GM’s Family Favorite Pumpkin Bars

You can thank my oldest if you like this shot- I would never take food outside and put leaves near it if she didn’t criticize my early attempts at food photography- hopefully doing that was a good thing- I’m still not completely sure.

Jump to the InstaRecipe if you’re in a rush and/or don’t want any Dad Advice! 

November 11, 2021.  Dear Kids– We start our journey towards another Thanksgiving with an easy recipe that’s perfect to bring to any Thanksgiving Table or to make anytime during the Pumpkin Spice Season. These bars have been a favorite for you kids and your cousins ever since the first time GM made them for you when you were all oh so little!

GM’s Family Favorite Pumpkin Bars are also good anytime you’re craving carrot cake and might not have the time for that.  I like them just as much- actually upon further reflection I like them better- than a carrot cake.  Why you ask?  Less fuss, fewer pans and easier clean up! Need I say more? If I do, then- they also offer a streamlined list of ingredients that spares you the trouble of gathering and paying for walnuts, raisins and a multitude of rarely used spices; a subtle and not overpowering hint of warm seasonal spice; a safer fruit (a harmless can of pumpkin vs. often bloody box grated carrots); and a better cake to frosting ratio, which is even more rewarding when dealing with one of the best frostings out there- sweet and sour cream cheese frosting.

One last note before you get to baking, GM always makes this recipe in a 15”x10” sheet pan, but I’m guessing you may not have this in your Young Adult Kitchen.  No worries though- if you go to The Lecture, I give you the ratio of ingredients to make this recipe in the ubiquitous 13”x9” Pyrex pan found in almost every kitchen so it will keep the proper bar thickness (about half the thickness of cake) in the smaller 13”x9” pan or you can just use this recipe in a 13”x9” pan and call it “Pumpkin Cake”.

Diet:  Vegetarian

Prep Time: 20  minutes

Cook Time:  30 minutes

Servings: 9-12 bars or more, depending on how you cut them


Wet Bowl

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 can (15 ounces) unsweetened pumpkin

Dry Bowl

  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Fun Bowl

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into four chunks and softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • roasted and salted pumpkin seeds, optional garnish


Play “1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins, and get to smashing up that canned pumpkin.  

1. First Things First.  Preheat oven, with a middle rack set up, to 350°.

2. Wet Bowl.  Add all the Wet Bowl Ingredients to a medium bowl and mix completely with a spatula or an electric mixer if you want to go on a power trip.

3. Dry Bowl.  Add all Dry Bowl Ingredients to a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.  

4.  Hey Batter, Batter Bowl.  Fold or mix blended Wet Ingredients into whisked Dry Ingredients until thoroughly combined into a smooth batter.  Pour and smooth into a 15”x10” rimmed baking sheet. Bake on middle rack until a toothpick inserted halfway into bars comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes.

5. Fun Bowl. When ready to frost, add Fun Bowl Ingredients to a large bowl to mix completely into a smooth frosting with an electric hand or standing mixer.  Beware of the “Powder Sugar Dust Bowl Storm”, a naturally occurring phenomenon that results from a powerful mixer in a bowl with a lot of powdered sugar.  The lowest speed on the electric hand mixer I used for this recipe was too high, so I used a large spatula to press the sugar into the other ingredients so it wasn’t powdery anymore- then I brought in the big guns (mixer) to finish the job.  You can make frosting ahead, but store it, covered, in refrigerator and bring to room temperature when needed to frost. 

6. Raising The Bar.  Remove pumpkin bar sheet from oven and place on a rack to cool completely- a few hours. When completely cool, use a knife to loosen the sides of bar sheet baked onto the pan and carefully turn out (you may want to ease middle of the bars free from pan with a spatula) onto a cutting board or inverted sheet pan large enough to accomodate bar sheet. Support middle of bar sheet and flip so smooth, cooked top faces up. Evenly frost bar sheet and, if you like a little crunch and hit of salt with your sweet, garnish all or some of the bars with pumpkins seeds. Cut into serving rectangles, squares or any other fun shape and set out on a platter.  Store leftovers in a single layer, refrigerated in a covered container.   

Did you noticed the Fun Bowl changed colors- from pink to blue-? I also scored the sheet for bars before icing, but the frosting covered the scored pattern and I couldn’t see it when it came time to cut the sheet into bars- rookie mistake.


13” x 9” Pyrex Pan Conversion.  If you only have a 13″x9″ pan, follow the above recipe but use the following amounts of ingredients. Wet Bowl:  3 large eggs, 1-1/4 cups sugar, 3/4 cup canola oil and 11 ounces unsweetened canned pumpkin.  Dry Bowl:  1.5 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour, 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Fun Bowl I’d use the same frosting recipe for the 15”x10” pan because, duh, extra frosting!  But, if you insist: 6 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons softened butter and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Perfect bar thickness!

Why Didn’t You Tell Me to Grease My Pan?  I didn’t tell you to grease your pan because you don’t need to with this recipe- I know, surprise bonus! Any time you don’t have to go through the trouble of greasing, flouring and/or using parchment to cover a baking pan is a good time. Still, don’t forget to cool the bar sheet completely, loosen the sides of the bar sheet from the pan with a spatula or knife and support the bar sheet to release it from the pan and onto the frosting/cutting surface so you have no trouble popping out those pumpkins bars for a much easier frosting and cutting experience.

Make Ahead.  You can make these a few days ahead, but the frosting or frosted bars need to be covered and stored in the refrigerator. Frosted bars should be packed in a container in a single layer or stacked with waxed or parchment paper in between the layers- which is still messy business if you ask me.  Another strategy for making ahead or if you know you’ll have double layer leftovers, is to leave the cake unfrosted and covered on the counter, up to a few days, with the covered frosting in the fridge, and frost and cut the bars when you are ready to serve and eat.

Carrot Cake Vibes.  If you want an easy version of “carrot” cake, just stack your rectangles to make two layers, add toasted walnuts and/or raisins in between the layers and on top for each serving- I think only a rabbit could tell that there were no carrots used in the making of this “cake”. Also, if you’re using raisins, I would “plump” them up by simmering 1 part raisins with 2 parts liquid (ie. 1/4 cup raisins in 1/2 cup liquid). Use any liquid you like- water (although, it “ez zee enimee of flavour!), juice, rum, etc and simmer if for about 5 minutes with the raisins and let steep for another 5, draining off any excess liquid before using.

Grate a bit of carrot on top to further the illusion. Similar to the illusion of reindeer visitors created by some parents who scattered carrot tops in the backyard for their kids to find on Christmas morning- not that I ever did anything like that!

The Pumpkin Spice Dad Mini Rant.  Your Auntie N loves her some pumpkin spice, as do many others in the family, but I have a hard time committing to such a darling of the media and corporate world that want to pumpkin spice everything in the fall.  What exactly is pumpkin spice I would often wonder at the dawn of this craze- pumpkin itself is certainly not spicy, so what gives?  Apparently, pumpkin spice is a spice blend traditionally used in pumpkin pie that contains many or all of the following spices in varying degrees- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice- and perhaps a signature spice or two, like eye of newt or cardamom. Of the “pumpkin spices”, only cinnamon appears in this recipe, but if you find yourself on the Pumpkin Spice bandwagon, which may even make sense since these are pumpkin bars, feel free to swap the cinnamon out for for an equal amount of a prepared Pumpkin Spice Blend. If you have a luxury spice drawer, you could even make your own Pumpkin Spice to sub in as well by mixing up 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

On the other hand, the “Get Rich Quick Dad” part of me wonders if I could cash in on this seasonal spice addiction for other seasons and, with the added bonus of actually having the the named seasonal spice in the mix. So, for winter, how about “Figgy Pudding Spice”, a mix of dehydrated and ground figs, brown sugar, dried citrus zest and cinnamon; for the spring, why not Strawberry Spice, a mix of dehydrated and ground strawberries, dried basil and lemon zest; and, for the Summer, what about Sweet Tea Spice, a mix of black tea, sugar, dried mint and dried lemon zest?

© 2021 All rights reserved.  Dad’s Dinner Diary

One thought on “GM’s Family Favorite Pumpkin Bars

  1. It’s definitely got to come out better if you play the Smashing Pumpkins while baking. Can’t wait to test this out. I recognize those dishes. Amazing photography.


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