is important to use soft and flexible dates. I prefer buying whole dates and chopping them rather than buying the pre-chopped ones. To speed up the chopping process, I cut the dates into wedges, put them in a food processor, add a tablespoon or two of the flour needed for the recipe to the bowl to prevent them from sticking to the blade, then pulse until well chopped. If you try this, be sure to add both the dates and any flour that has been processed with them to the batter.

They are good the day of cooking and best a day or two after, when the flavors have had time to marry.



Pumpkin Squares

Adjusted for altitudes of 7,000 feet and above

Bake in an 8 x 8 inch shiny metal baking dish



Cookies

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

A little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 large egg (break the egg into a cup; beat lightly, measure 1 1/2-2 tablespoons, that’s half an egg)

1/2 cup rapeseed oil

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

4 ounces (just under 3/4 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 icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Line pan with nonstick or plain foil, extending several inches beyond two opposite sides to use as handles when removing baked cookie sheet. If using regular aluminum foil, grease it thoroughly with cooking spray containing flour. If using nonstick, grease all exposed parts of the pan.

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

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

Frost the cookies: While the cookies are cooling (they should be slightly warm when you add the frosting), sift 1/4 cup icing sugar into 1 tbsp lemon juice and whisk until well blended. Add more sugar and/or lemon juice, a little at a time, until the glaze thickens to a molasses-like consistency. Pour frosting onto uncut cookie sheet when slightly warm and still in pan, then cool completely.

Cut, save or store cookies: Use foil handles to remove cookie sheet from pan, cut into squares and serve or store, tightly covered, in refrigerator for 5 days.

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