YAY! It’s pumpkin season! Can you tell that I am just a little bit excited? I hope so! When I moved to Italy a few years ago, one of the things I realized I really missed while living in a tropical climate was experiencing the change of seasons and all of the delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables that go along with it. I love the coziness of Fall, the changing colors of the leaves, apple cider, comfy sweaters, boots, the crunching of leaves under foot, and of course anything to do with pumpkin.
I have been dreaming of everything pumpkin…pies, breads, soups, ravioli…now that we are in height pumpkin season or is it squash season? I recently learned that pumpkins are technically a type of squash. What’s even more shocking is that I also learned that squash is actually considered a fruit and not a vegetable. Potayto, potahto, tomayto, tomahto… pumpkin, squash, fruit, vegetable, whatever you chose to call it, it makes for some delicious dishes both savory and sweet.
Many of the varieties of squash that you find today in Italy are thanks to Christopher Columbus, who brought seeds back from his trips to the Americas. Although you can find squash in the southern part of Italy, dishes with pumpkin and squash are much more prolific in the north between the regions of Piedmont all the way to Veneto along the river Po as the type of soil here seems to be perfect for growing squash.
While you can find sweet dessert recipes with pumpkin in Italy, many more of the dishes are savory like pumpkin filled ravioli or pumpkin risotto. Because I have Thanksgiving on my brain, I have been trying to figure out what to serve for my pumpkin dessert. You see, it has become a sort of tradition amongst our Italian friends that, me, as the token American in the group, puts on a traditional Thanksgiving celebration.
A couple of years ago for our Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to combine my two favorite desserts, cheesecake and pumpkin pie and I made a pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving instead of a traditional pumpkin pie. It was super delicious, but really time consuming. I made the foolish mistake of starting to make it the night before Thanksgiving at 10:00 pm forgetting the small little fact that you have to leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door cracked for at least 3 hours then cooling it completely to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. So I was up at 3:00 am taking the flipping cheesecake out of the oven silently cursing myself that this was the last time I am hosting Thanksgiving for 25 Italians who were expecting a traditional American Thanksgiving! We did end up having a fantastic time, even though I was operating on a short few hours of asleep. Wonders what a little Prosecco does!
So, I got to thinking. Why not make a pumpkin cheesecake bar…which is infinitely easier and faster to make and, in my opinion, even tastier. I have come to find out that if you make it the day before, even two days before it has an even richer flavor which is definitely helpful to me since I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year in an Italian style kitchen…aka…small oven and little counter space!
I have made these bars a couple of times to bring with me to potluck dinners and they are always the first to go. I took my inspiration for these bars from a recipe on the blog site: www.cakescottage.com, but have added a few of my own tweaks.
For the crust, instead of the traditional graham cracker crust, I like to use Biscoff biscuits. These delectably crunchy, caramelized cookies come from Lembeke, a small village in Belgium. The founders, the Boone brothers, opened their first bakery in 1932. Once these cookies were packaged, the brothers would drive around town in their trademark red truck to deliver their sweet biscuits door to door. You can find these biscuits in the U.S. pretty easily these days. From what I understand Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart, Safeway, CVS, Right Aid and Cost Plus World Market all carry them. If you can’t find them, you can certainly use graham crackers, digestive biscuits or what ever kind of dry, sweet crumbly cookie you can get your hands on or prefer.
Since it is next to impossible to find canned pumpkin puree here in Italy, I make my own. I was initially put off by the task of making it, but I have learned that it, in fact, it is super easy. I have found that using butternut squash lends a sweeter and smoother puree especially if you roast it in the oven. All you have to do is cut the squash in half, rub a little vegetable oil on the flesh, put it flesh side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes. Let it cool, peel the skin off and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. That’s it!
Finally, I like to make the crumb topping while the crust is baking and stick the bowl of crumble in the fridge to make the butter cold again. That way, when you put it on top of the filling before popping it in the oven to bake, it gets even more crunchy. If you want to, you can add chopped nuts (pecans or hazelnuts would be my nuts of choice, but you could certainly use any nut you like) to the crumble topping.
I dare you to try to just eat one! 😉
- For the crust:
- 2½ cups (375 grams) Biscoff biscuits (finely ground)
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) melted butter
- For the pumpkin cheesecake filling:
- 16 ounces (500 grams) cream cheese (room temperature)
- ⅓ cup (80 grams) plain Greek yogurt
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1½ cups (340 grams) pumpkin puree
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla
- 1½ teaspoons (7½ grams) ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon (2½ grams) ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon (2½ grams) ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
- For the streusel topping:
- ¼ cup (50 grams) brown sugar
- ½ cup (60 grams) flour
- 4 tablespoons (50 grams) cold butter cut into pieces
- Preheat the oven to 175 Celsius
- Line a 13 x 9 ( glass pan (32.5 cm x 22.5 cm) with parchment paper. I like to butter the pan before putting the parchment paper down as it helps the paper stick better.
- In a food processor, pulverize the biscuits until they have the consistency of sand. You can also put the biscuits into a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin to grind them up. Put the crushed biscuits into a bowl and add the melted butter. Stir to incorporate. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until it begins to brown lightly. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack while you make the filling.
- To make the filling, either in a standing mixer or hand held mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat again until well combined.
- Add the pumpkin puree, eggs, vanilla, salt and spices and beat until well incorporated. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the bowl and beat again in order to make sure all of the cream cheese mixture is well incorporated.
- Pour the mixture onto the cookie crust.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour and brown sugar together. Cut in the cold butter pieces until well combined. It will have a crumbly consistency. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the cheesecake mixture.
- Bake at 350 F (175 Celsius) for 40 to 50 minutes or until the center is just set and when you insert a toothpick it comes out mostly clean.
- Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely (1 or 2 hours) then refrigerate until well chilled.
- I find that it these bars taste better if they are refrigerated over night. The bars can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.