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.
2¼ cups lightly packed almond meal or almond flour
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup finely ground raw or coconut sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
- ¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon melted ghee or unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
- ½ vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- ⅔ cup honey
- 2 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons raw or coconut sugar, for topping
- 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.
- 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 ¼ 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.
**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.
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.
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