These pumpkin bars are very much like cake, but not as sweet or quite as fluffy. I first got the idea from Sweet Pea's Kitchen - Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting, who adapted her recipe from Paula Dean's Pumpkin Bars.
I adjusted the recipe quite a bit more, in an attempt to cut down on some of the fat and calories. My recipe replaces most of the oil with no-sugar-added applesauce, replaces eggs with egg beaters, and uses lite cream cheese and less butter in the frosting. I also added more spices and some brown sugar because some reviews of Paula Dean's recipe said hers were too bland, and I definitely think the added spice was a good idea. I also topped the bars with toasted pecan bits, which I really think takes this up to the next level. The final touch was grinding some cinnamon on top (from Mccormick's cinnamon grinder). I bet baking some chocolate chips or nuts in the bars would be great too.
The first time, I cut this recipe in half and baked it in an 8x8 pan. That provided 12 good sized bars, plenty for every day purposes, but they were a little on the thick size. With the full recipe, I split it between one 8x8 and one 9x13 pan which I think produced a better thickness of bars, since you get more frosting to bar ratio, and they are a little easier to eat when they are thinner. The full recipe made 32 bars (12 for small pan and 20 for large pan).
Healthier Spiced Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting and Toasted Pecans
For the Pumpkin Bar:
2/3 cup egg beaters
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 ounces no sugar added applesauce
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
8-ounce package lite cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2.5-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans (I toast these while the bars are baking for about 6 minutes)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9-inch (and an 8x8 baking pan for thinner bars).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the egg beaters, sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, oil, pumpkin, and vanilla and beat on medium speed until well blended.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and baking soda.
- Hand mix the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Spread the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (check the 8x8 at 20 minutes and the 9x13 at 25 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. I usually cut them after they've sat just a few minutes in the pan and then move them to a cookie sheet, as they cool faster this way.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and butter and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar, and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again.
- Spread the frosting (or pipe it on with a star shaped tip like the bars shown below) on cooled pumpkin bars. Top with toasted pecans and add ground cinnamon if desired.