Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting: two recipes – what's the difference?

There’s probably not a more universal American experience over the past 45 years than Sesame Street. And if you’ve sat on the couch with a giggly 3-year-old watching Big Bird and Cookie Monster, you’ve probably heard this song:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

See the two frosted bars above? They look and taste incredibly similar, but there’s a fundamental and important difference between them. Can you guess what it is?

OK, here’s some context. I recently whipped up one of my favorite fall recipes, Pumpkin Cake Bars. Deep-orange, moist, cake-type bars, nicely spiced, they’re crowned with rich cream cheese icing and toasted walnuts.

So, what’s not to like? I know many of you dislike nuts; go ahead, leave ’em out. Subtract the golden raisins and crystallized ginger bits inside (though I’ll sigh with disappointment if you do). Add chocolate chips (I won’t object).

Don’t like pumpkin? Look for another recipe. Fall is full of non-pumpkin treats, like these apple muffins.

Ah, here’s a tougher proposition: you don’t like gluten – because it doesn’t like you.

Well – leave it out.


You can still make these wonderfully tasty bars – and I guarantee, no one will know they’re gluten-free.

Yup, that’s the difference. The bars on the left are made with all-purpose flour; on the right, with gluten-free flour. And while there’s more to it than simply swapping out flours, it’s actually simple to take this tasty bar recipe and make it gluten-free.

Here’s how –

Don’t worry, I’ll interpret.

The original recipe calls for this to be baked in a large (18″ x 13″) rimmed cookie sheet – in other words, a half-sheet pan.

So, in order to test gluten-full vs. gluten-free versions side by side, I’m going to mix everything except the flour (and raisins and crystallized ginger), then divide the batter in half and, for starters, add regular all-purpose flour to one batch, and gluten-free multi-purpose flour to the other.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

My test kitchen buddy Susan Reid says that a recipe baked in a 9″ x 13″ pan can be baked in a half-sheet pan by multiplying the 9″ x 13″ recipe by 1 1/2. Yes, by 1 1/2, not 2.

9″ x 13″, 18″ x 13″ (half sheet) – looks like it should be doubled, right?

That would work if the half-sheet pan was 2″ deep, like the 9″ x 13″ pan. But you have to take its shallower depth into account; we’re not doing plain  2 x 2 = 4 arithmetic here, we’re into the volume of geometry.

No need for a super-deep dive, but this formula meant I needed to take the original 18″ x 13″ recipe, multiply it by 1 1/3, then divide the resulting batter in half – one half becoming gluten-full, the other gluten-free, each baked in a 9″ x 13″ pan.

Wait! Come back! Remember, this is all for testing purposes; when you’re ready to make these bars, just follow the original recipe (using either the 18″ x 13″ or 9″ x 13″ versions; there are directions for both).

Let’s take a look, shall we?


As you can see, I’ve stirred together everything except the flour, raisins/ginger, and nuts. At this point, I divide the smooth batter in half, setting half aside for my gluten-free experiment.

I then stir all-purpose flour, nuts, and raisins/ginger into the first bowl of batter, and pour it into a 9″ x 13″ pan.


Bake it – looks good, right?

Let’s make our gluten-free version with that remaining half of the batter.

Since gluten-free baked goods miss gluten’s structure, I’m adding an additional egg, whose protein will help hold things together. I’m also adding xanthan gum, another structure-builder.

I stir in the gluten-free multi-purpose flour, nuts, and raisins/ginger.

Pour the batter into the 9″ x 13″ pan, bake it – again, it looks good, right?

You bet!

Can you tell which of these is the standard version, which the gluten-free?

I can’t – and I forgot to label them!

Whip up the cream cheese frosting, spread it on both cakes, sprinkle with toasted walnuts…
Et voilà!

Is this gluten-full, or gluten-free?

Doesn’t matter; both versions are delicious.


Counter-intuitively, the gluten-free bars actually rose a tiny bit higher than the all-purpose flour bars. Go figure.

I did some taste-testing with my fellow employee-owners here at King Arthur, and while some could taste a difference, they couldn’t identify what it was. “They taste a tiny bit different, but they’re both delicious,” was the consensus.

And after all, isn’t that exactly the reaction you want, when converting one of your favorite recipes from gluten-full to gluten-free?

Want to make these pumpkin bars? Read the recipe and accompanying tips, which detail the gluten-free conversion. Happy baking!

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Deborah Behney

    Love your post and can’t wait to try this recipe …. which one? I
    think I’ll just go with the gluten recipe. Thanks for making me smile.

  2. Sherrill J

    These look wonderful, but I’m gluten free and can’t find that recipe. There’s nothing under the regular recipe. Maybe I’m missing something somewhere.


    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sherrill, read the tips at the bottom-left of the recipe – you’ll see the gluten-free conversion there. Enjoy – PJH

    2. edgewatergoatgirl

      I can’t tell what to do with the gluten-free recipe either – add an extra egg, use only 1 egg?? Add the xanthum gum? I’m lost.

  3. Kim Britton

    Fantastic! Can’t wait to try these. My daughter is gluten intolerant and I have used King Arthur GF Flour very successfully in many of my regular recipes. THANK YOU for superior products and great recipes!

  4. Sharon H

    I’m just wondering what the total carbohydrate count is for each recipe. It seems like the gluten-free things have a higher Cho count. Can you tell me, please? I’d really like to try this recipe. Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I’m sorry to say that we do not have this information available for all of our recipes, but we are working to have this information in the future! Jon@KAF

  5. Lynda C

    I discovered pumpkin bars when we lived in Minot, ND for four years. They are a real crowd and family pleaser. I look for gluten free recipes that include some fruit or vegetable because they seem to taste even better.This recipe will be made in the next couple of days when my grandchildren are here.

  6. sharon

    recently my husband was diagnosed celiac. We are vegan and it is difficult to find recipes for vegan gluten free. I so appreciate any help.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Gluten free recipes really rely quite heavily on eggs for moisture and structure. Flax meal egg replacers work in some recipes but not all. Butter can be replaced with margarine or shortening. Sweeteners such as honey can be replaced with corn syrup, maple syrup or even agave. There are some gluten free/vegan resources online as well, they may offer more advice! Jon@KAF

  7. Mama Lucia

    I’d like to forward this recipe to my “gluten-free” friend who will be totally intimated by the recipe changes as shown. Are the final versions of both recipes available for easy down-load or printing? Maybe I just missed it?
    Thanks so much for the information about converting a 9×13 recipe into a half pan. I’ve tried to make my pumpkin bar recipe in a jelly roll pan (smaller than a half pan) without success.

  8. Mary

    These both look good. For me I’m going to try the regular version but I have friends who can’t tolerate gluten so I’ll share that one.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Mary, check out Pumpkin Cake Bars. On the left side of the page, under the “frosting ingredients,” you’ll see a box labeled “Bakers’ tips.” It’s the third tip in that box. Sorry this has been a challenge! PJH

  9. Ginny Auldridge

    this does not tell what the ingredients of ‘gluten free flour’ are. this is important to me, as I am allergic to wheat.

  10. waikikirie

    Full gluten for me. Already thinking this might show up at Thanksgiving this year. My family are not really pumpkin pie fans…..

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      And won’t it be a mouthwatering addition to any Thanksgiving table, gluten full or gluten free? Barb@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The instructions for making this recipe gluten free are on the recipe page under “tips from our bakers.” Barb@KAF

  11. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez

    Nice to hear about pumpkin treat like this. I really LOVE pumpkin based foods. I bake here a superb sweet bread of pumpkin and cinnamon that incense all of my home with smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and of course the pumpkin. The bread seems like Pain Perdu but not fried as portugueses introduced here since colonial times. My bread is baked at oven and get out aired, puffy, and with magical aroma!!
    If you want i can share one of my lovely breads

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Dear Ricardo, I am sure I am not the only one who would love for you to share your recipe. It sounds wonderful.~Jaydl@KAF

  12. Pam

    This may seem silly, but how do you store a cake with cream cheese frosting? Do you have to refrigerate it? I’m assuming so, but I’m getting conflicting results on this when I try Google.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Dear Pam, if you do need to keep your cream cheese-frosted cake for more than a few hours, it would be best to store it in the refrigerator.~Jaydl@KAF

  13. Ken Carpenter

    Thanks so much for this experiment. I love pumpkin and cannot wait to try these. What makes the GF flour by King Arthur gluten free? I have a hard time deciphering this new trend.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Ken, only wheat has a significant amount of gluten; rye has less, and many grains don’t have any. Our GF flour is made from tapioca, potato, and brown rice, all gluten-free. Hope this helps – PJH

  14. Tensie

    I shared this to my Facebook page, as I have friends who are gluten free (or their kids are). Thank you for both options! I cannot wait to try this recipe! I have to wait awhile… it is in the 100s this week. Baking is not on my list until it cools down. ;o)

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Wow, Tensie, I hope your weather moderates soon – fall baking season, with its pumpkin and apple treats, is so wonderful! Enjoy – PJH

  15. Linda Belecki

    I am excited to try the gluten free version of this recipe. I have a large gathering in a couple weeks and need to do some items ahead and freeze. I assume this cake will freeze beautifully without the frosting and I can defrost & frost just prior to the party.

    On an unrelated matter I am making an Almond Chocolate Torte for this same party and it takes 2 tablespoons of flour. Can I just substitute the KA GF Multi-Purpose flour, should I add a small amount of xanthan gum? Perhaps since it is only 2T I should consider cornstarch as a replacement. Thanks for your help with these recipes. Linda

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Since the flour amount is less than 1/2 cup, you should be fine to just use the GF flour without the xanthan! Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  16. emwaxman

    Hi PJ,
    I want to thank you for all of your posts on gluten-free baking. My husband’s lab mate has celiac’s disease, so it’s a lot harder to bake for their group meetings because I feel obligated to make something that everyone can enjoy. This pumpkin bar recipe has inspired me to get over my fear of all things gluten free, and try some baking!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Eleanor, that’s great to hear. Remember, though, people with celiac’s disease need to be extremely careful about cross-contamination – so unless you have no flour at all in your house (only GF flour), s/he may not be able to enjoy what you make, even if you make it with GF flour. At any rate, the GF pumpkin bars are wonderful, and everyone can enjoy them, so good luck! PJH

  17. hannah/spots on pots

    Hi there.

    I made these yesterday with 70% whole wheat, dropped the nuts but left the raisins and omitted the cream cheese frosting as I wanted them non-dairy.

    I tasted one a minute ago- delicious, moist, tenderly sweet!

    Thanks for yet another great recipe.


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A recipe is only as good as the baker that brings it to life so keep up the good work Hannah! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  18. Pam Peyton

    I have been making these bars for a very long time.. every year my grandkids ask to help make a sheet on any fall Sunday to bring to class on Monday. Would only like to mention that the original recipe I used called for a graham cracker crust. I have made them with and without the crust and I find that while they are fantastic either way, the crust adds a depth of flavor…a perfect foil for the pumpkin pie spice and the frosting. Great presentation too. For Halloween/Fall events, I usually sprinkle with orange and black sprinkles. Great recipe no matter how you tweak it.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Carol, you can always substitute applesauce for oil in this kind of recipe; the tradeoff is less tenderness, and the bars will be drier. Still, if you do the math, with a yield of 48 bars – that’s 1 teaspoon oil per serving. Maybe not as “bad” as you thought? If you want to sub applesauce, start with 1/2 cup for 1/2 cup of the oil; if yo like the result, increase the percentage of applesauce next time around. Good luck – PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’ll try to keep many more delicious gluten-free recipes coming and we hope you enjoy this one Patricia! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  19. Betty Orsi

    These pumpkin bars w/cream cheese frosting are awesome! And so pretty sprinkled w/nuts. I have a question. When I ordered crystallized ginger from KAF yesterday, a warning from the State of California popped up about lead in the ginger. What’s w/that? I’ve bought crystalized ginger for years and have never seen this before. Is it just the ginger KAF sells or is all ginger contaminated w/lead? Used in the processing? I sure would like to know.


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Betty-
      In accordance with California Prop 65, we like to inform customers that crystallized ginger is known to contain lead. Lead is not added to this product, however it occurs in the item. This does not mean that this product is in violation of any product safety standards or requirements. I hope that information helps to clarify the pop-up you received, and if you have any further questions, please feel free to give us a call at 1-800-827-6836 and we’d be happy to further assist you at that time. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  20. Karen

    We adore King Arthur! We ADORE pumpkin! We also ADORE gluten recipes converted to gluten free because for us, “Regular flour” IS gluten free flour!!!!

    Thank you a million times over for taking a gluten-filled recipe and making it wonderfully gluten-free!

  21. Janet Maccullie

    I made the regular version of this for a church Harvest Dinner (for a 130 people). We had nothing but rave reviews. All the plates were coming back in almost licked clean 🙂

  22. Liz Shahan

    Made this last weekend it was so delicious. Would love to make this as a layer cake for a pumpkin lovers birthday cake. Would The gluten free recipe also work in a bunt or regular round layer cake?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Absolutely, Liz! You would need to adjust your baking times a bit (you can keep the same temperature), but you should be just fine to make that up in another pan. I hope that helps and if you have any more questions, please feel free to contact our Baker’s Hotline at 1-855-371-2253. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  23. mforsythe0512

    These bars are quite scrumptious! I’m just wondering if there’s someway to increase the amount of pumpkin purée in the recipe? I’d like to appreciate more of its flavor. Thx for another winner!!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You could add a bit extra if you are working with the wheat version, but too much is going to make it damp and unbaked tasting. I would not change the GF version, either. Perhaps a bit more pumpkin spice would add the flavor you are looking for. Laurie@KAF

  24. "Talesbylky@aol.com"

    Just frosted a batch for work tomorrow. I used the 9 x13 pan, should I have reduced the amount of frosting? Seems like a lot for the size, but then again, when is there too much frosting? The recipe baked up like a dream, I can’t wait to have one. Thank you all for sharing!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There is a reduced recipe for the frosting when baking the 9 X 13 version, but I’m with you–you can never have too much frosting! Barb@KAF

  25. cadfael

    I am in a Christmas bake ahead mode. I like to bake a number of goodies and put out an assortment over the holidays. Can these be frozen?

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Yes, I’ve frozen these (well wrapped, i plastic with foil over the plastic) for up to a month – so no problem freezing these for Christmas. When you thaw, remove the wrapping so the icing doesn’t stick to it. Enjoy – PJH

  26. Dawn

    Is there any hope for a mathematically disinclined baker who uses 15″x10″x1″ pans? I genuinely want to make these bars. Help?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s true that a recipe written for a 9 X 13 (2″ tall) pan will fit in a jelly roll pan that’s 15 X 10 X 1. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  27. Saundra

    Do you have conversions for using almond flour and/or coconut flour? Many like me are needing to eat grain free. I would love to have a conversation chart for substituting flours for the gluten-free flour indicated in many of your recipes. Thanks! Would love to make these.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Almond and coconut flour aren’t going to perform the same in a one to one conversion with GF flour, so your best bet is to work with a tested recipe using only almond and coconut flour. We have some on our website, and you can search using “almond flour” or “coconut flour” in the search box on the recipes page. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  28. Emilie

    I just made these, and since I have a quarter-sheet pan as well as a half, I did 1.5x the recipe to use up the entire can of pumpkin, which worked great. They are currently cooling and it’s taking all my will power not to cut off a slice while it’s warm. Somehow I’m going to wait until after they’re frosted, but I’d really like to know how you store these — in the fridge because of the cream cheese? Also I’m wondering if it would be best to wait to sprinkle the nuts on top until I’m ready to serve, since that won’t be until after they’ve been stored for 24 hours. And how long do they stay fresh? Thanks!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Emilie, food safety experts would tell you to store the bars in the fridge as soon as you’ve iced them, or within a couple of hours. Make sure you cover them tightly, as refrigeration can make them dry out; I wouldn’t leave them longer than a couple of days in the fridge, as all the time they’re in there they’re gradually deteriorating, freshness-wise. Fine to sprinkle with nuts just before serving, although I made these last weekend, sprinkled with nuts immediately, refrigerated overnight and served the next day — and I really couldn’t detect any problems with the nuts having become potentially soggy. Enjoy – PJH

    2. Emilie

      Thanks for the reply, PJ. I just reviewed the recipe, they are SO good! I think food safety experts are sometimes over-zealous in their recommendations, but of course understand you guys need to go with their guidelines. And I went ahead and sprinkled them with nuts last night and you’re right — they’re still just fine. I also froze an extra 1/4 sheet pan I made and frosted, we’ll see how well that works when I thaw them before too long!

  29. Cindy J

    Can I substitute the Baking Mix for the flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc. in making the gluten-free pumpkin cake bars, & how much of it do I use?
    Thank you,

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for checking, Cindy. We aren’t able to share the exact proportions of ingredients in the Gluten-Free Baking Mix, so we recommend reserving it for use in recipes that have been specifically designed for it. This recipe for Pumpkin Cake Bars can be made gluten-free, however, by subbing our new Measure for Measure Flour (http://bit.ly/2f7eC0N) 1:1 for the All-Purpose Flour called for in the recipe. You might also try making our designed-to-be Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cake Bars (http://bit.ly/1Qu04kd) with our Gluten-Free Flour (http://bit.ly/1I8P0De); or if you really have a hankering for something pumpkin made with our GF Baking Mix, this Pumpkin Bread Recipe instead: http://bit.ly/1GxJVZc Hope one of these options works for you! Mollie@KAF

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *