I have exactly one memory of baking cookies with my mother, and it’s from my teenage years. We did lots of other things together – leisurely mother-daughter shopping trips, scrapbooking workshops – but baking wasn’t one of them. My family didn’t make a big deal out of dessert (though my siblings might have done things differently if it had been up to them). Suffice it to say that there weren’t any cookie jars on our kitchen counter.
But one November day about 15 years ago, my then-2-year-old brother came home from nursery school with a recipe sheet in his tiny backpack. The recipe was for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and my mother decided to give it a try.
Not surprisingly, she made a few adaptations to make this dessert more health-conscious: swapping out the all-purpose flour for whole wheat, using honey instead of sugar, and opting for organic chocolate chips (the standard in our house). She also made them as bars instead of cookies, which was a logical choice given that honey makes this batter considerably softer.
But we all loved them. And a family tradition was born.
Year after year, for as long as I can remember, my mother made trays of pumpkin chocolate chip bars in the fall, often doubling the batches in an effort to get them to last longer than a day or two.
When my sister was 14, she started making them throughout the year, adding a splash of (organic) caramel or hazelnut syrup, depending on what was in the cabinets. She often slid a second tray into the oven while my brothers finished off the first one (I might have helped a little).
Five years ago, they even began to make a regular appearance at my Grandpa’s Shabbos morning kiddush in Miami. Every week for the last 25 years, he’s been a regular at the local hashkama minyan. Grandpa leaves the house at 7:00 a.m., returns around 9:15, and makes kiddush at home (unless it’s Shabbos Mevarchim, in which case kiddush is held in shul). For many years, his standard kiddush fare was a handful of (store-bought) chocolate chip cookies.
When Grandma died in 2007, my mother and her siblings worked together to make Grandpa’s newfound household tasks easier to handle. To help with the cooking, my mother flew to Florida with copious amounts of frozen homemade kugel and pumpkin chocolate chip bars. She chose the bars as a treat for his Shabbos morning kiddushim.
My aunt organized the full-size freezer in my grandparents’ house and taped an inventory of its contents to the door. The bars froze (and traveled) well, and Grandpa gave them a hearty thumbs-up.
It was actually he who coined the name “pumpies,” alluding to the fact that they’re similar to brownies, just with a pumpkin base. The name later morphed into “pumpkies,” which is what we all call them today.
American pumpkies use canned pumpkin, but when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the canned version is not a viable option. (This still cracks me up. Has it really never occurred to Israeli food manufacturers to produce canned pumpkin? You don’t have to participate in Thanksgiving to bake with the stuff.)
Fortunately, though, fresh pumpkin is readily available in Israeli supermarkets, and it’s certainly simple enough to make a pumpkin puree. Just chop it up, boil for twenty minutes or until soft, and mash. I make this puree in large quantities and freeze it in half-cup portions so I have it at the ready for cooking and baking. Intimidated? Don’t be. Besides, fresh ingredients are always, always better.
As you enjoy the season’s bounty this fall, give your family their first taste of pumpkies. The batter comes together quickly, they’re a more wholesome option than traditional brownies, and they can be tweaked to fit individual preferences.
Try making half the batter with just chocolate chips for the kids, and the other half with raisins or nuts for the adults. For a cake-like consistency, replace the sugar with an equal amount of honey. (If you prefer a more fudgey texture, stick with the sugar as directed.)
Pumpkies make a great on-the-go breakfast, after-school snack, or dessert. But beware: You might find yourself with a new family tradition.
Yield: 9-12 pumpkies (recipe doubles easily)
- Cooking spray
- 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
- ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
- ½ cup canola oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp milk (or soy milk)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- ¾ cup chocolate chips, plus a few for the top
- ⅓ cup raisins or chopped pecans (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C. Lightly grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with cooking spray and press a sheet of parchment paper firmly inside, leaving a few inches of paper hanging over the sides of the dish.
2. In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, and milk with a hand mixer.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips (and raisins or nuts, if using).
4. Scoop batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle a few extra chocolate chips over the top.
5. Bake 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out chocolatey but otherwise clean. Lift the entire “cake” out of the hot dish by grasping the sides of the parchment paper. Cool completely and cut into 9-12 smaller squares. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Pumpkies also freeze well.