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Healthy Comfort Food for the Holidays

If you have trouble choosing between the pumpkin pie or the chocolate cake on the Thanksgiving dessert table, these vegan and gluten-free Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Squares will help you satisfy both desires in a few delicious bites! Let me warn you that these are no ordinary cookie bars because they are infinitely rich and moist. A few bites may be just enough. Even so, they qualify as healthy comfort food, in my humble opinion, since they are made with fresh, whole foods.

Our Thanksgiving meal is my absolute favorite meal of the year. It holds many happy memories from my youth. As Tom and I continued holiday traditions in our home, our vegetarian preference never stopped me from making it an otherwise very traditional meal. Tom’s daughter, Celeste, joins me for a lot of singing in the kitchen while we pull together all our scrumptious side dishes and desserts. When my mother was alive, she lived nearby, and she always joined us. Neither she nor Celeste seemed to miss the turkey.

This season I’ve seen many blogs introducing innovative new recipes—as though we all get bored with our family traditions! Really? I hate to disappoint, but you’ll see me post many of the same recipes year after year because in our house it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them! We never tire of my Holiday Sweet Potatoes with Glazed Pecans—an entire pound and a half of nuts with cinnamon, salt, and coconut sugar! (Page 197 in Sacred & Delicious and also posted on the blog).

Though my favorite dish remains Holiday Dressing (page 164 in Sacred & Delicious), made gluten-free with cornbread, shiitake mushrooms, walnuts, and Simon & Garfunkel’s herb medley of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Since the dressing is a bit of a project, I make Elegant Green Beans because it’s so easy (on page 186) but you may want to try a Reimagined Green Bean Casserole and Fresh Cranberry Salad (page 217 in Sacred & Delicious). Of course, I always make a tofu dish (try Savory Tofu, page 170) to support this carb-heavy meal with some protein.

These traditional sides are so delicious at our house, it’s hard to leave room for dessert—but somehow we manage by resting a couple hours before we dive into the next course! I remain a fan of pumpkin pie and Spiced Pumpkin Pound Cake, but I definitely recommend that you save a place at your holiday dessert tables for these vegan and gluten-free Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Squares.

Happy Thanksgiving from our kitchen to yours. Wishing you a sacred and delicious holiday season!

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CHOCOLATE GLAZED PUMPKIN SQUARES

Preparation Time: 2 to 2.5 hours (About 1.25 hours active)
Makes 12 to 16 squares

These dessert bites are super moist but not overly sweet. Although the recipe specifies several steps, the dish is really easy to make. You can certainly save an hour or more by using canned pumpkin—which may have to do for working folks. However, I’d recommend baking the pumpkin the night before since, according to Ayurveda, fresh (or nearly fresh) food is much preferred to canned! You can use any extra pumpkin in this lovely Puréed Pumpkin Soup.

FOR THE BARS

1 cup oat flour
1 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon mineral salt
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
¼ cup melted coconut oil
1 cup pumpkin purée
½ cup coconut sugar
½ cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE

2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 ounces unsweetened baker’s chocolate
4 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon mineral salt

Cook’s Tip: 1. This recipe requires only a small sugar pumpkin, about 1.5 pounds or smaller. 2. Use 2 cups of one kind of flour, if preferred, as this dessert has more flexibility than a gluten-free cake or cookie. 3. If you’re a nutmeg enthusiast, you may wish to double the amount from ¼ to ½ teaspoon. 4. Another option is to use only 1 cup coconut sugar instead of ½ sugar and half maple syrup. 5. If you love lots of nuts in your desserts, try ¾ cup. 6. You could double the amount of chocolate glaze for a thicker cocoa layer, as seen in this photo! 7. If this is your only holiday dessert, consider a dollop of coconut whipped cream on each square. (Recipe in Sacred & Delicious, page 241.)

1. Bake the Pumpkin: Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large baking dish with parchment paper. Cut the pumpkin in half; scoop out the seeds and strings, and discard. (Or clean the seeds and roast in the oven.) Place the pumpkin halves flesh down on the paper. Cover with foil and bake about 45 minutes or until the pumpkin flesh is completely tender when you poke it with a fork. Let it cool at least 10 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and purée it in a food processor or blender. Check it to make sure there are no lumps, and if you find any, pulse the pumpkin again until it’s completely smooth. If the purée is watery, strain before setting aside the 1 cup required for the recipe.

2. Prepare a baking dish: Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Cover the base of the dish with parchment paper and grease the top of the paper. Lightly dust the pan with oat flour. Invert the pan over the sink and tap out excess flour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

3. Prepare the dry ingredients: Combine the flours and spices in a small mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to mix well. Chop the nuts and set aside.

4. Prepare the flaxseed “eggs” and oil: Place flaxseed in a cup with 5 tablespoons of water. Stir and set aside. Heat coconut oil in a small saucepan on low heat to melt.

5. Prepare the batter: Place the pumpkin purée in a medium or large mixing bowl. Remeasure the oil and add to the purée. Add flaxseed “eggs” and mix well with a whisk. Add sugar and maple syrup along with vanilla. Mix well. Add flour about a ½ cup at a time and mix with a spatula until fully blended. Add the nuts and stir again to complete the mixture. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes (turning the pan around after 20 minutes), until the edges and top are slightly brown, and the center no longer jiggles. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes.

6. Prepare the chocolate glaze: Place the coconut oil and chocolate in the top of a double boiler and heat them until both are melted. Set aside for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla, and stir. Spread the glaze on top of the cooled cake. Cut into small or medium squares and serve. Serve with whipped cream for an extra dollop of decadence!

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