It's been a while since we've baked together. The last thing that we made together was this risotto the summer before last. And before that, the last time we actually baked something, I think it was these petite fours, the spring break during our freshmen year of college.
You don't realize, sometimes, how quickly it all seems to go by. It's been over two years now since we were in high school together, when we could hang out and bake during the weekends, whenever we wanted. Two years and a thousand miles is a lot.
Anyways, we decided to go apple picking when we finally got the chance to meet up this summer. I drove ("Is this where I turn right? Where do I turn right??") as Monica gave me directions off her phone. We talked about high school, and food (duh), and weird boys at Northwestern.
It was nice, just the two of us, trundling along tiny, two-lane State Road 32, driving past all the cornfields. ("Wait! You have to turn here!! Oh my God, why are you going so fast?") We picked weirdly named apples (nothing recognizable seemed to be in season), took selfies by a cornfield, and screamed bloody murder at all the bees.
Monica and I had Facebook messaged back and forth about what we wanted to bake (we have very different tastes when it comes to dessert). We were going to make something with all those apples we got, but then we got went into the little farm store and found a jar of pumpkin butter. It was just like its apple counterpart, sweet and spicy and sort of like pumpkin pie filling.
One of the things that had been on our baking to-do list was Nanaimo bars. If you haven't heard of them before, they're a Canadian dessert feature a graham cracker/coconut/chocolate crust, a thick layer of vanilla buttercream, and a chocolate topping. And so, pumpkin butter in hand, we decided to give a fall twist to the Nanaimo bar. Ours have a graham cracker / pecan / cinnamon crust, a pumpkin pastry cream filling, and chocolate topping.
I think we can both agree that we've grown a lot in our baking and photography skills, but it's still surprising to really see it in the kitchen, as we baked together for the first time in over a year. (Well, and Monica just rolled her eyes at my blithe disregard for directions.) We're both a lot more confident in what we're doing, yet also more willing to accept that things may go wrong.
And so, pumpkin Nanaimo bars, brought to you by a Pass the Cocoa joint baking session.
-Caroline & Monica
Pumpkin Nanaimo Bars
Click here for the printable recipe.
Yields: 16 bars
For Zee Crust
1 cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
½ cup shredded coconut
1 cup pecans, toasted
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
For the Pumpkin Pastry Cream Filling
½ cup milk
⅔ cup pumpkin butter (see notes)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
3 egg yolks
¼ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
For the Chocolate Topping
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons milk
For the Crust
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor for 2-3 minutes, or until they become fine crumbs.
Press the crumbs onto the bottom of a greased and foil-lined 8x8 pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
For the Pumpkin Pastry Cream
Heat the milk, pumpkin butter, and spices in a saucepan over medium heat until just below boiling.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisk constantly. Return mixture to the pot and cook over low heat until boiling, whisking constantly. Let boil for 2-3 minutes.
Whisk in the vanilla extract and butter. Spread over the crust. Let cool, then refrigerate for about 6 hours or overnight, until firm.
For Chocolate Topping
Heat the chocolate, butter and milk in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water until smooth and combined. Spread over the pumpkin layer.
Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or until the chocolate is set. Cut the square into bars with a sharp knife, wiping the knife clean after each cut.
Pumpkin puree can be substituted for pumpkin butter. Add ⅓ cup of light brown sugar in addition to the granulated sugar, and an additional 2 tablespoons milk.