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These grain-free pumpkin crème brûlée pie bars combine the best elements of crème brûlée and pumpkin pie, and are made with an easy press-in cocoa crust.
Guess what? I finally got a kitchen torch. I say finally because–as I tend to do lately when considering buying new kitchen gadgets–I went back and forth about it for several months.
My friend Andrea is a great baker and a fabulous cake decorator, and she’s had a kitchen torch for a long time. After interrogating her about where she got it, how much it cost, how hard it was to use, and how often she used it (yes, my friends ARE extremely patient–why do you ask? 😉 ), my friend Lucy and I went over to her place and tried it. Andrea had custards all ready to go, and we each torched our own right before we ate them.
You probably guessed this already, but they were outstanding.
The kitchen torch was much easier to use and much more fun than I had expected. Of course you need to be careful, but it’s not scary at all to torch desserts, and the actual fire-blasting part takes less than two minutes. (In case you’re wondering about all the questions I mentioned above, Andrea found her torch at a yard sale a couple years ago and got it for about ten bucks. I got mine on Amazon for $28, but it’s on sale for $25 right now.)
I can’t decide if the best part is how fun brûléed things are to make or how amazing they taste. If you’ve tried crème brûlée, you know how delicious the crackly burnt sugar top is. And getting to torch desserts yourself is way more fun than just breaking through the smooth-as-glass top of a caramelized treat that someone else has made.
Since getting the torch, I’ve used it to caramelize the tops of various iterations of these pumpkin crème brûlée pie bars, which began as a round pie and morphed into what you’re seeing today. The bar version allows for a thicker layer of the delicate pumpkin custard and a larger overall yield, which is nice since this recipe does take a fair amount of time and effort.
That being said, these bars are 100% worth it. I’m not a big pumpkin pie fan, but I love these pumpkin crème brûlée pie bars. The rich cocoa crust and caramelized top keep them from being too pumpkin-y: they have just enough squash and spice to taste like fall, but not enough to put off people who are a little iffy about pumpkin (waving at my future husband!!). I’m definitely making these for Thanksgiving because 1.) they’re show-stopping, 2.) they check three of the best dessert boxes: caramel, pumpkin, and chocolate, and 3.) they’re one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.
Oh, and one more!
4.) They’re a legit reason to buy a kitchen torch.
Do you have a kitchen torch? If so, I’d love to hear about any fun or inventive uses you’ve found for it in the comments! I’m on the lookout for more recipes to try with mine.
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée Pie Bars
These grain-free pumpkin crème brûlée pie bars combine the best elements of crème brûlée and pumpkin pie and are made with an easy press-in cocoa crust.
For the cocoa crust:
- 2 1/4 cups lightly packed almond meal or almond flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup finely ground raw sugar or coconut sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon melted ghee or unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pumpkin crème brûlée filling:
- 1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 2/3 cup honey
- 2 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons raw sugar or coconut sugar
To make the crust:
- Preheat the oven to 325° F and grease a 10.5 x 7-inch (1.75 quart) rectangular baking dish** with ghee or butter.
- Whisk together the almond meal, cocoa, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the ghee and vanilla extract and mix well with the whisk or your hands. The dough will be crumbly, but should clump together when squeezed.
- Press the crust into the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides by hand, and then again with the flat bottom of a measuring cup to get it a little smoother.
- Place the pan with the crust on a baking sheet for easy handling and bake the crust for 15 minutes. If your filling is not ready at this point, take the pan out and set it aside until you're done making the filling. Leave the oven at 325.
To make the filling and finish the bars:
- Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean half with a paring knife.
- Heat the heavy cream, vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla pod in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until steam begins to rise from the edges. Turn off the heat and let the cream sit for five or ten minutes, then remove and discard the pod.
- While the cream is heating, whisk all the remaining filling ingredients together thoroughly in a large bowl.
- Pour about 1/4 cup of the hot cream into the pumpkin mixture, whisking thoroughly as you pour and for another 15 seconds or so afterwards to temper the eggs. Whisking constantly, gradually pour the rest of the hot cream into the bowl and keep whisking until the custard is uniform.
- If your crust is out of the oven, put it back in, making sure the baking sheet is still underneath. With the oven open and the rack pulled out about halfway, carefully pour the filling into the crust. (I find it easier to do this with the pan already in the oven because the filling sloshes a lot if you try to transfer the crust and liquid filling from stovetop to oven. That being said, no worries if a tiny bit spills--that's what the baking sheet is for!)
- Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the filling is set but still wiggles just a tiny bit in the very center if you shake the pan.
- Cool to room temperature in the pan.
- Wait to brulee the bars until right before serving, if possible. The crunch will last a couple of hours but is best right away. (***See notes below about whether to slice or caramelize first.)
- Sprinkle a thin, even layer of sugar over the filling, trying to avoid getting it on the crust. Make sure nothing flammable is anywhere near your pan. Using a kitchen torch, heat the sugar until it melts and caramelizes, forming a deep golden brown crust. I adjust the flame to be about 3 inches long and move it slowly in a loop-de-loop pattern across the surface to avoid burning any particular area too much. If desired, let cool for five minutes, sprinkle on more sugar, and repeat for a sturdier layer of crunch. Cool for ten minutes, slice into squares, and serve as soon as possible.
*This kitchen torch works well and is easy to use. You'll need to buy the butane canister separately; look for the small canister that's used to fill lighters (not the large one used to fill camping stoves). Butane canisters are sold at drugstores like Rite Aid (often behind the counter, so you'll need to ask for it) and online. I find that filling the torch a little bit less than recommended in the instructions (pushing the nozzle in for three seconds, pausing, and then repeating just ONCE) is best because if it ends up too full, you'll hear a little butane leaking out and will have to wait for that to stop before lighting the torch. Refilling the torch is quick and easy, but I always do it outside to be safe.
**I use this pan all the time and love it. An 8 x 8-inch (2-quart) square baking dish should also work. Ceramic or glass dishes are best for this recipe because they insulate the contents more than metal.
***If you like the rustic, shattered look pictured here, just follow the instructions as written. If you prefer, you can also slice the bars first and THEN caramelize them for a neater presentation.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 282Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 86mgSodium: 30mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 6gSugar: 17gProtein: 10g
The nutrition label provided is an estimate for informational purposes only and may not be accurate. I am not a nutritionist or medical professional.
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Katie Mui says
I’m not sure what happened, I followed the instructions exactly but the filling came out way too eggy and lifted and cracked in the oven. It’s cooling down now, but it looks like steamed eggs/soufflé rather than the pics here.
Hmmm, could your oven be too hot? You used four egg yolks and just two whole eggs, right? I haven’t had this happen so I’m not sure what might have caused it other than the temp being too high in the oven (mine doesn’t always match the temp I have it set to so I have an oven thermometer in there).
Do you think this would work the same if I replace the heavy cream with whole fat coconut milk?
I haven’t tried it but I bet it would work. If you google dairy-free creme brulee with coconut milk there are lots of recipes that look good, so I bet it would be fine in these bars, too.
Quick question–can I make the bars the day before and just wait to brulee them before serving? Thanks!
That should work! The crust may be a little less crisp but with the bruleed top I doubt you’ll get any complaints :).
This recipe looks awesome! It hits on my husband’s two favorite desserts: Pumpkin Pie + Creme Brulee. Plus, it’s GF for me! 😀 I think I’ll make it for his birthday in a couple weeks!!
I might miiiight make a gingerbread crust instead. I don’t think he likes gingerbread though (I do!) so maybe not.
Because I don’t (yet) own a brulee torch, I figured I’d send you an interesting recipe suggestion for using it! I think you’d appreciate it more, being a food blogger. 🙂
Thanks so much, Caitlin! I wonder if your husband would still like it if you just added some ginger to this crust–I bet it would be good. My fiancé usually hates pumpkin desserts but the caramelized top and chocolate bottom sold him on these.
Those bruleed eggs are fascinating–thank you for sharing that link! I really don’t like hard boiled eggs, but if those were soft boiled on the less-done side to begin with I bet I’d love them 🙂
Wow! I wish I could make these instead of pumpkin pie Thursday without everyone revolting. Looks so delicious, and I’d rather have creme brulee any day.
Haha! Thanks so much, Jessie. I bet once people took a bite of these they wouldn’t complain…but then again, some people are so adamant about having pie-shaped pie on the big day ;). Hope you find another time to try them!
I have been procrastinating about buying a kitchen torch too. For years! I think for me the main reason is all the room that gadgets take up. However after seeing this post, I am sold! What beautiful bars! I can’t take my eyes off of them! Love love love… 🙂
Thank you so much, Rakhee! I put off getting one for the same reasons, but it doesn’t take up much space at all compared to things like food processors, blenders, etc. 🙂
Becky, this has me drooling! Looks so good. 🙂
Thank you so much, Trish!!
The last time I used a kitchen torch I was in college and decided to use splenda instead of sugar. Apparently splenda just catches on fire :O I think it’s time to redeem myself with this lovely creation. Seriously, these bars look freaking amazing, I can’t wait to try them!!
Aaaah, yikes!!! That must have been super scary. Definitely try these–they are one of my all-time faves! 🙂
I can’t wait to try these!! Has anyone tried them without the crust? I’ve never been a fan…thanks!
Hi Kristen! You could definitely try these without the crust–it would be more like a traditional crème brûlée (but with the added bonuses of pumpkin & spice). The crust does insulate the filling a bit in the oven AND help the bars hold up after they’re cut, so if you wanted to try the filling on its own you might want to divide it into little crème brûlée ramekins and bake them in a water bath, like in this recipe: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Excellent-Creme-Brulee
Let me know how it goes if you try it!
Ok – I tried without the crust, but made the filling with two tablespoons of gluten free flour. It was really tasty, but both my husband and I thought it was a little too close to regular pumpkin pie. I’m going to make it with the crust for Thanksgiving – I know it will be delicious!
Sounds great! Did you bake it in one big pan, or in several smaller dishes?
Another thing occurred to me–I’m sure adding gluten-free flour helped stabilize the custard, but it probably also made it less creamy and less like crème brûlée in texture. That’s another reason you’ll hopefully like them even better with crust 🙂
I made it in one big pan without the crust. I’m sure the gluten free flour changed the texture significantly! I can’t wait to try it with the crust (and without the gf flour) on Thursday!
Salvatore Presti says
I thought I was already sick of anything pumpkin flavored and it’s only a few weeks into the fall, but then I saw these! Wow! I will definitely be making these for Thanksgiving!
Thank you, Salvatore! Glad to hear you’re planning to try them–I think they’re perfect for Thanksgiving and will be making them again then myself 🙂
Tina Jui | The Worktop says
Hi Becky – these look fabulous. I’ve never owned a kitchen torch, but I’ve always loved using them! Maybe it’s time I go out and purchase one 🙂 Hope you keep using yours. Looking forward to seeing more recipes with it!
Thank you so much, Tina! I haven’t developed any additional recipes with it yet, but it’s proving its worth reheating the tops of leftovers, melting cheese, and even helping crisp chicken skin up a little. I’m looking forward to doing more recipes with it, too!
Nancy Haines says
Becky, is there a way to get the crunchy top without a torch — would a broiler work?
Hi Nancy! I think you could use a broiler, although I haven’t tried it myself. You’d need to chill the bars thoroughly in the fridge first. This article has some details on how to do it: http://www.thekitchn.com/three-ways-to-create-a-sugar-crust-on-homemade-crme-brle-165988
For this recipe, I’d recommend protecting the crust–maybe crimp some tinfoil around the edges of the pan to cover it? Otherwise the crust will likely get quite burnt.
Let me know if you try it! 🙂
Mary // chattavore says
Oh yum, Becky! I bet my husband would love these (he’s a creme brûlée freak), and I know I would! Sounds like a good excuse to buy a kitchen torch…
Thanks, Mary! 🙂
We love our kitchen torch and have had it for years. We of course make creme brulee and roasted marshmallows. But our favorite thing to do is sprinkle sugar on bananas, torch them and then add a scoop of ice cream on top!!
Sara, that is an amazing idea–like bananas Foster but way easier!! Adding it to the top of my to-do list and bananas to the top of my grocery list 🙂