sweets Zofka made
My cheap baking recipes. Photo: Zofka Svec/Fulcrum
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Pumpkin Spice three ways: pies, bars, and bites

Pumpkin spice is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein isn’t the monster: it’s the name of the scientist who created him. Pumpkin spice isn’t actually the pumpkin, it’s the blend of spices that complements pumpkin well, typically a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. You can add any sweet spices to the recipes that follow, but I stuck to this classic trio. All this to say: you can’t get angry with me for including an apple recipe. How much more synonymous with fall can you get? The apple torte uses pumpkin spice but not pumpkin, so it’s perfect for those who enjoy pumpkin spice lattes but aren’t exactly fans of pumpkin pie.

I call this ‘Baking on a Budget’ because I bought all of the necessary ingredients at Giant Tiger (except pumpkin puree, for which I had to go to Loblaws — with great chagrin, might I add). Perhaps the budget part is pushing it; all of the ingredients I bought probably even out to the same amount you’d pay if you were to buy ready-made pies. But what’s the fun in that?

I’ll refer to pumpkin spice as an ingredient in these recipes. I make my own pumpkin spice blend with a ratio of 2:1:1 for cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, respectively. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could also add star anise and cloves.

For efficiency, I used the same dough for both of my recipes. I typically prefer a traditional flaky pie crust, but I’ve heard good things about shortcrust and decided I had to try it. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m a bit of a baking snob, one who’s never satisfied with her own handiwork, so I definitely prefer the shortcrust to a mediocre butter crust.

Pumpkin Bites

I’m going easiest-to-hardest here. These pumpkin bites make for a crowd-pleasing simple fall recipe. For a high-fibre variation, you could substitute some of the wheat flour with oat flour, which I make by blending steel-cut oats in a food processor or high-powered blender. I personally don’t like them very sweet, and this recipe reflects that, so feel free to add more sugar if you wish.

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin spice
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup milk

Seasoning mix:

  • ¼ cup icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin spice.

3. In a large bowl, mix together oil, brown sugar, sugar substitute, egg, vanilla, pumpkin, and milk.

4. Add dry ingredients into wet and gently fold until mixture is smooth and combined. Don’t over-mix!

5. In another bowl, mix the cinnamon and icing sugar. 

6. Grease a baking sheet very well, or use parchment paper.

7. Form the dough into balls, with about a 1.5 inch diameter. Try to make each ball the same size so that they bake evenly. Roll each ball in seasoning mix and place onto baking sheet.

7. Bake 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

8. Best when eaten warm, but they also taste pretty good straight out of a dorm mini-fridge at 4 a.m.

Shortcrust pastry for the bars and pies

Shortcrust pastry, also known as sweet tart dough, is called that because it’s mostly used for sweet tarts with a liquidy filling. The thicker crust, which is like a blend between shortbread and typical pie crust, works well at holding in the liquid filling without compromising the structural integrity of the pie. I used this recipe for both the bars and the pies, so don’t double it if you’re planning on making both — there’s enough with these measurements. This is enough dough to fill two 9-inch circular pie pans and a medium baking sheet.

  • 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for hands)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (454g), cut into small cubes, chilled thoroughly
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 16 teaspoons water

Making the dough:

  1. Add flour, sugar, salt to a large bowl. Mix.
  2. In separate small bowl, mix egg yolks, vanilla extract and water.
  3. In the dry bowl, add your chilled butter. Massage and crumble the butter between your fingers until it resembles a coarse cornmeal. (Ideally, use a food processor and do a couple of pulses. I do not own one.) When mostly incorporated,
  4. Add the egg yolk mixture and cold water and mix with a wooden spoon until dough becomes smooth and sticky.
  5. Wrap in plastic. (I used the dough for two recipes, so I divided it in half). using the plastic, squish the dough into a thick (1 inch) rectangle. Punch and press out any big air pockets. (Place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour.

Making the crust:

1.    Preheat oven to 350° F (we haven’t made the filling yet; we’re going to par-bake the crust first).

2.     Unwrap the plastic.

3.     Slice the dough into ¼ inch slices. Do not roll out the dough, just continue slicing.

4.     Lay down the slices in the bottom of a pan. Fill the pan, including the sides. When all surfaces are covered, there will still be some gaps, so use your hands or a flat surface to punch down the dough into a uniform sheet. Be creative! You can cut up the dough however you want, as long as you end up with a uniform crust at the end.

5.     Put the unbaked crust in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

6.     Bake the crust for 15 minutes.

7.     Cool crust before filling.

Pumpkin Pie

I actually set out to make pumpkin bars, not pumpkin pies. Funny story: after making the pumpkin filling, I took a good hard look at my baking sheet and noticed I had about a cm of vertical space left. In other words, not enough to make the bars. So, pie it is!

For the filling:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened evaporated milk
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin puree

1.     Preheat oven to 375° F

2.     In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until well blended. Add salt and pumpkin spice. Whisk to combine. Finally, add in evaporated milk and pumpkin. Whisk again.

3.     Pour the filling into the parbaked crusts.

4.     Bake for 40-45 minutes until the filling is well set – a little wobble in the centre is okay. If the crust begins to burn before this happens, wrap the edges in foil or turn down the heat.

5.     Let cool, then serve and enjoy.

Apple Pie Bars


  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 pounds Granny Smith (5-6 apples)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ¼ cup chilled butter

Massage the brown sugar, oats and flour in with some chilled butter. Before baking, top apples with this mixture.

1.     Finely peel and chop the apples. Toss with lemon juice, pumpkin spice, sugar, and salt.

2.     Pour the filling onto the parbaked cookie sheet. Sprinkle on topping.

3.     Bake for 50-60 minutes.

4.     Let cool, then serve and enjoy!