Callie’s Cabin: Warm up to autumn pumpkin bars

Cal Orey / Special to the Tribune
Spicy pumpkin bars.
Getty Images

December is here. As our snow at lake level melts, it seems like we’re going back into autumn rather than pre-winter. Read: Pumpkin still is in demand.

A few weeks ago, Food Network chefs were making recipes that called for cake mixes. So, I bought one, a spice variety. And it sat in my pantry next to the cans of pumpkin. I waited for the right time. Then, it happened.

This week it came to me. “Pumpkin Bars.” I looked it up in one of my favorite dog-eared cookbooks with 20th century recipes — when the world was fun, sort of. The ‘60s recipe called for flour, oil salt, and sugar, ingredients I didn’t want to use. Why? I recalled a former surrogate mom-type neighbor who created homemade lemon bars. She anticipated decadent and elegant squares to serve. I paid her a visit to view the delicious treats — not easy on the eyes. She used tons of sugar for the curd. They flopped. She cried. And I felt sad.

So, the memory of the buttery lemon goo and broken bits of crusty bars gone wrong was a sign to make a batch of failproof, semi-homemade lighter bars with warming spices for flavor.

Spicy Pumpkin Bars

1 ¾ pumpkin puree

3 eggs

½ cup European style butter (salted)

Spice cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Spice Cake Mix)

1 teaspoon each allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ground, pumpkin spice


3 tablespoons white granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

In a bowl, mix well

1 cup whipped cream cheese

¼ cup butter, softened

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Walnuts or pecans, chopped, (optional) for sprinkling

In a bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, and sugar. Mix with a blender or by hand until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large a bowl, beat pumpkin, eggs, butter. Add cake mix and spices. Spread batter into a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan (I used an 8 x 8 square dish) that has been lined with foil. *Note to self: Get a roll pan for next time. Bake for 23 to 30 minutes (less time with shallow pan) or until firm to touch. Remove from oven. Cool. Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Or spread with cream cheese. Cut into bars. Makes 16 or more.

Note: If you store bars in the fridge or freezer, frost before eating.

The bars are not dense but moist and fluffy. Actually, it can be savored as coffee cake in the morning or dessert at night. I tried one square with cream cheese frosting and it’s oh so good. But I chose to use the cinnamon-sugar topping — pandemic pounds are not on my holiday wish list.

This is an easy to make recipe that will please you and your palate and it works for kids and adults. As we still enjoy chilly days and remnants of late fall, it’s a reminder of autumn bliss on the south shore. Go ahead have a bar (or two) and pair it with a steaming cup of joe or tea.

Cal Orey, M.A. Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, Tea, Superfoods, Essential Oils, Herbs and Spices) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is

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