I can’t stop it with the squash.
Pumpkin is a squash, right? It doesn’t really matter, because whether they are a product of my squash obsession or not, these pumpkin oatmeal bars with chocolate chips are crazy delicious and perfect healthy treats for autumn. Like, gone in three days in our little household of two level of delicious. Or maybe that’s because I have a limited sense of portion control when it comes to sweet treats. At least these are healthy.
I’ve spend a couple of years now trying to perfect healthy baking. I want my sweets but I also want to stay healthy and fit. I’m not one of those people who can eat fruit and pretend it’s dessert. Fruit is fruit. Sweet baked treats are dessert. I tried to give up sweets, including chocolate, for the two weeks leading up to my wedding. Three days in and Ryan and I shared a big slice caramel apple pie with ice cream after we met with our reception venue. The next day, I made these. My usually remarkable self-discipline ends exactly where the combination of sugar and butter begins.
When I first started trying my spatula at healthy baking, I went about it the wrong way. My 22-year-old brain was muddled enough from all the translating Hebrew and Latin (yep, I was super lame in college) I did that year to think that adding fake sugars and applesauce to everything was the right way to bake healthy versions of my favorite cookies, muffins, and cakes. I bought Splenda versions of both granulated and brown sugar and went through them at lightning speed. The very thought of it now makes me feel nauseous and worried about my future health.
The thing is, when you substitute all of the sugar out with fake sugar and all of the fat out with pureed fruit, you mess with the baking chemistry. I hadn’t taken chemistry since AP Chem my senior year of high school, so it took me a while to realize how my substitutions were poorly affecting my baking. Muffins were flat and cupcakes too dense and cookies crumbled. What’s worse is that everything tasted not as great. Fake sugar tastes pretty awful, and there is no way to mask awful ingredients in baked goods. It took me about a year to realize that something needed to change in my approach to baking.
I try to at least limit how much added sugar I take in – low sugar cereals, minimal processed foods, and lots of fruits, veggies, grains, and meat. I’m no advocate, though, of cutting out foods entirely unless you have to for a medical reason. I like moderation. Moderation is a good thing…I say as I shove my second pumpkin bar in my face. The secret, I found, to healthy baked goods is moderation. Not too much sugar, not too much fat, but not too many substitutions.
While my mom and Ryan still tease me about how much applesauce I used to add to baked goods, I now add a lot more butter than I did in the past. If I add applesauce, it replaces at most half of the butter. I have found that replacing fats with purees works best in fruit or vegetable flavored baked goods – banana muffins, carrot cake, or these pumpkin bars with chocolate chips. The fruit puree is already in there in these recipes. You don’t need to add a lot of fat because you already have a lot of moisture from the pumpkin. The purees are also sweet, which means you don’t have to add as much sugar. Notice I said as much – you still need to add sugar and butter for both taste and structure.
Whole wheat flour and oats are another great way to make baked goods healthy. For some baked goods, like cake or cookies, whole wheat pastry flour works best since it has a very fine texture. I find that using half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour works best for most baked goods. Since I wanted these pumpkin oatmeal bars to have a heartier taste and texture, I used oatmeal and whole wheat flour.
I first made these pumpkin bars the instant the temperature dropped into the 50s around here. Fall makes me want to go run eleven miles in the crisp air and then curl up with a hot cup of Dunkin pumpkin spice coffee, a good book, and some apple-y or pumpkin-y sweet treat. That’s exactly what I did this Saturday – and totally want to do again once we’re back from our honeymoon.
- 1-1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
- 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (more if desired)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice.
- In a separate bowl, beat together the pumpkin, milk, melted butter, and vanilla.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Mix in the chocolate chips.
- Pour the batter into a greased 9x9 pan (or similar size baking pan) and bake for 20-25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
I recommend in the recipe baking for 20-25 minutes. My oven is older so I think I ended up baking them for almost 30 minutes. Adjust the baking time according to your oven and also how crisp or gooey you like your bars.