Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seasonal Offerings (Pumpkin Chocolate Oat Bars)

Hello, Ladies & Gents!

The weekend before last, when A and I spontaneously decided to go live, I spent a few hours madly scribbling out recipes I'd like to share. I wrote down over 235 of them. Today's recipe, however, is not one of them.

Today, I have a new recipe to tinker with:


These untidy little morsels are packed with flavor and their scent will permeate your home with the delicate perfume of hot, buttery, pumpkin. Can you really deny that? Surrender to the pumpkin!

I found this recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod, which you should absolutely visit, but the recipe actually comes to them courtesy of Martha Stewart. Martha catches no small amount of flack in the greater cultural consciousness, but I regard her somewhat like an old friend. My mother got me started in the kitchen early and always encouraged my adventures. She even sewed me my own apron to wear while I helped out. Together, we'd make all sorts of recipes, especially out of Martha Stewart's magazine and cookbooks.

Cupboard raiding FTW

Even the best laid plans can go astray and, in this case, there was really no plan at all. I wanted to make something and, in what I choose to recognize as a portentious signal from the universe (or perhaps just evidence that I stock up for baking), I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. Since a recipe is like a formula, it's also something easy to borrow and adapt. Using the base formula as a template and varying the math (or the ingredients) lets you change the outcome. These opportunities to play culinary mad scientist are part of the joy of cooking for me, and I hope for you, too. So, check out your odds and ends, chances are you can whip up something pretty tasty.

The joys of modern living

Here's today's experiment: I tossed out the white flour, because I simply don't see the point, and I toned down the sugar, because I can. Unless I'm making traditional Southern-style biscuits or an extra-fancy cake that absolutely needs the lightness, fineness, and milder flavor of white, whole wheat constitutes my "all-purpose" flour. Of course, I'm also a fiend for whole oats, so they share top billing. Together, I think they make the bars not only more healthful, but much more wholesome and satisfying tasting, too.

I didn't have an entire bag of chocolate chips, just a half cup of minis leftover from making cupcakes the week before, but I found a whole Ghiradelli baking bar. Maybe it's not Valrhona or Scharrfen Berger, but it was available in my kitchen. Beggars can't be choosers and I will triple the chocolate in a recipe before I halve it any day.

Not the hero I deserved, but the hero I needed

To finish things out, I'm also just a teensy bit critical about the call for "pumpkin pie spice." I suppose we all have our favorites, but it seems quite inexact to me; pumpkin pie spice is different things to different people. I chose to break it down into individual components. The primary players are freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg, with ground ginger and allspice providing accompaniment for a little more kick. I also upped the overall amount of spices, because I'm a spicy kind of gent. The end result is multi-layered and toothsome, with chewy oats, molten chocolate, and warm, pillowy soft, delicately spiced pumpkin cake scarcely contained within a whisper-thin crust.

Separated at birth?

Pumpkin Chocolate Oat Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

I got my pumpkin from the farmer's market in that the brand of canned pumpkin I used is "Farmer's Market." If you'd like to use fresh pumpkin, be sure to pick a smallish (1-3 lb.) sugar pumpkin, the bigger ones dilute the flavor. Once you peel, steam or roast, and puree, it's ready to go right into the recipe. This month's Real Simple magazine has great instructions for preparing your own squash and pumpkins.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
Scant 1 cup white sugar
1 large egg (my bars were rather fragile, you might want to try 2 for more binding action)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup good dark chocolate, coarsely shattered with a sharp knife

Preheat your oven to 350° and grease a 9x13" baking dish. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, oats, spices, and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined. Add the pumpkin and beat until thoroughly incorporated, the resulting mixture is not pretty, resembling a curdled custard. That's normal. Gently fold the dry ingredient mixture into your pumpkin mixture until just combined (don't overmix), then fold in the chocolate chips and chocolate shards, too.

Big & chunky

Evenly spread the mixture out into your prepared dish and bake on the center rack for 35-40 minutes. When the bars are done, the edges will begin to harden and retract from the sides of the pan, the top will glow a nutty, golden brown, your kitchen will smell like heaven, and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out mostly clean.

It smells too good to resist

Cool completely on a wire rack, then slice and serve. Actually, I did not wait for them to cool completely. While infatiguably edible at room temperature, I think these pumpkin bars are even better warm. The crumb will be loose and friable, but the way the scent wafts in fragrant wisps of steam and the the way the buttery-hot cake melts in your mouth, paired with still-oozing chocolate, is an experience not to be shortchanged.

These bars go through a further transmogrification overnight. When fresh, the flavors will be light, perfumy, and sophisticated. After sitting on the counter overnight (these will keep, tightly covered and stored at room temperature, for 3-5 days) the flavors will develop to be a bit stronger and more pronounced, sort of comfortable and more at home.

Remember to dispose of the evidence


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