Who doesn’t like bacon? (I respectfully decline to acknowledge any “official” who says bacon is bad for you.) Like salt, bacon’s smokey flavor can bring out the best in sweet dishes. It’s that combination of sweet and salty that makes desserts like this one so delicious. It’s an unexpected yumminess (Is that a word? If not, it should be.) I just had to share this recipe for Pumpkin Bacon Bars with Caramel Frosting. The bars smell heavenly of pumpkin and fall spices as they bake. And the caramel frosting, a variation of Italian buttercream, is so good that you can just lick it off your fingers.
As a cooking instructor for 12 years, I always teach that it’s not just about the recipe: it’s about the techniques and tips that you learn. So I always include tips to enhance each recipe experience. So grab a cup of latte or if you were me, a glass of sweet iced tea, and join me for a cooking class. Let’s pretend you are sitting at my kitchen island and we’re talking about how to make this amazing dessert.
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The Process ~ The Cake
TIP: Always gather all your ingredients first. Then measure, chop, toast, dice, shred, whatever the instructions indicate. This is called mise en place; it means everything in its place in French. We do not argue with the French when it comes to kitchen organization; they invented it. Mise en place will make your cooking/baking go more smoothly and efficiently.
TIP: Measure all your dry ingredients together in one bowl.
TIP: Do not walk away from the cooktop when you are toasting nuts. They burn easily. (Don’t ask me how many times I’ve burned pine nuts and those little babies are expensive.) I use a non-stick skillet. You don’t add oil to toast nuts. They have their own. Toast until you start to smell the aroma of the nuts, then remove from the skillet.
TIP: Before you dice bacon, place the amount you need in the freezer for 15 ~ 30 minutes. Dicing will be so much easier. Then you can cook the bacon in a skillet until just crisp (I use my Le Creuset skillets as often as I can.). Drain on paper towels and set aside. Save the drippings; you’ll need them for the batter.
TIP: I always line bar or brownie recipes pans with foil. Obviously, that keeps your pan a bit cleaner, but it is so much easier to lift the bars/brownies out of the pan and you don’t lose any corners.
Combine all your wet ingredients.
After whisking the dry ingredients, add the toasted pecans. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and fold until combined. Pour into your prepared pan and spread evenly.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22 ~ 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove baking pan to a wire rack to cook completely.
The Process ~ Caramel Frosting
TIP: Gently whisk or swirl the pan with the sugar, water, and salt. Be careful. Cooking sugar gets very hot.
Add the heavy cream in slowly. Then add the diced butter.
TIP: Before dicing the butter and cream cheese, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes. It will make the dicing so much easier.
TIP: The mixture is very hot and will bubble up. No kids allowed anywhere near the stove.
Remove the caramel mixture to a standing mixer. (I have had a Kitchen Aid mixer for years and I absolutely love it.) The mixer bowl will become hot. Whisk on high until the bowl cools and the caramel looks like below.
Now add your diced cream cheese, one cube at a time.
You can now take a little lick. I was right, wasn’t I? Heavenly.
Your pumpkin bars should be cool by now.
TIP: Use the extra foil to carefully lift out the pumpkin bars (It’s actually like a cake right now.) Wasn’t that easy?
Pull the foil away from the pumpkin bars.
TIP: Use a large off-set spatula to spread the frosting evenly on top of the bars. Some will drip over the edges, but I try to just frost the top. You will have about a cup of frosting left over. Save it in the fridge for spreading on muffins, toast, pumpkin bread, or bribe your kids with it.
The Process ~ Garnishing the Pumpkin Cake
Finely dice the cooked bacon. You’ll also need some sea salt.
Sprinkle the bacon and sea salt all over the top of the pumpkin bars.
TIP: Place the pumpkin bars on an upside down sheet pan or flat surface and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to set the bars and frosting. I use a very sharp knife to cut them into 24 bars, 3 across and 8 down.
- FOR THE BARS:
- 8 ounces bacon, cubed
- 2 cups all~purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups pumpkin purée
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup chopped pecans, toasted
- FOR THE FROSTING:
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 pinch salt
- sea salt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1~inch cubes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch X 13-inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
- Cook bacon in a sauté pan over medium~heat until crisp; drain on paper towels and set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings.
- Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Whisk together pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, egg, melted butter, bacon drippings and vanilla extract in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in flour mixture and pecans and combine thoroughly.
- Spread the pumpkin cake batter evenly into the prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.
- FOR THE FROSTING:
- Boil 2 cups brown sugar, water and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan over high heat for 5 minutes, swirling occasionally to prevent scorching. Whisk in cream and butter cubes. (Mixture will bubble furiously; keep whisking.) Boil 2 minutes more.
- Transfer caramel to the bowl of a stand mixer; whip on high speed until sides of bowl are cool to the touch and caramel is thick, 10 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add cubes of cream cheese, 1 cube at a time, until frosting is smooth.
- Frost the cooled cake.
- Sprinkle the cooked bacon onto the frosted bars and then sprinkle with sea salt. Use a serrated knife to cut the cake into bars.
There you have it. Absolutely delicious. Serve for dessert or sneak a piece for breakfast. Share it. Enjoy Pumpkin Bacon Bars with Caramel Frosting. Make it for a party or a potluck dinner. Have it with coffee or tea. Sneak a piece before bedtime. I won’t tell.