A couple of nights ago, I arrived home to find a small cardboard box waiting for me. It bore the Banana Republic logo, but my address was sloppily handwritten on the outside. Attached to the box was a business card bearing the name of a local bakery. Inside was a flaky, horn-shaped pastry and a card inviting me to celebrate the opening of a new Banana Republic store at a nearby mall.
My instinctive reaction was to be suspicious because the box was shoddily packaged, this was just a few days before Halloween, and who knew what kind of tricks this treat might hold? I set it on my kitchen counter with the intention of tossing it out. But then, as I wandered back into the kitchen after dinner (two giant slices of mushroom pizza), I opened the box, curious to see what kind of filling the pastry had. It was a fluffy white cream. I licked it. It was good. In less than a minute, I had eaten most of the pastry.
What lessons can be learned from this incident? A) My stomach is a bottomless pit. B) Banana Republic really needs to do a better job with presentation. C) I apparently value a good dessert more than I value my life.
Let’s switch gears and talk about these caramel pumpkin blondies. There’s nothing suspicious about these guys. They don’t have any tricks up their sleeve. They come to you with nothing to hide and say, “Look, this is who I am. I’m made of brown sugar and pumpkin and walnuts and chocolate chips. I ooze caramel from my center. I’m awesome at room temperature, but I’m even more amazing heated up and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.”
So in the end, everything turned out fine. It’s been two days and I still haven’t died yet from that pastry in the mail. I made delicious, chewy, gooey caramel pumpkin blondies and ate one sitting in my pjs and watching the rain come down in buckets outside. I braved the freak snowstorm in Boston to go party with my friends for Halloween. That Angry Birds hat I was so disappointed about? It didn’t end up looking that bad, plus it actually kept my head warm and my hair looking nice on a cold, snowy night.
Caramel Pumpkin Blondies
From Lauren’s Latest
Yields 12-16 squares, depending on how large you cut them
For the Blondies
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Filling
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips
One 14 oz. package caramels, unwrapped
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (I used fat-free half-and-half and it worked fine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan.
In large bowl, use an electric mixed on medium speed to cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, vanilla and pumpkin and mix until combined. Add remaining blondie ingredients into batter and mix, scraping sides occasionally, until batter is smooth. Spread 2/3 of batter into prepared pan evenly, smoothing out with a rubber spatula or knife. Sprinkle nuts and chocolate chips over top.
Place caramels and cream/half-and-half in a heat-proof bowl. Microwave on high in 20-second increments until caramel is smooth and completely melted. Make sure you stir the caramel between each 20-second incremement.
Pour melted caramel over chocolate and nuts. Spread around evenly with a rubber spatula or knife. Place dollops of remaining batter on top of the caramel layer. Spread the dollops of batter out as much as you can to get a smooth layer of batter over the top. It’s okay if some of the caramel layer shows through.
Bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out free of any batter (it’s okay if there’s some caramel on it).
Cool completely before slicing. These blondies are really good warm (and topped with vanilla ice cream!), but the best way to eat them warm is to reheat them in the microwave. If you try to cut them before they’re fully cooled, it will be messy and they might fall apart. (Or, you know, you could grab a spoon and just eat directly from the pan. I totally would not judge you for that.)