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Basic Chef Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Bars

Welcome to my first article in what I hope will be a monthly Radar installment: Basic Chef. I’m Grace C., Basic Chef—I love Starbucks and I make a mean piece of toast—and in this article, I’ll tell you about my mission to invent a pumpkin-related dessert for fall. At the last Radar pitch meeting, the co-editors asked if someone would like to try to create a pumpkin food, and I unwittingly volunteered, forgetting that my best cakes are made from a box. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let that small detail stop me. On Sunday, October 16, I rolled up my sleeves and said “Let’s go buy some canned pumpkin!”

The first store I visited, Safeway, was sold out of canned pumpkin, so I walked to Whole Foods and asked the cashier where I could find some. Luckily for you, readers, I located a can of organic canned pumpkin, bought some other baking necessities, and set to work in my own kitchen at around 2pm.

Flash forward to 5pm–I had completed two test batches of my concoction, and I had made one pan of regular old chocolate-chip-walnut blondies for “my family” (myself). What had I invented, you ask? Let me tell you about the evolution of my dessert.

When I thought of my original idea, I was pretty sure I was not only Rachel Ray, but a genius to boot. Salted Caramel Pumpkin Blondies? Um, yes please. Well, my mission to invent a recipe hit more stumbling blocks than I expected. I found a very basic blondie recipe online, which the creator said was “very adjustable.” Adding canned pumpkin seemed like it would be a breeze. However, the pumpkin sort of changed the blondies’ baking properties; they wouldn’t rise and they didn’t cook all that well. After my first batch came out flat and not tasting like pumpkin (although it was still yummy), I added a bit of baking powder, changed my caramel topping recipe, and put in a LOT more pumpkin. The second batch definitely tasted like pumpkin and salted caramel, so I decided to call it a wrap, even though the blondies were still pretty dense and flat.

The next day, I brought in both batches to my all-day Drama rehearsal (come to the Winter’s Tale!) in the hopes of feedback from my peers. Both recipes went over well with the crowd, but my second batch received more praise, and someone wisely suggested that I brand them as Pumpkin Pie Bars instead of blondies. I’ve included the bars’ recipe below.

PUMPKIN PIE BARS (Makes one 8×8 pan)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted

1/2 cup golden brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

1/4 tsp baking soda

Preheat your oven to 350ºF and butter an 8×8 pan. Combine all of the ingredients, in the order listed, together in one big bowl. Mix until you have a smooth batter a bit thicker than a cake batter. Pour your batter into the pan, making sure it is spread evenly around. Bake your pumpkin pie bars for about 25 minutes, until they look like they should be almost done and they are firm on top. While they are baking, mix:

2 Tbsp canned pumpkin

1 Tbsp brown sugar

A dash of Torani caramel syrup (optional)

Take your dessert out and quickly spread the pumpkin-caramel mixture across the top. Put the pan back in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Serve when cool, and enjoy!

*note: if you want them to mimic my original salted caramel recipe, sprinkle a fair amount of salt on top of your caramel topping before you put the pan back in the oven.*

Happy holidays, Radar readers! I’ll be back next month as your resident Basic Chef.

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