Golden Bars of Heaven: Pumpkin Streusel Snack Cake

by Victoria Piccione

These days, one is considered “basic” if she (or he) admits to being pumpkin-obsessed. But I would argue that there is nothing basic about pumpkin. If anything, it’s one of the season’s richest flavors. It has an earthy warmth that’s just begging to be paired with chocolate. It adds spice to one’s life and eases the cruel transition out of Daylight Savings Time. And this snack cake or, more fittingly, golden bars of heaven are certainly not basic.


Last year, I made pumpkin bread nearly every three weeks, starting in October and ending in April, not because it was finally no longer winter but because I’d run out of canned pumpkin. I consider this pumpkin bread pretty much unbeatable: it’s the perfect breakfast, perfect afternoon snack, perfect dessert, perfect bedtime treat, and perfect post-exam pity food. But as someone who regularly and genuinely laments that there are far, far more recipes that exist than I can possibly try in a lifetime, I’m always aware of the need to explore new options, and an email from one of my favorite blogs instructed me on exactly where I ought to go adventuring.

When an email titled “Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Streusel Cake” arrives in your inbox, full of mouthwatering, tantalizing photos, you don’t just let it pass. You don’t simply archive it and let it disappear into the depths of cyberspace. You struggle not to lose your head until you try your hand at creating it yourself. Or at least I do. I couldn’t wait. It had started to invade my dreams.
These bars are dense. They are rich. And they are moist. They’re perfectly studded with chocolate chips, and the spices are subtle but balanced. I had some salted caramel sauce on hand from these divine apple crumb bars, so naturally I couldn’t resist adding some to the pumpkin. And inspired by the pumpkin bread that I can never get off my mind, I threw in a handful of butterscotch chips, for they bring pumpkin to the next level, in some inexplicable way.


There’s nothing particularly fancy about the cake. It’s simple, and it’s easy to whip together. While I’d still have no shame in eating a piece for breakfast, there’s definitely something about the cake that’s distinctly more dessert-like. Pumpkin pie can be polarizing – it’s sort of a love-it-or-hate-it food – but these bars fall entirely on the love-it end of the spectrum.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Streusel Cake

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

For the cake:

2 cups flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.

¾ granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree*

1 cup chocolate chips

⅓ cup butterscotch chips

For the streusel:

⅔ cup flour

½ cup brown sugar

½ tsp. cinnamon

6 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

½ cup chocolate chips

Optional: salted caramel sauce

*When I first made this recipe, I didn’t realize it called for 1 cup of pumpkin puree rather than 1 can of pumpkin puree. The bars were still delicious (though a bit wet), but could’ve used some more spice. For a more cake-y consistency, stick to the 1 cup of pumpkin puree. I think that 1 can (which is nearly 2 cups) makes for a tasty, moist bar if you just add a dash more of cinnamon and nutmeg.

1) Preheat oven to 350°F, and butter and grease a 9” x 13” cake pan.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Add the pumpkin puree, reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Evenly spread the batter in the prepared pan.

4) Pour about a half-cup of salted caramel sauce over the batter, swirling it into the batter. Smooth over with a rubber spatula.

5) For the streusel, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips or a fork, add the butter, working it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the cake, then top with chocolate chips and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.

6) Bake in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the sides pull away from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean – there may be some streaks of melted chocolate. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Enjoy – serving with an additional drizzle of salted caramel sauce to be extra indulgent!


Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Bars

By Victoria Piccione ’16

As a native New Englander, the end of September and the whole of October have always had a special place in my heart. As much as I love watching the leaves turn and feeling a bit of a nip in the air – at last, an excuse to don cozy sweaters and curl up in soft blankets! – I think it’s really all of the desserts that make fall my favorite time of the year.


I can’t remember a single year growing up when we didn’t pile into the car in late September for our annual apple picking trip. As kids, we used to eat our weight in apples, but the real treat was always the fresh cider doughnuts that followed. A perk of having two younger siblings is that the childhood activities don’t stop even when you cease to be a kid. So last year, once again I piled into the car with my family, we ate (maybe half) our weight in apples, finished the day with cinnamon sugar cider doughnuts, and left with not one, but two half-bushel bags of freshly picked apples.


During the glory days of living in DeWolfe, baking was a weekly occurrence, so it seemed reasonable to bring back a half-bushel of apples for my own use at school. In the beginning, though, I thought I’d been blinded by ambition. Even after making two different kinds of apple crisps and an apple cobbler, it seemed like I hadn’t even begun to make a dent in the apples. Things were going to have to get creative, so I searched my favorite baking blogs for interesting alternatives to the standard apple pie, apple crisp, and baked apples. And thus began my beautiful love affair with salted caramel apple crumb bars.


I only had to make salted caramel sauce once to become completely obsessed. Chocolate chip cookie bars, buttercream frosting, pumpkin bread, I find an excuse to put caramel on and in everything. In these bars, the cinnamon-y, perfectly sweetened apple filling combined with the buttery crust and crumb topping are divine on their own, but the toasty saltiness of the caramel cuts through the apples and makes for a mouthwatering combination.



Though the recipe has three major steps – making the shortbread-like dough, preparing the apple filling, and making the salted caramel – it’s fairly straightforward, and the shortbread is used for both the crust and the crumble on top. Additionally, store-bought caramel would serve just as well. Preparing the caramel first gives it time to cool and thicken, and then preparing the apples gives them time to soak up all the sugary cinnamon-y goodness. The best part of this recipe? Apples are plentiful in the dining hall year-round, so even if you didn’t go apple picking or even if it’s the middle of February, these delicious salted caramel apple crumb bars are only ever a few dhall apples away!


Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Bars

Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Salted Caramel Sauce

2 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces*

1 cup heavy cream, room temperature*

1 tablespoon fleur de sel or kosher salt

(1) Before starting, make sure all of the ingredients are measured and ready to use so that once the caramel reaches the appropriate stage you can add them without hesitation. *Also, it’s essential that the butter and cream be at room temperature; if they are not, when you add them to the melted sugar, the sugar may harden rapidly into a nearly unusable mess that should be delicious caramel sauce.

(2) Heat the sugar over medium-high heat in the bottom of a heavy (relatively big) saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump; just keep mixing. Once the sugar is melted, stop mixing and swirl the pan vigorously.

(3) Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. Watch the pan closely so that you don’t overcook the caramel. If you have a candy thermometer on hand, cook the caramel until it reaches 350°F.

(4) Once the caramel reaches the right temperature/color, carefully add the butter. I’ll usually add one piece at a time and continue whisking vigorously until it’s fully combined. Just keep whisking. Be aggressive with the whisking.

(5) Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream, whisking as you pour. Whisk until the cream is incorporated and the caramel is smooth. Whisk in the fleur de sel or kosher salt.

(6) Let the caramel sauce cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes.

Note: this recipe makes a lot of caramel sauce! It can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for the next time you make cookie bars or decide to indulge in an ice cream sundae.

For the Apple Filling:

5 cups peeled and diced apples (I use Cortland or Granny Smith)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the Apple Crumb Bars:

(1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

(2) Place the apples in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over the apples and mix until the apples are coated entirely. Set aside.

(3) In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Use your fingertips to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until a few small chunks of butter remain.

(4) In a separate bowl, mix the egg and vanilla together. Add into the flour and butter mixture and stir to combine. The dough will be crumbly and a little dry.

(5) Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the bottom crust.

(6) Generously drizzle salted caramel sauce over the apple filling, at least ¾ cup. Crumble the remaining dough over the apple caramel layer and pat gently.

(7) Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into squares and drizzle salted caramel sauce.

Note: You can also find cinnamon and nutmeg where they keep spices in the dhall!