Signature Dish: Give Thanks for Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Bars

It’s not that pumpkin pie isn’t enough.

Or that pecan sandies don’t stand on their own. Dulce de leche is, of course, perfect in alfajores and tortas (or spooned). They are all delicious on their own.

But when you pour spiced pumpkin stuffing over a buttery pecan buttery batter, then add drops of thick, caramelized dulce de leche and crumble even more pecan goodness on top, you’ve got the best of three worlds in a surprisingly not too much. Sweet desert. The velvety pumpkin layer is denser than your average pie filling, a good thing. And the bars crumble beautifully while holding their shape, thanks to a sturdy pecan crust.

Rachael Sobczak developed the recipe for her Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Bars while baking at Breadfarm in Edison.

Now, the owner of Water Tank Bakery in Burlington, Sobczak sells these triple threat bars only during Thanksgiving, and customers must order them in advance. But with a little effort and quality flour, you can now enjoy this sweet and spicy dessert any time of the year. This was one of the first recipes Sobczak developed, inspired by a dulce de leche brownie recipe by David Lebovitz.

Sobczak has been a food person since she was a little girl and started baking when she was 10 years old. She majored in photography in college and then earned her master’s in dietetics, but baking kept calling her, so she headed to Breadfarm for a 10-year Immersion in Artisanal Baking.

During the pandemic, Tom Douglas Restaurants in Seattle was giving away a deck oven from one of its shuttered bakeries. Sobczak got it cheap except for shipping. After selling his breads and other products at farmers’ markets, he found the perfect location for a bakery in Skagit Harbor’s Bayview Business Park.

Sobczak’s Dulce de leche Pumpkin Bars, like their sourdough breads and other baked goods, are made exclusively with stone-ground flour from Cairnspring Mills, which is located just down the road from Water Tank Bakery. Once a week, the cereal-producing company sends someone on a forklift to deliver the flour.

Sobczak loves living in the Skagit Valley, where she can connect her customers with flour, fruit and other ingredients grown along the way.

“It’s very tangible and satisfying to be part of a local food system,” he said. “And do things that people really like. (Cairnspring Mills flour) is something that is nutritionally superior with more whole grains and also very tasty. I love that”.

Rachael Sobczak sells Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Bars only during Thanksgiving, but home bakers can make them anytime.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Rachael Sobczak sells Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Bars only during Thanksgiving, but home bakers can make them anytime. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Pumpkin Dulce De Leche Bars by Rachael Sobczak

Makes 8 2-by-4-inch bars or 16 2-by-2-inch bars

Rachael’s Notes: The pumpkin puree can be made with roasted pumpkin (her favorite variety is Winter Luxury, but sugared pumpkins work too) or canned pumpkin will do the trick. If you make your own dulce de leche, you should make it the day before and chill it before using it in this recipe. The jarred dulce de leche is also a great option.

Ingredients

For the pecan sweet bread crust:

½ cup chopped raw pecans

1 cup all-purpose flour

⅛ teaspoon fine salt

½ cup of white sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup unsalted butter, cold

For the pumpkin filling:

⅓ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

For the coverage:

½ cup dulce de leche, store-bought or homemade*

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup butter pecan batter, reserved

Addresses

For the crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the flour, chopped walnuts, salt, vanilla, and sugar in a food processor until the walnuts are finely ground. Drop in tablespoon-sized chunks of cold butter and pulse until no chunks of butter are visible. Reserve ½ cup to cover.

Press the rest of the dough evenly and firmly onto the bottom of an 8×8-inch glass baking dish lined with parchment or foil. (For an even crust, use a second piece of parchment over the crust and/or press down with a rubber spatula.)

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is set and beginning to brown around the edges. Set aside to cool.

For the pumpkin filling:

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in the bowl with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat the smore for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix a few more seconds.

Add the pumpkin puree and mix an additional 30 seconds on low speed, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix a few more seconds.

*To make your own dulce de leche:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed (not evaporated) milk into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish and add a pinch of salt. Place the pie pan in a larger baking dish and add water until it comes halfway up the side of the pie pan. Cover with an ovenproof lid or place aluminum foil over the pie plate.

Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, checking several times to add water if it goes down.

Once the dulce de leche is well browned and caramelized, carefully remove it from the oven and whisk to smooth out any lumps. Store in the refrigerator and cool completely before using.

To assemble and bake the bars:

Pour the pumpkin filling over the room temperature pan dulce crust and smooth out the top. Drop heaping teaspoon-sized pieces of dulce de leche at random over the pumpkin filling and gently stir with a toothpick to marbleize the dulce de leche.

Sprinkle in the chopped walnuts and crumble the reserved crust over the top like streusel.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Cool completely before slicing and enjoy this unforgettable layered dessert!

If you go

Water tank Bakery

11777 Water Tank Road, Unit C, Burlington

Contact: 360-757-2253

Website: www.watertankbakery.com

Retail Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Sound and Summit

This article appears in the winter issue of Sound & Summit, a supplement to The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four issues for $14 a year. Call 425-339-3200 or visit soundsummitmagazine.com for more information.

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