These Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars Came From a Recipe Perfectionist
Viral recipes are pretty rare. If you manage to break into the social media discourse with your pasta dish, or your stew, or, in Sarah Kieffer's case, wildly popular chocolate chip cookies, most writers would stop tinkering with recipes. But most writers are not Sarrah Kieffer, the warm and authoritative voice behind The Vanilla Bean Blog. After her giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookies went viral, helped along by an appearance in The New York Times, Kieffer still tweaked the version of the recipe that ran in her second book 100 Cookies, removing a step that required the dough to be chilled in the freezer before baking and reducing the size of the cookies slightly so they don't merge into each other while baking.
Kieffer, she told Food & Wine in a phone interview, never sees a recipe that doesn't have room for improvement. "I listen to feedback, and change things as people ask for it, or as trends change. If I had my way I'd still be working on my first book," Kieffer said. "I know I have to let go. My editor may have stepped in and been like, 'It's just time now.'"
The cookies that Kieffer developed became famous in part for a technique she developed partially by accident, which she called "pan-banging." Rather than allow cookies to puff up and set in the oven, Kieffer instructs bakers to bang the pan down at intervals during their baking, which makes the cookies rise and fall several times. The result is a cookie that's the perfect marriage of chewy and crispy, with ripples around the edges and a barely set center. An entire chapter in 100 Cookies is devoted to this technique, and Kieffer goes beyond chocolate chip into other cookie territory. Her chocolate and strawberry Neapolitan cookies have started popping up on Instagram accounts, though, in Kieffer's opinion, the pan-banging sugar cookies are a sleeper hit.
"They're so simple, you don't think, 'Oh let's Instagram a batch of them,'" Kieffer said. "But they always hit the spot for me. I find myself turning to the classics a lot; they're just comforting and so easy to make."
Kieffer's new cookie compendium is a baker's baking book, full of smart technical tips and flourishes, but it's also completely unpretentious. There are cookies for when you just want a good cookie, and more ambitious recipes for when you want to attempt palmiers or break out a kitchen torch. Though the book is devoted to cookies, Kieffer's definition of a cookie is fairly broad. "Bars are basically cookies too, right?" she laughed. There are a whole host of incredible-looking trays to make, from Turtle Brownies to Lemon Oat Bars, but I kept coming back to Kieffer's brilliant Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars.
"I like pumpkin pie alright, but in all honesty, I will always take a slice of anything else over it," Kieffer writes. "But pumpkin pie swirled into cheesecake? I will never say no." The result is a graham cracker crust cheesecake-pumpkin pie hybrid, something that manages to be lighter than either pumpkin pie or plain cheesecake normally is. It's the perfect introduction to fall, and a great entry point to 100 Cookies. Turning a pumpkin pie and cheesecake into a cookie bar is another one of Kieffer's brilliant tweaks—and lucky for us, she's not stopping any time soon.
Get the Recipe: Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars