pumpkin and burnt sugar shortbread bars

Pumpkin and Burnt Sugar Shortbread Bars
Makes 25 small squares

Inspired by these bars from Joe Pastry

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) pure pumpkin purée*
1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (4 grams) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon (7 ml) vanilla
3 eggs

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups (187 grams) flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 cup (63 grams) raw pecan halves, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 grams) butter, cold and cut into pieces

For the burnt sugar base:
3/4 cup (142 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water

Caramel-making requires a bit of planning so prepare everything before you begin: Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8 x 8 pan then line with two sheets of overlapping parchment and set aside. Measure out the milk and set aside. Whisk together pumpkin, sugar, spices and vanilla in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together eggs in a small bowl and set aside. Have a wire cooling rack at the ready.

Make the crust: In a medium bowl whisk together flour, powdered sugar, finely chopped pecans, and salt. Add the butter and use your fingers to rub the cubes into the flour mixture until a dough begins to form and the mixture holds together when pressed. You can also pulse together the flour, powdered sugar, whole pecans halves and salt in a food processor until the nuts are finely chopped, then add the butter and pulse until combined. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. It may be a little crumbly but don’t fret, it will hold together. Bake the crust for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking make the filling: Combine the sugar and water in a large, heavy pot and tilt the pan until the sugar is wet. Heat the mixture over medium high heat, swirling occasionally. It will begin to bubble. Keep a close eye and swirl the pan often. It will begin to turn an amber color then quickly start to deepen. When you get to this point turn down the heat and remove the pan from the flame, grab a whisk, and prepare for the sputtering ahead!

Add a splash of the milk to the burnt sugar. It will sputter and splatter so be careful. Quickly whisk to combine then – continuing to whisk constantly – add the rest of the milk to the caramel. Return the pan to a medium low heat and whisk in the pumpkin mixture until smooth and stir until it has thickened slightly.

With one hand re-whisk the eggs and with the other, slowly pour a small amount of the warm pumpkin mixture into the eggs. This is called tempering and prevents the custard from turning to scrambled eggs. Add the tempered egg/pumpkin mixture back to pot and whisk until the filling is smooth and well-combined or about 2 minutes.

Bring it all together and assemble the bars: Somewhere along here your timer should have gone off to alert you about the crust, and it is just hanging out and cooling on the rack. Pour the filling over the warm crust and return to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the middle no longer jiggles. Let cool completely before removing from the pan, then slice and serve. Serve at chilled or at room-temperature, preferably with a dollop of bourbon whipped cream. Store bars in the refrigerator for several days.