Pumpkin Pie Espresso Bars

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but from the sheer amount of holiday commercials on television and Christmas music on the radio, you may guess it to be mid-December. My family is hosting the Thanksgiving celebration this year, as we have done many years before. My mother is already rushing around to get groceries, keep the house clean, and find enough space to seat twenty people for dinner. It can be a tight fit, but we figure it can't hurt to bring the family close together (both literally and figuratively).

Food and family go hand-in-hand. In many ways, it is a defining feature of our holidays to truly help them feel like a special moment in time.

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has always held the very same routines for me. As family begins to arrive and the food slowly begins to be spread out on the table, I hover over the vegetable tray trying to steal half of the black olives without anyone noticing, starving from a lack of breakfast (Needless to say, someone always notices and I continue to sneak olives despite it). Once everyone has arrived, we say grace and dig in, always eating much more than we should.

The chorus of content, but slightly uncomfortable voices after dinner confirms this fate.

As the dishes are cleared, the televisions are quickly tuned to football games and everyone settles in for a lazy, sleepy afternoon. Without fail, someone in the family manages to fall asleep with his or her mouth hanging open, snoring softly, while the rest of the family gathers to laugh quietly and take embarrassing video footage (I desperately hope it's not my turn this year). In late afternoon, after the sun has set and the food coma is beginning to wear off, the leftovers from lunch are spread out on the tables and the second meal of the day indulgently begins before we part ways for the evening.

While my family never quite expresses our gratitude for one another out loud, it can be felt in the room. It is as real and perceptible as the scent of turkey in the air.

I've been struggling to come up with a Thanksgiving dessert menu this year, but this recipe has easily made the short list of possible contenders. These bars are a twist on the traditional pumpkin pie. The crust is made from oatmeal and almonds, providing a strong contrast in texture to the smooth pumpkin filling. The filling is spiced with the classic spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, but I added a tablespoon of espresso powder which lends a subtle, but harmonizing flavor to the finished product. Topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon, these bars are truly something special for the holiday season.

Note: This recipe may be doubled to fit a 9 x 13-inch pan.

One Year Ago: Cranberry Orange Brioche Rolls and Cranberry Sauce
Two Years Ago: 30 Second Sangria and Raspberry Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Pumpkin Pie Espresso Bars

Oatmeal Almond Crust
5 tablespoons (70 grams) butter, room temperature
1/3 cup (66 grams) brown sugar
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) old fashioned oats
1/3 cup (40 grams) sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper and grease.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour, oats, almonds, spices, and salt. Press the dough into the prepared pan.

Pumpkin Pie Espresso Filling
15 ounces (1 can or 425 grams) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup (66 grams) brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon espresso powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream

In another large bowl, beat together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Mix in the espresso powder, spices and salt. Stir in the heavy cream.

Pour pumpkin filling over the crust in the pan, smooth the top, and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan and allow the bars to cool completely to room temperature before cutting the bars into 2-inch squares and using a spatula to remove them from the pan (the first one will be difficult to remove cleanly, so take care). Serve warm or cold with a side of whipped cream.