My youngest son & me

My youngest son & me

About me

My name is Tanja (Sater) Miller and I'm excited about sharing my journey of converting my favorite recipes to gluten free! I am not a fancy cook - I prefer just a casual, fun meal. I am married with grown children (and have small grandchildren) & 3 dogs. I work full time as a registered nurse & I am a geek. Yes, I love Star Trek, Star Wars, Fringe, Firefly, Farscape and most of the other Scify shows. You will probably see a little of my geek side come out once in a while! Please join me on my journey of cooking, baking & converting every day recipes into yummy gluten free meals that everyone can enjoy (not just those with a gluten allergy!) Don't be shy about checking out my recipes....I have the gluten free version along with the regular recipe that I adapted from!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pumpkin Pie Bars (Gluten Free)

Pumpkin Pie Bars are great anytime of year....not just for Thanksgiving! This recipe is something I came up with many years ago to take to a potluck when I had limited ingredients in my cupboard and a sick kid at home so the option of running to the store was not there. I love this recipe because it is very flexible with substitutions and always turns out great. One thing I learned from my mom is that sometimes you need to make do with what you have in your cupboards. We lived about 20 minutes from the closest town growing up and in the winter with bad weather it just wasn't feasible to go to the store for one ingredient. Use what you have!

In this instance, I did not have enough flour to make the pie crust so I dug through my recipes and came up with an oat bar recipe and used it for my crust with a few modifications. Another time I made these, I was short on flour and oats but I had graham cracker crumbs and nuts. Each time the recipe turned out great. Keep in mind with modifications, the flavor and texture might be slightly different but this particular recipe is VERY FORGIVING! I personally prefer using real butter but I do have some friends and family that are dairy free so I have used butter flavored Crisco (Vegetable shortening) and once I even used lard which I know is not heard of much these days. Every time it turned out just perfect! (Avoid using reduced fat margarines because they contain too much water and will leave you with a soggy crust. Make sure it contains at least 65% or more fat!)

I love this recipe because they taste even better a couple of days later after the flavors have had time to mingle but just keep them in the refrigerator. Pumpkin Pie Bars are easier for the holidays than making most other desserts because you can make them a few days ahead and take the last minute holiday stress out of baking desserts! These also freeze great so make a double batch and freeze them in individual freezer bags for lunches or desserts for a later date! I love grab and go desserts! I like to have "emergency" desserts in the freezer that my grand-daughter and I can have for last minute snacks!

I have a very old, very worn hand written recipe book for some of my favorite recipes from long ago (pre-computer days!) and I hand write little notes next to the recipe for substitutions that worked. That way years down the road, I can whip out the book and check to see what I have done in the past. I also sometimes do this with my good cookbooks so I know in the future if it the recipe was good or not. Cooking is an art and something that must be cultivated.

Most of my recipes were originally "normal" recipes and I have converted them to gluten free so if you don't have a gluten allergy then you certainly can substitute REGULAR FLOUR in place of gluten free flour. Regular flour is easier to work is not as particular as the gluten free flours so substituting it is not the problem. However, sometimes trying to substitute gluten free flour for the regular flour....does not always turn out well! There are times I will play with a recipe for days or even years to get it perfect. It is trial and error. Any recipe that I put on here are recipes I personally tried, tasted and approved!

Pumpkin Pie Bars Recipe:
  • 1 1/2 cup gluten free flour* (You can use regular flour if you don't have a gluten allergy). I always try to use at least 1/2 cup of gluten free flour but I have also substituted the any of the following ingredients (or a combination of the following) to get me the 1 1/2 cup total measurement: gluten free graham cracker or vanilla wafer crumbs, finely ground almonds (also called almond flour), finely ground oats (it should have a flour texture when you are done grinding the oats in blender).
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I have substituted regular granulated sugar and it worked fine!)
  • 3/4 cup real butter (You can substitute Crisco vegetable shortening, lard or margarine as long as it contains at least 65% fat. The reduced fat margarines contain too much water and it won't make a nice crust!)
  • 1 1/4 cup Oats (I use Trader Joes Gluten free oats most of the time but I honestly have used Quaker brand without any issues). 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts or almonds, optional (I like the nutty flavor this adds to the crust & topping but if there are nut allergies or you don't have nuts on hand, you can leave them out. You can also add up to 1/2 cup more if you like extra nuts! If I am not adding the nuts, I add an extra 1/2 cup oats so I get the same measurement for my crust. 
  • 1 pkg. (8oz.) cream cheese, optional (This makes the pumpkin filling have a silky texture but if you have a dairy allergy you can certainly leave it out and it will still be great! I have made this recipe with and without the cream cheese).
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (do not use the pumpkin pie mix). If you can't find canned pumpkin you can substitute 16 oz of peeled cooked & mashed cold sweet potato instead. Sweet potato will give you a similar flavor and texture of pumpkin. 
  • 1 tbs. pumpkin pie spice (This gives the pumpkin filling a richer flavor but if you don't have it on hand you can substitute cinnamon. You can add a little more if you like extra spice flavor).
Line a 9"x13" pan with foil with extra hanging over the edges so you can easily lift it out after it is done baking. Grease the foil with butter or non-stick cooking spray. Mix the flour (or the ingredient(s) you are substituting for the flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar (save the rest for the filling) and the room temperature butter. You can cut the butter in small chunks if it is cold and work it in that way but I find it easier when the butter is slightly soft but not melted. Stir in the oats and nuts if you are adding them. It should look like a coarse crumb mixture. RESERVE 1 CUP OF CRUMB MIXTURE for the topping and press the remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of the 9x13" greased foil lined pan. Press it tightly into the corners and bottom so it forms a crust and not loose crumbs. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven (I use the middle oven rack) for 15 minutes then remove from oven but leave your oven on. 

My chopped walnuts that I added for the crust (they are optional)

My crumb crust & topping mixture

The crust after it is baked
While the crust is baking, I mix the filling: Beat the pumpkin, cream cheese (if you are using it), remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, and pumpkin pie spice or ground cinnamon. Pour over warm crust. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs evenly over the pumpkin filling. You will have areas of the pumpkin filling showing through which is normal. This is only a crumb topping and not a crust on top! If you are a nut lover you can add additional chopped nuts to the topping (I generally do not). Bake 25 minutes in the pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cool completely before serving.

Pumpkin filling

Pumpkin filling spread onto the warm bars before adding the topic

Pumpkin bars
Cutting into squares

Ready to eat! Where is my Star Wars Coffee mug full of coffee?

Ready to serve up on a plate to take to my friend

The pumpkin pie bars will slice and serves best when chilled in the refrigerator. They actually tastes BEST a couple days after it is baked because the flavors have had a chance to mingle. These can be made up to 5 days before a big event and I like to freeze any left overs (okay, there are rarely any left overs so I usually just make a double batch!). I like to freeze in individual serving slices in freezer bags for a quick dessert. Okay, sometimes on my days off work I will poke in the freezer and sneak a sweet treat for breakfast with my coffee! Now that we are "empty nesters" I don't have to set a good example for kids. I can eat sweets for breakfast on occasion! 

This is the perfect dessert for any holiday or potluck because you can make it when you have time and put it in the refrigerator for a few days so you don't have the last minute hassle and mess in the kitchen. If you are like me, I always have a ton of last minute things to do before the holidays and having a dirty kitchen from baking is something I don't like! These are beautiful if you cut them into squares or triangles (cut them into squares and then half them diagonal to get them in triangle shapes) on a glass or crystal platter or tiered cookie plate. These make a great hostess gift too! (You can even make it easy on yourself and put them in a cookie tin or holiday container in your refrigerator so you can grab & go last minute! Canned pumpkin is available pretty much year around now in the USA so don't just make these for Thanksgiving! These could be your "signature" dessert bar! Be creative! Customize them!

Who says you have to make them pumpkin flavored? Yeah, that's right! You can easily leave out the pumpkin and make them cheesecake bars instead or add a different pie filling. Like I said before...this is a fantastic recipe that you can easily adapt to use your favorite fillings or use what you have in your cupboard. 

Please feel free to leave any comments, suggestions or substitutions that you have tried. We all learn from each other and sharing tips and suggestions is very helpful! Please don't be afraid to ask me questions! I am not a professional chef or writer so if my descriptions or instructions are not clear to you, please ask for clarifications! 

Enjoy your pumpkin season!

Gluten Free Casually