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Soggy pumpkin puree plays trick on your treats

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    Pumpkin coconut squares, based off a recipe by Sara Moulton.

Here’s a scrumptious treat for Halloween. It’s too delicate to give away to trick-or-treaters, but it’s just right to serve family and friends at a Halloween party or dinner.

Preparing these coconut-topped pumpkin squares takes some time, but it’s mostly waiting time, not hands-on time. This beauty is four layers thick, and two of them require time to set up. There’s a gingersnap crust on the bottom, a layer of pumpkin/coconut milk puree, a layer of tart cream cheese and a topping of toasted coconut flakes.

If you’ve ever dug into a pumpkin pie or dessert and wondered where the flavor went, I can pinpoint the problem: Pumpkin puree is terribly watery whether fresh or canned.

It occurred to me that draining it would concentrate the flavor, and here’s how: First, wrap it in a layer of cheesecloth, then tie the cheesecloth like a hobo’s sack to a chopstick, skewer, or dinner knife, and finally hang the sack over a deep bowl.

Let it drip, drip, drip for eight hours or overnight. Afterward a fair amount of water will have collected at the bottom of the bowl — and even more in the cheesecloth. Squeeze the cheesecloth gently to remove the additional water.

When you’re done, you will have captured and eliminated anywhere from a half to a three-quarters of a cup of water from the puree. (If you don’t have cheesecloth, a coffee filter will do the trick.) Be sure to use pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling, which is presweetened.

If you’re inclined to lighten up the recipe, swap in light coconut milk, one-third-less-fat cream cheese and unsweetened coconut flakes for the specified full-fat ingredients. Then again, it is Halloween and these squares are an old-fashioned holiday treat. Feel free to enjoy the uncensored version.


  • >> Filling
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon,
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • >> Crust
  • 1-1/2 cups finely ground gingersnap crumbs (about 35 2-inch cookies)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • >> Topping
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons toasted sweetened coconut flakes

Place pumpkin puree in a square of cheesecloth and suspend over a deep bowl at least 8 hours or overnight to remove excess water. Squeeze cheesecloth gently to extract even more water, discard liquid; set puree aside.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan.

To make crust: In a medium bowl, stir together gingersnap crumbs and melted butter and pat crumbs evenly into bottom of pan. Bake on middle shelf of oven until crumbs begin to darken, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven.

To make filling: Using same bowl, whisk eggs until beaten lightly, then add remaining filling ingredients and whisk until smooth. Stir in drained pumpkin puree and spread evenly over crumbs. Bake on middle shelf of oven until center has set, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

To make topping: In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except coconut; beat until very smooth. Spread evenly over cooled pumpkin filling and sprinkle with coconut flakes, pressing down lightly. Chill until firm, about 2 hours. Cut into squares.

Approximate nutritional information, per square: 99 calories, 5 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 76 mg sodium, 12 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 1 g protein.

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