If you’re craving that classic pumpkin dessert flavor without the fuss of DIY pie dough, you’re going to love this recipe for Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting! Moist, cake-like pumpkin squares are topped with a generous layer of creamy, sweet-and-tangy frosting and a sprinkling of crunchy pecans.
Table of Contents
We’re jumping into fall with a tried and tested recipe that’s been in my family’s dessert rotation for more than a decade: Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting. Whether you call these sliceable sweets Pumpkin Bars or Pumpkin Sheet Cake, one thing is certain: It’s hard to beat the pairing of pumpkin and tangy cream cheese frosting.
This recipe originally appeared in a 1976 issue of Better Homes and Gardens under the title of “Paul’s Pumpkin Bars.” But year-after-year as trays of the bars were served up at my family functions, we adapted the dessert to be our own by spicing it up with plenty of ground cloves and ginger.
If you’re craving that classic pumpkin dessert flavor but don’t want to go the extra mile for DIY pie dough, this is the autumnal sweet for you. Chopped toasted pecans add a bit of nutty crunch in each bite while swirls of tangy cream cheese frosting complement the spiciness of the pumpkin cake batter.
Best of all, if these pumpkin bars are part of your holiday menu (when oven space is scarce and time is even more scarce), feel free to prep them a day in advance, keeping the bars and frosting separate, then assemble them before serving.
Additional chopped toasted pecans and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice or ground cinnamon are a final festive touch to this guaranteed crowd-pleaser of a sweet.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Uses a whole can of pumpkin. It’s not only delicious but it’s rich in vitamins A, K, and fiber, so you can feel good serving this dessert to your family. Plus lots of pumpkin flavor makes the best pumpkin bars!
- Perfectly spiced. They’re similar to the popular Taste of Home pumpkin bars, but my family really likes the complexity of the spice blend and the addition of pecans in this recipe — and I think you will, too!
- Yields a dozen bars. You make this recipe on a rimmed baking sheet, so one recipe makes a dozen generously sized bars.
- Fast and easy. You can make this dessert in less than an hour.
- Flour: The recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour. For a gluten-free version, you could use Cup4Cup Multipurpose Flour or your favorite gluten-free flour.
- Leavening agents: Both baking powder and baking soda are used in these pumpkin squares to ensure that they come out fluffy and not too dense.
- Spice blend: That ubiquitous pumpkin spice really is just a blend of spices you probably have on hand. This recipe DIYs everyone’s favorite flavor with a mix of ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
- Eggs: There are four eggs in this recipe, which helps ensure it comes out super-moist.
- Pumpkin: Don’t you hate it when a recipe calls for only part of a can of pumpkin? Just like with my recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, this recipe uses up the whole can. Make sure you’re using canned pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling.
- Sugar: Use granulated white sugar to add just enough sweetness. Powdered sugar is used in the cream cheese frosting recipe.
- Vegetable oil: Oil helps keep the cake moist. You can use any neutral oil, such as canola or avocado oil.
- Pecans: A cup of chopped pecans is stirred into the batter and sprinkled on the frosting to add crunch. If someone in your household is allergic to nuts, you can omit them.
- Cream cheese: A block of cream cheese is used to make the cream cheese frosting. I prefer the full-fat version for this recipe. Make sure it’s softened for the creamiest frosting.
- Butter: Use unsalted butter for the frosting. Be sure to soften the butter, so your frosting will come out smooth and creamy.
- Vanilla extract: When it comes to vanilla, a little goes a long way and adds richness and complexity to the frosting.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
You can make these pumpkin pecan bars in about an hour, including cooling time for the cake.
- Preheat the oven. Make sure the oven rack is in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350˚F. Combine the dry ingredients. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
- Mix the wet ingredients. Add the eggs, pumpkin, sugar and oil to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them together until completely combined.
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Gradually increase the mixer speed until the ingredients are well blended. Add half of the chopped pecans to the batter and mix just until combined.
- Spread onto a cookie sheet. Pour the batter onto an ungreased 15x10x1” rimmed cookie sheet and use a spatula to spread it evenly.
- Bake. Bake the bars for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the bars cool while you prepare the frosting.
- Make the frosting. Wash the stand mixer bowl and paddle attachment, then combine the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Beat the ingredients together until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese mixer until creamy and well combined.
- Frost the bars. When the bars are cool, spread the frosting evenly over the bars. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the bars, slice and serve.
- Toast nuts for better flavor: Toasting the nuts will bring out their flavor. Add the nuts to a small saute pan over low heat. Cook them, stirring frequently, until they’re fragrant. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!
- Spread like a pro: Use an offset metal spatula to spread the cream cheese frosting evenly over the bars. Put a large dollop of frosting in the center of the pan, and gradually spread it to the edges, trying to always keep a layer of frosting between the spatula and the cake so you don’t scrape up crumbs. Moving the spatula in a wavy pattern will help create luscious swirls.
- Cut cleanly: Keep a damp paper towel handy as you cut the squares. After each cut, wipe the knife with the paper towel. You’ll get a neater, mess-free cut.
How to Make the Best Cream Cheese Frosting
To make the best cream cheese frosting, it’s essential to start with room-temperature ingredients. I like to take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge about an hour ahead of time. The butter should indent easily when pressed but shouldn’t show signs of melting. Starting with soft butter and cream cheese will ensure there are no lumps in the frosting.
Sifting the powdered sugar is another step that’s worth the effort if you’re striving for perfectly smooth, creamy frosting. Don’t have a sifter? Use a fine mesh colander set over a bowl instead.
When you add the powdered sugar to the butter and cream cheese mixture in the stand mixer bowl, be sure your mixer is on the lowest possible speed so the powdered sugar won’t scatter everywhere and make a mess. Once it’s all mixed in, gradually increase the speed and beat until it’s light and fluffy.
Store the bars right in the pan in the refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. They’ll keep for up to five days.
If you’re making the bars ahead of time, make the bars and the frosting separately. Store the bars, covered and at room temperature, and store the frosting in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. Let the frosting sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to soften before frosting. If it’s very stiff, you may need to mix it for a moment or two with a hand mixer or stand mixer to make it more spreadable.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve made fresh pumpkin purée, I’m impressed! And absolutely, you can use it in this recipe! I find that fresh pumpkin is sometimes more watery than the canned variety, so if that’s the case with yours, you can drain it for a moment in a fine mesh sieve. You’ll need about two cups of fresh pumpkin in place of the can.
Covered and refrigerated, pumpkin bars will keep up to five days.
Because it contains cream cheese, which is perishable, cream cheese frosting definitely can spoil if it’s not kept in the fridge. This is one treat you don’t want to leave sitting out overnight. However, these bars will be fine if kept out at room temperature for up to two hours.
- Easy Pumpkin Bundt Cake
- Pumpkin Dip with Pie Fries
- Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies
- Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Pumpkin Pie Biscotti
Craving more? Subscribe to Just a Taste to get new recipes, meal plans and a newsletter delivered straight to your inbox! And stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
For the bars:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 large eggs
- 1 (16-oz.) can pumpkin
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted , divided
For the frosting:
- 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Make the pumpkin bars:
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Set it aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, pumpkin, sugar and oil.
- Add the flour mixture to the stand mixer and mix well then add 2/3 cup of the chopped pecans.
- Spread the mix into an ungreased 15x10x1″ cookie sheet. Bake the pumpkin bars for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Remove the bars from the oven and let them cool completely while you prepare the frosting.
Make the frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla.
- Gradually add the sifted powder sugar to the cream cheese mixture until well-combined.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled bars and sprinkle with the remaining ⅓ cup chopped pecans. Slice and serve.
- To toast the nuts, add the nuts to a small saute pan over low heat. Cook them, stirring frequently, until they’re fragrant. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!
- Use an offset metal spatula to spread the cream cheese frosting evenly over the pumpkin bars. Put a large dollop of frosting in the center of the pan, and gradually spread it to the edges, trying to always keep a layer of frosting between the spatula and the cake so you don’t scrape up crumbs. Moving the spatula in a wavy pattern will help create luscious swirls.
- For cleaner cuts, keep a damp paper towel handy as you cut the pumpkin squares. After each cut, wipe the knife with the paper towel. You’ll get a neater, mess-free cut.
- ★ Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!
This post may contain affiliate links.