This easy pumpkin bar recipe is the perfect autumn-inspired dessert. Baked into a thin, tender cake, then covered with a delicious cream cheese frosting. It makes a large tray, great for parties!
Table of Contents
When pumpkins arrive at the market, I know it’s time for some fall baking! This recipe for pumpkin bars has just two simple components. A pumpkin spice cake and tangy cream cheese frosting. It makes a large batch of bars ideal for entertaining holiday guests.
I’ve taken my classic pumpkin cake and adjusted the recipe to give a denser crumb that’s easy to pick up or enjoy with a fork. The cake is still moist and tender, just not as tall and fluffy. A thin layer of frosting is spread on top to compliment the sweet squash. A delicious treat to serve with a homemade pumpkin spice latte!
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour for a tender yet sturdy crumb. It contains 10 to 13% protein, the right amount for a dense bar.
- Spices & Seasonings: I use my homemade pumpkin pie spice mix. It combines cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and cloves. Salt enhances the flavor of the bars. Vanilla extract intensifies the baked aromas.
- Leavening Agents: Use a smaller amount of baking soda and baking powder to give rise to the cake without becoming too high, targeting 3/4″ thick bars.
- Sugar: A combination of granulated sugar and dark brown sugar adds a rich molasses flavor.
- Oil: Use neutral-flavored vegetable oil to ensure a moist crumb. Avocado oil or melted coconut oil works well as substitutes.
- Pumpkin: Use 15 ounces of canned pumpkin puree for convenience. Alternatively, make homemade pumpkin puree; you’ll need 1 ½ cups. Don’t use pumpkin pie filling, as it already contains sweeteners and spices.
- Eggs: Help to bind the cake together, add richness from the yolks, and some lift.
- Frosting: I use my cream cheese frosting recipe. The tangy flavor complements the sweet spice cake. You can double the recipe for a thicker topping, but I’ve found a thin layer is just the right amount.
Mix the dry ingredients
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together, then mix with a whisk. This ensures that the baking soda and baking powder are evenly distributed for even rise. Sifting also helps to break up any clumps of flour.
Mix the wet ingredients
You don’t need a stand mixer to make these pumpkin bars. All you need is a whisk and bowls. I briefly mix the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Just enough to make it smooth. A denser cake is desired, so don’t whip too much air into the eggs. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk until just incorporated.
Make the batter
Once the wet ingredients are combined, pour them into the flour mixture. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones. The goal is to hydrate the flour, but do not over-mix! The cake will become tough if too much gluten is formed when vigorously stirred. The batter will have a thick consistency.
Bake the bar batter
To make thin bars, I use a rimmed 10- by 15-inch baking pan, which is a half-sheet pan. Alternatively, a jelly roll pan can be used. To make removing the bars easy, add a piece of parchment paper to the pan or grease the pan with cooking spray and lightly dust the surface with flour.
Evenly spread the batter into the pan. It won’t spread much when baking, so try to get the thickness as level as possible. Bake at 350ºF (177ºC) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the cake on a wire rack for about an hour to ensure the frosting doesn’t melt.
Make the frosting
Ensure the butter and cream cheese are just below room temperature for a light and fluffy cream cheese frosting. They should be between 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC) so the fat crystals in the butter can hold air pockets but are malleable enough to whip.
This temperature range makes the cream cheese easy to incorporate, so it’s not clumpy. Whisk the butter and powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar) together until fluffy, then gradually combine the cream cheese. Maple syrup and vanilla are mixed in to boost the taste.
Frost the bars
Once the cake has cooled completely, I find it most straightforward to frost the bars directly in the baking pan. Evenly coat the surface with the cream cheese frosting. Enjoy as is, or sprinkle pumpkin spice sugar on top for extra flavor. Chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts add a nice crunch, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
Slice the bars into generous 2 ½ squares to yield 24 pieces, or cut them smaller for easy-to-grab bites. The bars will be sturdy and firm if chilled before serving. This will become your favorite pumpkin recipe to feed a crowd!
There are various ways to switch up the flavor of pumpkin bars. Try these delicious options:
- Spices: Add cardamom for a floral and sweet flavor. Instead of pumpkin pie spice, use apple pie spice.
- Toppings: Use vanilla buttercream frosting, whipped cream, caramel, or nuts like pecan, walnuts, or toasted coconut. Pepitas complement the pumpkin flavor.
- Fruit: Add warm apple pie filling, pears, berry compote, cranberry sauce, fresh apples, or pomegranates on top.
- Chocolate: Mix in semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips into the batter. Drizzle with chocolate sauce.
Frequently asked questions
The all-purpose flour can be substituted for gluten-free flour. I recommend using Bob’s Redmill 1:1 baking gluten-free flour or King Arthur gluten-free flour. The cake will taste slightly denser.
Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The dairy in the cream cheese frosting must be chilled to avoid spoilage. The bars can be frozen for up to 1 month and defrosted before enjoying.
Difference between pumpkin bars and cake
Pumpkin bars and pumpkin cake use similar ingredients for a flavorful spiced dessert. Bars are thinner and more dense, about 3/4-inch tall. I use fewer eggs and baking powder in the recipe because the whites whip up, adding volume, as does the leavening agent. The compact crumb makes it easier to grab by hand if desired, but I recommend cutting them into smaller pieces. Pumpkin cake is at least 1 ½ to 2 inches tall and requires a plate and fork to enjoy. The crumb is softer and more delicate.
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- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ⅔ cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree, 15 ounces canned
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 65-67ºF (18-19ºC)
- 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to 65-67ºF (18-19ºC)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Heat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC).
- Prepare Baking Pan – Line a 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease with baking spray or vegetable oil and lightly dust with flour to prevent sticking.
- Mix Dry Ingredients – In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Mix Wet Ingredients – In a large bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla until smooth, 1 minute. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined, 15 seconds.
- Make Bar Batter – Fold the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir until no flour streaks and just a few small lumps remain. Do not overmix.
- Bake – Evenly spread the pumpkin cake batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean or the internal temperature reaches 195 to 200ºF (90 to 93ºC), about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack for about 45 to 60 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Mix the Butter and Sugar – In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or hand mixer, beat softened butter and powdered sugar on low speed until just incorporated. Gradually increase the speed to medium, beating the mixture until light and fluffy, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
- Add the Cream Cheese – Add half of the softened cream cheese and beat on medium speed until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add the remainder of the cream cheese and beat until smooth, about 15 to 20 seconds.
- Add Flavorings – Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until the frosting is light and smooth, scraping the bowl as needed, about 30 to 45 seconds.
- Store – Cover and refrigerate the filling if not used right away. The filling should be cool and spreadable, about 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºC).
- Frost the Cake – Leave the cake in the pan. Evenly spread the frosting over the cake. If desired, add toppings. For firmer bars, chill before serving or serve immediately. Refrigerate within 2 hours of sitting at room temperature.
- Make Pumpkin Spice Blend: Mix 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon allspice, and ¼ teaspoon cloves. Measure out 1 tablespoon for the recipe.
- Make Ahead: The cake can be made 1 day ahead, tightly covered, and stored on the counter. The frosting can be made 3 days before, refrigerated, and brought to 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºC)before using, about 30 minutes.
- Storing: Tightly cover the frosted cake and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Freeze for up to 1 month., defrost before serving.
- Pumpkin Spice Topping: Mix 2 tablespoons sugar and ½ teaspoon pumpkin spice mix. Sprinkle on top of the frosting.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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