Cookie of the Month: Prioritizing pumpkin for ‘brownies’

[D]espite my misgivings about all things pumpkin spice (which is mainly due to its too-earliness, if anything), I know that a little pumpkin — and its accompanying spice — can conjure up something delicious.

Sometimes, on the way to one thing, another is discovered. This was the case for my recent Kansas Country Living column on autumn drinks (which included a PSL recipe). In my search for info on coffeehouse favorites, I ran across a cookbook that not only offered a delicious array of drink recipes, but also a distracting plethora of baked goods, including one for Rebecca’s Pumpkin Brownies, bars made with canned pumpkin and topped off with (yes!) cream cheese frosting.

I’ve had such bars in the past. In fact there are tons of recipes for them. But I could not resist the name (hee). And I liked the look of the simple recipe.The recipe was really a bit too much for what I wanted to make, however. If I had done the full amount, it would have resulted in three 8- or 9-inch square pans. I decided to cut the recipe in half and bake it in a 13-by-9-inch pan.

First, the dry ingredients are combined — sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, LOTS of cinnamon and salt.

To this, a generous amount of vegetable oil is added…with oil as the fat in these brownies, they would be extra moist.

I decided to stir these up by hand (the directions called for an electric mixer), so the dry ingredients took a bit of whisking with the oil to make a crumbly mixture but get all the dry ingredients somewhat moistened.

Once the canned pumpkin and beaten eggs were added (I also added some vanilla extract), the mixture evolved into a creamy batter.

I spread the lush batter evenly into a pan lined with parchment paper and coated with cooking spray.

The bars baked into a cavelike vision, beautifully pumpkin-hued and heady with cinnamon.

While I waiting for them to cool, I did something I rarely do — I made frosting! I’m not a big frosting fan, not on everything anyway, but plush pumpkin bars/brownies, deserved a decadent (but easy) icing of cream cheese.

And something else special. For years I had wanted to try to make little skeletons I had seen online made of marshmallows and white coated pretzels. Since these brownies would be for a little Halloween tea I was having, making these into sugar skull skeletons would add a little festive to their fall nature.

I also added some fun with Halloween sprinkles that I bedecked the bars’ frosting and then added the skeletons.

The brownies added a playful, almost centerpiece status to the tea table. But the smell of the pumpkin, cinnamon and cream cheese was too much for me to resist for too long.

One bite into the soft, tender moistness that was part cake and part brownie, full of pumpkin flavor and just enough spice with the added creamy and tangy frosting, these were such a treat for Halloween or throughout the fall. From one Rebecca to another, this is one pumpkin recipe that deserves a place at the table.

Rebecca’s Pumpkin Brownies

Adapted from recipe by Rebecca Lamonte from “The Kansas City Coffeehouse Cookbook” by Jane Berkowitz (Two Lane Press, Inc.; 1996)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. aking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • Cream Cheese Frosting (below)

Heat oven to 325°. Blend together the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking Oda, cinnamon and salt. Add oil and beat with an electric mixer unfil dry ingredients are moistened. Add pumpkin and mix again until well-blended. Add vanilla and eggs and blend for 1 minute longer (do not over mix). Turn into slightly greased, paper-lined 13-by-9-inch cake pan. Smooth batter out in pan with spatulas so brownies will be level when baked. Bake for 30 minutes. When cooled, ice with cream cheese frosting. 

Makes 16 to 20

Cream Cheese Frosting

Using an electric mixer, combine 1 pound confectioners sugar, 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/2 cup softened butter. Beat until fluffy and smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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