Bar None...

Every culture handles death differently, but one thing seems to be universal -- when someone passes on, people seek solace in food. Whenever someone has passed away in my family, we have been surrounded by an outpouring of food from friends and loved ones. Cakes, cookies, and casseroles poured in from every direction. So when I found out that my best friend, Lisa, had lost her grandfather, I did the only thing I could think of under the circumstances -- I baked.

I knew I wanted to stop by the shiva (sort of the Jewish equivalent of a wake, except that it lasts several days) in order to support my friend in her time of loss, and though I had never attended a shiva before, I knew that they were full of food. I felt strange about showing up empty handed, but I wasn't sure what I ought to bring. I had heard about people coordinating deli trays, bagels and lox, and other standard Jewish treats to bring to shivas, but none of those things were quite my style.

Baking seemed like the natural route for me, and cookies seemed like a portable, easy-to-eat option, so I poured through my significant collection of cookie books in search of ideas. Nothing really stood out to me, however. My options were somewhat limited, due to Lisa's food allergies, and I didn't want to make anything too unusual or challenging to the palate. Something comforting seemed more appropriate, so I finally settled upon some pumpkin chocolate chip bar cookies from my Pinterest queue, since few things are as comforting to me as the warm spices of fall.

The bars turned out rather more cake-like than I had anticipated. They reminded me of my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip muffins from my other best friend, Katherine, but baked flat and cut into squares. Though they were slightly more dense, and possessed of a higher chocolate-to-dough ratio, they were a perfect match in terms of flavor. These were a better option for sharing than the muffins, which are probably more food than someone would want to eat while socializing, so I think they were the best choice for this occasion.

Though the occasion for making these bars was unfortunate, I'm happy to have this recipe in my arsenal. Katherine's muffins will always be first in my heart, because they remind me of her, but it's  nice to have something similar to whip up if I want to share more easily with others. Of course, I'm not always feeling magnanimous -- sometimes I want to keep my muffins to myself...

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars
adapted from Bake at 350

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 c. pumpkin puree
12 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and line a 9"x13" pan with tin foil.
1. Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and salt.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer on medium-high until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin puree (it will look curdled -- do not worry).
3. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Using an offset spatula (or the back of a spoon), spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan.

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