Unlike most people, I actually kind of enjoyed the meal plan food I ate in college. Not everything was a slam dunk but a good 90% of it was better than just ‘edible’ and there are some things I’m still kind of nostalgic for. In terms of desserts, there were two winners. One was what we affectionately called ‘unidentifiable fruit pie’ because, while delicious, it was impossible to tell whether the fruit was apples or peaches and it was never labeled more than ‘Fruit pie, no nuts.’ I have no real wish to recreate that but what I do miss is the pumpkin squares.
The dining hall had a fairly strong commitment to buying local produce whenever possible which in upstate New York meant a lot of winter vegetables, including pumpkin. So from September until April, almost the entire school year, there were often squares of pumpkin cake freckled with chocolate chips. They were lightly spiced and somewhere between a brownie and cake in texture. In other words hard to resist.
When it comes to pumpkin baked goods there are two basic categories. There are the things that are in-your-face pumpkin when the pumpkin flavor takes center stage, like pumpkin pie, which I love. But this is more in the second camp of baked goods that are lightly pumpkin, sort of like banana bread is banana-y. It’s certainly a prominent flavor but it’s not the only taste you get. These are pumpkin-y but also spicy and chocolate-y and gooey and soft.
Before you make these, let me share a key piece of information with you about butter in baking. You know how recipes always say the butter should be room temperature? It’s not true. Sure room temperature butter is easier to beat with a hand mixer but if you have an electric mixer or a stand mixer it really doesn’t matter. It might take a little longer to mix but it has no effect on the overall recipe. So just leave the butter in the fridge until you need it, no problem.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
1 stick (8 tbs) butter
¾ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 can (15 oz) canned pumpkin
1 cup plus 2 tbs flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp each ground ginger, grated nutmeg, and ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bag (12.5? 16? oz) chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 13 by 9 baking sheet and set it aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl for an electric beater, add the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat for 5-7 minutes on medium speed or until the ingredients are well incorporated and have lightened in color (which means it’s aerated). When the butter and sugar are well combined, add the eggs one at a time until well combined. Then add the pumpkin and mix until combined. Don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl to combine everything well.
In a medium bowl combine 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Combine the dry ingredients and then turn the mixer speed to low. Add the dry goods in three batches to the wet ingredients and beat until just combined. When there are still a few patches of the flour on the edges of the bowl, stop mixing.
In a small bowl combine the chocolate chips with the remaining 2 tbs of flour and toss to coat the chips evenly.*Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the chips into the batter and until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 30 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. The squares are done when a toothpick comes out clean and the edges are slightly darker brown. Let them cool completely and then cut them into squares – you can get 24 medium size or about 40 bite size ones.
* Coating the chocolate chips with flour really does help them to be more evenly spaced throughout the bars and prevents them from all sinking to the bottom.