Dark Pumpkin Squares with Maple Frosting and Pepita Crunch

These pumpkin squares were made on a whim. I wanted to bring something over to the in-laws for a laid back Sunday afternoon but didn't want to go grocery shopping. Oh how I love thee, lazy Sundays. Per a quick survey of the cupboard, there was just enough of sugar and pumpkin to pull off this basic recipe with a few minor revisions.

Traditionally, I make this recipe with granulated sugar and vegetable oil. To switch things up and go easy on the sweetness, I halved the original amount of sugar and substituted the difference with coconut palm sugar. You can technically replace regular sugar with an equal portion of coconut palm sugar, but know that there is a subtle flavor difference so the recipe will taste different.

The jury is still out in regards to the health benefits of coconut palm sugar- it has been marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional sweeteners because it possesses nutrients. That doesn't mean it is to be abused as a miracle food. At the end of the day, it is still sugar and should be treated as such. I like to bake with it for the earthy flavor and density that it provides.

Instead of using vegetable oil, I went with the healthier alternative of apple sauce. It has nutrients and fiber that vegetable oil lacks and cuts calories without sacrificing flavor. Note, there is a subtle flavor added when using apple sauce in baked goods but in this case it's a welcome addition. Love to all the tastes of fall baked goods!

The original frosting was a simple cream cheese base with a pinch of cinnamon. Again, I tried to find healthier alternatives and went with Greek cream cheese. This is a new contender in our humble kitchen! I stumbled upon it while reading the nutritional labels of all the variations of cream cheese in the grocery store. It had the least amount of fat and the benefit of a little protein kick. With a kiss of maple syrup whipped into the mix, it has won my respect as a substitute for traditional cream cheese. 

The final modification was the pepita (pumpkin seed) crunch topping. All you need to do is mix pumpkin seeds with egg white, a sprinkle of sugar, and bake until a beautiful golden brown. It helps to provide texture to an otherwise super moist cake as well as add dimension.

The husband and I are divided on this component; he doesn't like pumpkin seeds but I love any toasted nut. My side of the story is anything toasted immediately creates a distinct flavor. He stuck his guns though and said, "leave that off my slice" as I shoved fistfuls in my face. To each their own.

Drizzle a touch of maple syrup on the final product and serve! It's moist, subtle, and lovely. It's not super duper pumpkin tasting but it has the look and spirit of fall. This cake was a hit with the fam and I hope that you like it too.

Dark Pumpkin Squares

Pepita Crunch Topping (optional)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin
4 ournces unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Set oven to 350 and grease a 8x8 baking pan. I like adding a sliver of parchment paper for easy removal from the pan.

With an electric mixer, blend sugar and eggs for about 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin and apple sauce and beat on a low speed until fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and mix for another minute, until combined.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Maple Greek Cream Cheese Frosting
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Beat Greek cream cheese with butter until well combined and smooth. Add confections sugar a quarter cup at a time. Finish with maple syrup and beat until smooth. Store in fridge until needed.

Tres Leches Cake Battle: Cook's Country vs. Joy the Baker

What started as a cake turned into a battle royale in our humble kitchen. The plan was simple: make a friend's favorite cake in the whole wide world, Tres Leches, for her birthday! Easy enough!

As I researched recipes, it slowly dawned upon me that I had no clue what Tres Leches tastes like. Sure I had it once in the past but it apparently had left no impression. My palette was a clean slate. Scrolling through images and recipes, the task of making this birthday cake transformed into a slight dilemma. Which recipe to pick? Is that authentic? With or without frosting? Usually this sort of thing wouldn't be an issue but the birthday girl previously LIVED in Costa Rica and knew her Latin desserts.

In the throws of my indecision, I jumped on Joy's the Baker's rendition (pictured above to the left). The end result confused me because even though it was a "cake," it looked extremely similar to a Portuguese dessert called aletria which is made of vermicelli. I took a bite of the cake sans soaking in the evaporated/condensed/coconut milk concoction and found it dense. The base's sole purpose is to be the canvas. Fortunately, Joy's addition of rum and cardamom to the glaze help give dimension and flavor. Without these elements- I'm not sure this would be a very appealing dessert.

The next day, I pulled out the big guns: America's Test Kitchen. They really should give me a dollar for every time they're mentioned on this blog because they're my holy grail of recipes. Watching the video from Cook's Country (an affiliation of America's Test Kitchen) on how to make Tres Leches had me scrambling back to the grocery store- the cake looked so good that I just had to make it. 

{ Unfortunately, the video is no longer available on YouTube and requires a small payment if you want to watch the tutorial; it's not necessary but it is helpful }

And so, I took another crack at making a Tres Leches Cake (pictured above on left). The Cook's Country version was fluffy, light, and soft. It made the entire house smell heavenly and the crust was a warm golden brown. Topped with a light whipped cream, it is a lovely cake and melts in your mouth like a cloud. You can finish it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon or a drizzle of dulche de leche. Swoon! In the end, the birthday girl was pleased as punch with her cake. 

The winner of the Tres Leches Battle, in my opinion, was clear:

Cook's Country Tres Leches Cake!

These two version of the same recipe could not have tasted more different- it's like comparing apples to oranges. See for yourself which version that you prefer! For the recipes, check out Cook's Country and Joy the Baker!

Baking Bootcamp: Apple Pie Biscuits

Recently, Joy the Baker and King Arthur Flour paired up to host a "Baking Bootcamp" contest. It was a raffle for some great prizes so I figured oh-what-the-heck. All you had to do was bake the recipe provided, take pictures, and post them to instagram. The winner was selected at random and alas, I was not said person. 

Oh well.

It gave me and a girlfriend an excuse (as if that's really necessary) to bake together on a beautiful Saturday afternoon as well as the opportunity to make a nice sweet treat to share with family. Life is good, homies! 

In terms of the actual recipe, these are easy to bake biscuits loaded with apple-cinnamon-sugar flavor. The filling is apples finely sliced and warmed in a skillet with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. They're not the sloppy, gooey type you eat on the side at a barbeque. These are warmed through to let the flavor distribute evenly and make the apples slightly tender.

The actual biscuit is standard issue and I think any buttermilk biscuit recipe would work so don't feel pressured to color between the lines. If you have an awesome buttermilk biscuit, stick to your guns or try something new- it's up to you! I will say, that these are light, fluffy, and mild in order to provide a neutral base for the apple filling. These are not the super buttery biscuits you grab at holidays.

Roll out the dough, cover half in apples, fold like a big calzone, and make a solid brick of dough. Don't worry about each slice looking even and perfect- it's simply not going to happen! There are slivers of apple begging to poke out from the seams. Meh. We'll stick with the adjective "rustic" and feel a little more hipster. 

Brush each individual roll with egg wash and a sprinkle of mixed sugar, cinnamon, and salt. You can easily halve the amount of granulated sugar for this part of the recipe

These biscuits are surprisingly light and seemed to magically float away from the baking sheet and into people's plates. Make them if you're looking to switch things up at brunch or want to put those end of season apples to creative use.

For the recipe, check out Joy the Baker's post for Apple Pie Biscuits! Stay tuned to her blog for upcoming Baking Bootcamp competitions.