Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars

Like a pumpkin bar with cream cheese frosting, only better. Seriously.

Does it get any better than this? Soft pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese-- and they're so easy!

I craved a pumpkin bar with cream cheese frosting. It hit me like a ton of bricks and, ironically, this craving struck me right after a 5 mile run.

So I didn’t feel quite as guilty adding 2 sticks of butter to the mixing bowl.

I run for… butter.

Does it get any better than this? Soft pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese-- and they're so easy!

Pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting, while ultimately delectable, seem a little overdone. Jumping around the kitchen on my runner’s high, I chose a different destiny for my post-run treat.

Enter the high and mighty CHEESECAKE SWIRL.

PS: Leave out the cream cheese swirl and frost the plain pumpkin bars with this cream cheese frosting and there ya go. We both win!

Does it get any better than this? Soft pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese-- and they're so easy!

Let me chat for a min about these pumpkin bars.

I adapted a recipe from my girl Martha. I questioned the amount of butter, but I was quickly proven wrong when I (1) looked at how many bars this recipe yields* and (2) noticed how soft, tender, moist, and…uhh… buttery these pumpkin bars taste. The butter is KEY in the flavor and texture, so no skimping.

*24 bars! Make sure you have hungry friends to help gobble them up.

Martha uses granulated sugar, but I opt for brown sugar in the pumpkin bars. You know me. You know how I do. Brown sugar all the time, especially when Fall spices are involved. Why not use it to sweeten the pumpkin bars? I also reduced the sugar because I was feeling healthy. Wink wink. Muhahaha.

Obviously we’ll use pumpkin puree in the bars– along with fall spices and lovely ground cinnamon. The spice flavor is off the hook in these pumpkin bars and I promise to never use the term off the hook again.

Martha uses chocolate chips and while I’m always a huge supporter of chocolate’s addition, I was really going for the whole pumpkin + cream cheese combination. So I left the chocolate chips out. And I don’t think you’ll miss them especially when cheesecake swirls are involved.

pumpkin-cream-cheese-bars-recipe

Speaking of. Remember when I swirled cheesecake into red velvet bars? No? It’s ok, that was 2 and a half years ago. But you should really, really try those if you haven’t already. I took that same exact cheesecake filling and added it to these pumpkin bars. Though I did keep the egg white; the slightly extra volume produced a little more cream cheese swirl. (I did that because this is a larger pan of bars.)

For a little something extra, and because I like to decorate all my foods, I topped the batter with pepitas + cinnamon. The pepitas (pumpkin seeds) got a little toasty and added a little crunch on top. Total texture freak right here and you’re REALLY going to love their addition too.

The pumpkin bars are soft like cake, dense like a blondie, and flavored like Fall. I can’t stop flipping out over these! They’re like a pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting and a cheesecake-filled pumpkin muffin all in one.

I kinda think Martha would be proud.

Does it get any better than this? Soft pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese-- and they're so easy! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Follow me on Instagram and tag #sallysbakingaddiction so I can see all the SBA recipes you make. ♥ 

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars

Soft pumpkin bars filled with a simple cream cheese swirl. My new favorite fall treat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (228g) pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour, (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice1
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Swirl

  • 8 ounces (224g) brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature2
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (32g) pepitas tossed in a sprinkle of ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease or line the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg and vanilla on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On medium speed, beat in the pumpkin until combined. The mixture will look curdled; that's ok.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. Do not overmix. The mixture will be thick. Spread 2/3 of the batter evenly into the prepared pan; it will be a relatively thin layer. The rest will be added in step 5.
  4. In a medium bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer filled with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until completely combined. Drop random spoonfuls on top of the pumpkin batter.
  5. Drop the remaining pumpkin batter on top of the spoonfuls of cream cheese. With a rubber spatula or knife, begin gently swirling the two together. Both mixtures are thick, so go slowly. Jiggle the pan back and forth to get the layers to settle into the pan. Don't worry if it looks messy; everything will come together in nice swirls as the bars bake. Sprinkle cinnamon-pepitas on top of the swirled batter.
  6. Bake the bars for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Allow the bars to cool completely at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for about 2 hours before cutting into squares. Leftover bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. They're SO good on day 2!
  7. Make ahead tip: These bars can be made 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bars freeze well, up to 3 months. Simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  1. You can make your own 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice by blending 1/2 teaspoon each of ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and ground allspice.
  2. Don't use cream cheese spread; use brick-style cream cheese. Full-fat preferred, though low fat works too. Don't use fat free.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

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Does it get any better than this? Soft pumpkin bars swirled with cream cheese-- and they're so easy! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

89 comments

  1. “I run for… butter.”

    Love it. That’s my kind of logic! I think Bobby Flay said something similar (“I run to drink milkshakes”).

    I might have to give these a whirl. I’ve never baked using pumpkin before, but I have a couple of cans just waiting to be used. 

    Also, what do you suggest if one is unable to obtain allspice, ground ginger, and cloves? College student without easy access to a supermarket struggling over here! Should I just add equal amounts of additional cinnamon and nutmeg to make up the difference, or would that end up tasting a bit off?

    Happy Fall!

    • Emily– a small can of pumpkin pie spice works. Can you get your hands on that? You’ll lose some flavor, but you can add 2 total teaspoons of ground cinnamon (so an extra tsp than the recipe calls for) and 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg.

  2. Oh yeah! These look perfect! I love that you can freeze them, too. Martha also has a Candied Pumpkin Seed recipe that I might try on top – I will report back when I get a chance to make them.

  3. You totally stepped up the pumpkin game with this recipe! I can’t wait to make them.

  4. Sally,

    I run for butter too, and I’d definitely run 5 miles if it meant a plate of these bars were waiting for me. I’ve been looking for a great pumpkin cream cheese bar recipes, this seems perfect! And the addition of pepitas? Brilliant.

    Heather

  5. Hey Sally,

    ethan_deeay on Twitter here. My batch of these are currently baking in the oven and smell FANTASTIC. But I definitely think I failed on spreading the mixture evenly in the pan. The mixture was thick as you said, but the cream cheese mix helped thin it out. It’s definitely my rookie-ness, but I think it’d be awesome if you made some instructional videos in the future. I’m sure we could all use visual demonstrations from you!

    I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    • I know you’ll love these pumpkin bars. The swirling takes a little work and they definitely do not look very pretty before going into the oven but coming out of the oven, then cut into squares? Beauty! Enjoy!

      • I think I may have over mixed the swirls (another rookie mistake)   Baked pan looks more like a cake, will have to try again soon. 
        Kitchen still smells AMAZING!

  6. I can just imagine what these would taste like. The pictures are incredible and I love the addition of the pumpkin seeds on top!

  7. In thw oven now! Found pumpkin spice candied pepitas at trader Joe’s I’m using smells so good!

  8. I made these last night (sans the pepitas) and they came out beautifully and delicious!  I really liked this recipe because a lot of pumpkin recipes all seem to taste the same.  But this one had a really nice, different taste & texture.  Would make again for sure!  

    I used neufchatel but I think next time I’ll use cream cheese.  The runnier texture of the neufchatel mixture made it harder to swirl with the thicker pumpkin batter.

  9. How long would it be safe to to leave these bars out unrefrigerated?  Thinking of serving them at a party where they would be a room temperature for 4-5 hours.  I’m concerned about the cream cheese.  Not sure if having it baked into the bars would keep it from turning.
     

  10. My “Mini Me” would love this recipe! This is right up our alley! Thanks for sharing this one Sally

  11. Hey there Sally! I’m about to make this wonderful recipe, but I just realized I don’t own a paddle attachment for my mixer. I do have an attachment that’s a hybrid whisk-paddle attachment. Will this work, or is the paddle attachment critical? Thanks!

  12. Just made these bars – amazing! I’m no pro in the kitchen, but the recipe was easy enough to follow, and the bars look beautiful and professional. Even better, they taste as good as they look! Will definitely be adding this recipe to my collection. As always, great job Sally! 

  13. I made these yesterday and I had a hard time because the pumpkin mixture was SO thick and hard to spread/swirl. They definitely didn’t turn out as pretty as yours, but everyone said they tasted amazing. If I make them again I will try adding something to thin out the pumpkin mixture a bit, maybe a few tablespoons of sour cream.

  14. Hi
    I was wondering if I could replace the block cream cheese with spread, and if yes, then how would I adjust the recipe?
    I really want to make these, but the block version isn’t available in my country. 

    • I don’t recommend it because the texture will be a little off, but it is worth a try. Or you can leave out the cream cheese swirl.

    • Block cream cheese is not available in Norway, either, and I has to use the spread. The cream cheese swril was a bit thin and liquidy and more mixed with the bars than swirling with them. I as wondering what I can use as a substitute, like marscapone? Or just increasing the amount of cream cheese?

  15. Sally, do you have a recommendation for flour other than wheat, I don’t tolerate it?  How would a combination of coconut flour, almond, tapioca flour work?  Or other recommendation?  Thanks,

    • Michele, I’m not the one to ask unfortunately– sorry! I have little experience baking with any of the mentioned flours. Perhaps someone else can chime in!

      • I made them with sorghum flour and they turned out terrific! Also substituted coconut oil for half the butter just because I ran out.  I am excited to try more pumpkin recipes- thanks!

    • I used bobs redmill all purpose gluten free mix, for the first time and it turned out soft. I did halve the proportion and use the whole eggs (therefore more liquid) but it turned out just fine. And reduced the sugar to 3/4 of what was used, I do it with all recipes because I like it less sweet. Great recipe! I also made it with regular flour, the pumpkin flavor comes through better. 

  16. These pumpkin bars are so moist and delicious! I made them over the weekend and they came out perfect! 

  17. How are cinnamon pepitas prepared? No mention in recipe and I’m a recipe follower, no creativity here!

  18. Could this be made with a graham cracker crust? Or best to not mess with perfection?
    Thank you!

  19. I’ve made these 5 or so times and they are amazing! The only thing that I have trouble with (everytime) is that the cream cheese mixture and the pumpkin mixture are very different in thickness and I don’t know what might be causing it? I’ve followed the recipe everytime, but the pumpkin mixture is always super thick while the cream cheese is much thinner. Which makes it difficult to swirl, has anyone else had this issue? Other than that tho they are super tasty and everyone I’ve made them for has asked me to make more! So good! Thanks Sally!

    • I made them last evening and had the same issue.  I bake and cook several times each week and consider myself far beyond novice, but trying to spread that pumpkin mixture on  parchment was painfully tedious. And, as you point out, Alyvia, there was no way those two mixtures were going to “Swirl”!! 🙂

  20. Could I use sweet potato? Would I need to adapt anything?

  21. I am a frequent and experienced baker.  I am typically in love with all of your recipes.  But this was was just off.  The pumpkin mixture was way to sticky and thick to spread.  The disparity between the textures of the two mixtures was too great for successful “swirling”.  The pumpkin layer was too dry….I do not mind, and even enjoy making recipes like this this in which you may have three or four “layers” (such as your pumpkin cake/cheesecake) but the time it took to simply maneuver the dough around the parchmented pan and makes attempts to swirl was not enjoyable. Ultimately, the end product was simply not pleasant in texture and was not at all worth the time to bake-which is quite the exception to my experience with your recipes in the past. 

  22. Hi Sally! Canned pumpkin and pumpkin puree…same thing? I want to make this for thanksgiving but I better make sure I have the right ingredients 🙂

  23. Your bars always look beautiful!  I’ve tried many of your recipes and they’re always delicious.  Could you share some tips on cutting the bars into perfect neat squares?

  24. Hi!  I was wondering if it would work to bake these on a cookie sheet, sheet-cake style? I am makin a lot of them, and don’t have enough baking dishes. Thanks! 

  25. I agree with previous reviewers in that my experience was that the two mixtures were way off in terms of thickness. The first layer of pumpkin was very difficult to spread in the greased pan. And the cream cheese layer was so thin, there was no way to drop spoonfuls. And good luck swirling it all together. They’re baking now, so I’m hoping they at least taste good. But in terms of prep, I can’t recommend this recipe. I think it needs to be reworked by the author. I’m an experienced baker and triple-checked the recipe in the end to make sure I didn’t screw anything up.

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