I have to say that these Cranberry Swirl Pumpkin Bars are just about as perfect a dessert as you can get for Thanksgiving without baking a pie. They’re certainly appropriate for fans of pumpkin, cranberries and cream cheese frosting on other occasions, as well, but they really encompass the spirit of Thanksgiving by using so many favorite foods from that holiday.
The pumpkin bars are made with a pumpkin puree and are loaded up with all the spices you might find in pumpkin pie and some toasted pecans for crunch. Before going into the oven, whole berry cranberry sauce is swirled through the batter. This is not only a great way to use up leftover cranberry sauce (homemade or otherwise), but it adds a nice fresh, tart flavor to the bars. The bars bake up to be incredibly moist and tender. They’re great on their own, but a thin layer of cream cheese frosting takes them over the top and makes them indulgent and addictive.
I like adding pecans or walnuts in this recipe for the crunchy texture that they add, but if you’re really craving cranberries, you can add in an additional half cup of dried cranberries or chopped whole cranberries (fresh or frozen) instead of the nuts to bring out the cranberry flavors even more. You could sprinkle some chopped nuts on top of the frosting, or even put a little lemon or orange zest in with the cream cheese for another layer of flavor. Just thinking about the possibilities makes me want to bake another batch – and I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding people to share it with me.
Cranberry Swirl Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
2/3 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
Cream Cheese Frosting
3-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
1-2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and melted butter until well combined. Beat in egg, all of the spices and the vanilla extract. Stir in pumpkin puree, then stir in the flour mixture. When all of the flour has been incorporated, fold in the chopped pecans.
Spread batter into prepared pan. Dollop cranberry sauce on top and swirl through gently with a butter knife.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bars comes out clean.
Cool bars completely before frosting.
To make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese at medium speed. Beat in vanilla and milk, then gradually add in in the confectioners’ sugar until frosting reaches a thick, but spreadable consistency.
Spread in a thin layer over cooled bars (there may be frosting leftover; if so, store in the fridge in a ziploc bag for another batch).
Makes 24 bars